A Brief History of Theory
In this chapter we set out Bourdieu's theory of practice. We do this first by discussing the background to his work and then by addressing the theory itself. The intention here is to establish a theoretical base for Bourdieu's approach so that we can consider art and aesthetics in depth in the next chapter.
Any one individual's body of work must be shaped by that individual's biography; that is to say, the impetus for any work, both physical and mental, is always a response to external and internal exigencies. At one point in his writing (Bourdieu 2000a/1997: 130), Bourdieu evokes Pascal's description of the universe 'swallowing' up the individual Tike an atom'. There is the sense of an overwhelming world into which each individual is thrown. Despite the enormity of what confronts us, individual responses are particular to each man and woman. The power of an individual's work is the extent to which such responses go beyond the personal and idiosyncratic to express something of the universal condition of human beings. In undertaking this discussion of art in terms derived from a single individual's theory, we are suggesting that Bourdieu's ideas do indeed touch what we might call the 'universal'. The ultimate source of those ideas is not personal, but a product of the social and cultural period in which Bourdieu lived and his own experiences of it. This chapter addresses Bourdieu's individual biography and the world – both physical and intellectual – that surrounded him. It sets Bourdieu within the intellectual current of his day. It considers the intellectual climate in which he trained and how this shaped his thinking. However, it does not do this simply by presenting the various intellectual strands which were available to him, but by placing these in their socio-historic context. This initial discussion leads to a presentation of Bourdieu's main theoretical concepts. The intention is to set out his main 'thinking tools' and show their derivation. These key conceptual terms will form a background to the rest of the book. They will be central to both the theoretical coverage and the case examples on museums, photography and painting in Part II.