Bourdieu and Education: Acts of Practical Theory

By Michael David James Grenfell | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Introduction

The work of the French social theorist, Pierre Bourdieu, has attracted increasing interest in recent years. Since initial publications in the late 1950s and early 1960s he has demonstrated considerable intellectual rigour and insight in engaging with the main social science debates of the day. The list of topics and themes he has covered takes in most of the major fields of study. However, it is education to which his attention has repeatedly turned, and it is probably in education that his ideas have had the greatest impact. Much of his early work dealt with educational issues, topics and themes and appeared in two major books: Les Héritiers (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1964) and La Reproduction. Eléments pour une théorie du système d’enseignement (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1970). The latter was published in English in 1977 and quickly became a classic text in the sociology of education canon. Bourdieu also contributed two chapters to the seminal book, Knowledge and Control (1971), which was edited by Michael Young and represented a new sociological direction in the study of the processes of classroom knowledge construction.

Since these early works, Bourdieu has offered a number of articles on topics related to aspects of education and pedagogy. Other major books have dealt with his own French academic field and the training of the national bureaucratic elites: Homo Academicus (1984) and La Noblesse d’Etat (1989a). In 1993, he published a large collection entitled La Misère du Monde (1993b), which chronicles the social production of the ‘poverty’ of experience, including that of the classroom, teacher and staffroom. And, in perhaps his most philosophical discussion to date, he has returned to the notion of the scholastic view in Méditations Pascaliennes (1997).

Interest in Bourdieu has meant that all but the most recent of these books are now available in English, and it is common to find reference to one or two of his works across the expanse of research and literature in education. Bourdieu is a social theorist whose work has addressed a wide range of contemporary topics and themes, including art, the media, language, sport, politics and other socio-cultural issues. His ideas have long been used by sociologists of education to develop their explanations of class, status and power in pedagogic contexts. Much of his work has been developed in a French academic field which has included the principal instigators of post-modernism; namely, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard. Bourdieu has worked to differentiate himself from this trend. At the same time, he has taken on, and argued against, much of the approach and method that goes under the title of objectivity in the social sciences, and which he sees as being so prevalent in an Anglo-Saxon academic world. At the base of this work, therefore, is both a philosophical perspective and

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