Pierre Bourdieu: Sociology Is a Martial Art (2001) (la Sociologie Est Un Sport De Combat)

Article excerpt


Pierre Carles, director

For some strange reason, contemporary documentaries of intellectual figures, whether academic or within the public sphere, share a tendency to bring to the screen literally the writings of their subjects. Two recent documentaries about Jacques Derrida and Slavoj Zizek (both iconic figures in Europe, North and Latin America) endeavor to portray the life and thought of these scholars while ending up reproducing exactly the same thing we find in their books. The major flaw of these kinds of documentaries lies in the fact that they add very little, almost nothing, to what the audience can gather from reading them. To deploy the documentary genre in such fashion becomes a fruitless enterprise at two fundamental levels: as cinematic form and as communicative device. It fails as communicative device because the audience it aspires to reach becomes the same that reads their work. This means that nothing new transpires through the film that one could not get reading their work. The only incentive left to the audience is a voyeuristic one that although intrinsic to the genre, is the less valuable one. And this makes it a failure as a genre.

The first thing to be noted about Pierre Bourdieu: Sociology is a Martial Art is that the documentary succeeds at the two levels where others have failed, and it does much more. If you are interested in European social movements, the practice of sociology, a strong critique of neoliberalism and the sources of structural inequalities then this documentary is for you. Whether you are a teacher, a university professor, a graduate student, a social activist, or a concerned citizen, and have no idea who was Pierre Bourdieu, the film will inform you about him through all the themes above. And if you knew of Bourdieu and his work, then it will add in interesting and fruitful ways.

The first three scenes frame the structure of the documentary. It sets the stage at three different levels. The first is historical. We see Bourdieu as part of the audience in a demonstration headed by José Bové (leader of the French agricultural union Confédération Paysanne). This is historically important because it sets the social temporality of the documentary and frames Bourdieu as an implicated subject of his own object of study. This is what Bourdieu calls reflexive sociology. The second level is that of reception. Throughout the film we see an interesting representation of the reception Bourdieu's work has in Europe: how it has affected individual's choices at the personal and political level, how it has informed and misinformed activists in social movements, and the kinds of political and social questions Bourdieu's sociological practice can and cannot answer. …


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