Reflections on the Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu. (Notes on the Discipline/Notes Sociologiques)

By Fournier, Marcel | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview
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Reflections on the Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu. (Notes on the Discipline/Notes Sociologiques)


Fournier, Marcel, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Pierre Bourdieu wasn't fond of the honour and mundane ritual of celebration. However, his death certainly doesn't give us the opportunity to escape such rituals. I would like to recall a few personal memories, and present some theoretical reflections about Bourdieu's legacy.

Pierre Bourdieu the Professor

In the Fall of 1970,1 was a doctoral student at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes etudes in Paris. Pierre Bourdieu was my supervisor. He had just published Le Metier de Sociologue (The Craft of Sociology) with J. Chamboredon and J.C. Passeron in 1968, and La Reproduction (Reproduction in Education) with J.C. Passeron in 1970. One of his projects at that time was to finish his theoretical reflections on sociological practice in a book called Esquisse d'une thorie de la pratique (Outline of a Theory of Practice), which would eventually be published in 1972. His two leitmotivs were, in his own words:

1. My academic project is to train the best sociologists in the world; and

2. My intellectual project is to elaborate a theory of practice. I am, as you can understand, enthusiastic.

Every week, at the rue de Tournon and, later, boulevard Raspail, he met with his students. He preferred the formula of the seminar, where he presented the results of his research to a smaller audience. While he always had a written paper in front of him, he liked to improvise, introducing questions and injecting comments into his own work. Reflexivity was very much apart of his work. His classes were a kind of laboratory: he presented new ideas, and tested new hypotheses. His objective was to transmit to his students the habitus of the researcher: intellectual rigor, seriousness, and teamwork moving back and forth from theory to empirical investigation. He liked to say that the sociologist walks with big boots, and that most of his own experiments dealt with things that appeared visible and obvious. And he was right!

While he certainly had philosophical leanings (such as Merleau-Ponty and Witgenstein) and epistemological concerns -- as his work affirms --, Pierre Bourdieu never disconnected his theoretical reflections from the study of concrete problems or objects (as seen in his examinations of the Kabile household, matrimonial strategies in the Bearn, workers in Algeria, and European Museums, photography and the school system in France). He liked polemics (as illustrated by his opposition to Levi-Strauss, structural Marxism, symbolic interactionism, and, later, postmodernism), defended eclecticism (in Marx, Durkheim and Weber, for instance), and supported interdisciplinarity (in disciplines such as anthropology, linguistics, economics, history and political science). He also rejected canonical dichotomies (such as determinism/liberty, subjectivism/objectivism, and structure/history). One of his most important works during this period was the translation and the publication of his collection "Le sens commun" at the Editi ons de Minuit. This text included the work of many American, English and German authors: Panofsky, Cassirer, Bateson, Goffman, Labov, Bernstein, Richard Hoggart, Marcuse, Ralph Linton, Edward Sapir, Joseph Schumpeter, and Radclife-Brown.

Pierre Bourdieu's Last Lecture at the College de France.

Pierre Bourdieu's last lecture at the College de France was on March 27, 2001, at the Rue des Ecoles, Amphi. Marguerite-de-Navarre. More than five hundred people were in attendance, including some former students and collaborators: Patrick Champagne, Remi Lenoir, Bernard Lacroix, Jean-Claude Combessie, and Francien Dreyfus. Bourdieu's talk was entitled "Sociology of the scientific field and reflexivity." With his last lecture at the College de France, Bourdieu the sociologist returned to the study of knowledge, the most prestigious object in philosophy, but with a twist: he discussed the structural perspective that he introduced in the field of sociology.

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