Bourdieu and Education: Acts of Practical Theory

By Michael David James Grenfell | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Language and the Classroom

Michael Grenfell


Introduction

This chapter offers a discussion of language in the classroom in relation to Bourdieu’s work. 1 The position and status of language generally in his writing is slightly ambiguous. On the one hand, it is central to his project. In his very earliest fieldwork in Algeria and south-west France, the study of language use was one of his major concerns (cf. Bourdieu and Grenfell, 1995). He has also published various academic papers and articles on language; some of which are grouped in two principal books: Ce Que Parler Veut Dire (1982b) and Language and Symbolic Power (1991a) (the latter is not simply an English translation of the former but includes some different papers, more extensive bibliography and a useful introductory chapter by the book’s editor J. B. Thompson). There is in fact constant referral to issues of language across all his major works. Yet, Bourdieu’s treatment of language is probably the least ‘empirical’ of all his topics of study. There are no linguistic analyses in the conventional sense of the term. And, his writing on the workings of the ‘academic field’ (1965/1994: with Passeron and de Saint Martin) do not include details of pedagogic discourse as such. In lieu of this apparent absence, the present chapter offers examples of language in classroom contexts. It does so to explore the concepts of habitus, field, capital, legitimacy and symbolic violence in terms of the language of teaching and learning. Examples from three separate sites have been selected in order to discuss these issues. Two are from primary schools; one of these being a mathematics lesson. The third is also from a mathematics lesson, but this time from a secondary school. Firstly, however, and in order to set a theoretical context to the discussion, I want to begin by addressing Bourdieu’s main perspectives on language.


Language as Praxis

Bourdieu opens both his main books on language with full-frontal attacks on the contemporary founding fathers of linguistics: Ferdinand de Saussure and Naom Chomsky. He quotes Chomsky, disapprovingly, who, he argues, constructs linguistic theory in socially neutral terms:

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