In Chapter 2, we raised the issue of paradigms as a way of highlighting philosophical positions on knowledge and knowledge production necessarily present when anyone undertakes a research project. Stating them in an explicit manner allows us to see the various implications of each. Questions of epistemology are at stake; namely, different ways of knowing and understanding, and the means of expressing them. We saw that it is often the case that either/or scenarios are constructed between each of the paradigmatic approaches—positivist, hermeneutic, critical, action-based—and this may lead to an overly rigid research perspective. Nevertheless, it is useful to list the issues at stake between the researcher and the researched in terms of subjectivity, objectivity, theory, and practice, etc. as a way of positioning the work being carried out. Theory is obviously a problematic word, which might refer to anything from any one individual’s subjective, personally based rationale, or intuitive feeling, to highly formalized general statements with a strong predictive power. Both extremes, as well as various forms in between them, are of relevance and use in education and in the research activities engaged in to understand its processes.
Faced with this variety and choice, it may be felt that Bourdieu offers a highly formal, even inflexible, theory. There is an insistence on a dialectical relation between subjectivity and objectivity, which is never easy to grasp in reality. At the same time, it is a theory which appears to give rise to a number of schematic metaphors, which might equally be seen as reifying the very educational processes, whose dynamic it seeks to be able to capture. To this extent, Bourdieu might be considered highly theoretical. But, let us follow through in some detail his own response in interview when questioned on these issues of theory and practice:
Let me say outright and very forcefully that I never ‘theorize’, if by that we mean engage in the kind of conceptual gobbledygook (laïus) that is good for textbooks and which, through an extraordinary misconstrual of the logic of science, passes for Theory in much of Anglo-American social science. I never set out to ‘do theory’ or to ‘construct a theory’ per se, as the American expression goes. And it is a complete misapprehension of my project to believe that I am attempting some kind of ‘synthesis of classical theory’. There is no doubt a theory in my work, or, better, a set of thinking tools visible through the results they yield, but it is not built as such. (1989c, p. 50)