Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

The Dialogical Bourdieu

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

The Dialogical Bourdieu

Article excerpt

Gorski, Philip S. ed. Bourdieu and Historical Analysis. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. 422 pp. $27.00 paper (9780822352730)

Burawoy, Michael and Karl von Holdt, Conversations with Bourdieu: The Johannesburg Moment. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2012. 224 pp. $27.50 paper (97886814-540-9)

Only a year after my last review essay of books about Pierre Bourdieu (Frank 2012), two new books treat his contributions with no less serious engagement but a new sense of serious play. These books contain neither personal remembrances nor attempts to replicate or refute Bourdieu's research findings. Defense and attack are replaced by more flexible projects of sorting which parts of Bourdieu's legacy are good for opening up what issues, which ideas can be modified and updated, and what other theories can usefully complement Bourdieu. These writers all read Bourdieu with extreme care, but none seeks to propose definitive interpretations. His work has become an archive from which to learn, borrow, and adapt, according to the writer's particular need. The consistent tone of appreciation is enhanced by this absence of taking sides for or against Bourdieu.

The publication of both books within a year is remarkable serendipity, because their interests are so close to each other. Philip Gorski writes in his editor's introduction that the academic privileging of Bourdieu's middle-period writings makes it reasonable to regard him primarily as "a theorist of social reproduction" (2). Attending instead to his early writings on Algeria and his late writings on French worker movements and globalization suggests that he "was first and last a theorist of social transformation" (2). Bourdieu and Historical Analysis, based on a conference at Yale's Center for Comparative Research, collects thirteen essays that seem described too narrowly as historical analysis. "Bourdieu as a theorist of transformation" would, in my reading, be more accurate. The collection is of remarkably consistent quality, and the book is a paradigm example of when essays deserve to be published together as a book. Each chapter gains greater significance when all are read together.

Conversations with Bourdieu is an equally excellent contribution to understanding Bourdieu as a theorist of change, but its title is also potentially misleading--this is not Bourdieu himself in conversation. The core of the book is eight lectures that Michael Burawoy presented at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Each lecture brings Bourdieu into conversation--Burawoy also calls it dialogue--with another theorist: "Bourdieu Meets Bourdieu", followed by Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Franz Fanon, Paolo Freire, Simone de Beauvoir, C. Wright Mills, and the culminating conversation, "Burawoy Meets Bourdieu". Karl von Holdt, Burawoy's host, provides afterwords to each lecture, relating its themes to multi-sided political struggles in South Africa, thus showing a social scientist using theory to make sense of a world that defies totalizing judgments.

Each of Burawoy's lectures is a gem of concision and clarity, demonstrating that unlike Bourdieu's own prose, complex theoretical thinking can be expressed in readily accessible writing. The commentaries by von Holdt are less polished, but their value may be in reminding readers how irremediably messy life is. The commentaries increase the multiplicity of voices, intensifying the question of how a Northern hemisphere theorist can be relevant in the Southern hemisphere, an issue Burawoy elaborates in his brief Epilogue. This book deserves careful consideration as a text in an advanced theory seminar, because it so clearly presents theory as an on-going conversation, on one level between theorists (Burawoy, Bourdieu, and others starting with Marx), and on another level between theory and political events (von Holdt's struggles to be a responsible social scientific witness to his country's times, with their blend of heroism and trouble). …

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