Sociology, Common Sense, and Qualitative Methodology: The Position of Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Touraine

By Hamel, Jacques | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Sociology, Common Sense, and Qualitative Methodology: The Position of Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Touraine


Hamel, Jacques, Canadian Journal of Sociology


This article is the outcome of research on qualitative methodology funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Discussions on this subject with Pierre Bourdieu, Marcel Fournier and Eric Forgues enabled me to develop the positions adopted in this text. I wish to express my gratitude to them. I also wish to thank Marie-Rose De Groof Vianna for revision of the text and Nancy Cote for its translation.

Abstract. This article exposes the developments of qualitative methodology in French sociology with respect to methods proposed by Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Touraine: "provoked and accompanied" self-analysis and the sociological intervention. In addition to the presentation of these two methods, the propose of this article is to describe and discuss the position of these two authors on certain problems such as representativeness, objectivity, status of data, epistemological rupture and lastly on the question of the writing.by which sociological knowledge is formed from common sense knowledge contained in the data. This brings us to a broader discussion on these questions. The strengths and weaknesses of these two methods are finally examined.

Resume. Cet article aborde les developpements de la methodologie qualitative au sein de la sociologie francaise. Il met l'accent sur les methodes recemment proposees par Pierre Bourdieu et Alain Touraine: l'auto-analyse provoquee et accompagnee et l'intervention sociologique. L'article traite plus largement des positions de ces deux auteurs a propos de la representativite et de l'objectivite en sociologie, de meme que du statut attribue au sens commun et a la rupture epistemologique. Sur cette lancee, l'ecriture sociologique est aussi consideree. Les forces et les limites de ces deux methodes sont examinees au regard de ces differents points.

At the present time, qualitative methods are making headway in French sociology. They are the object of constant interest and their contents are much discussed. Two outstanding figures in French sociology, Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Touraine, have given them pride of place in their recent research.

The aim of this paper is to examine the methods that these authors have recently developed: the sociological intervention and the provoked and accompanied self-analysis. A detailed presentation is made of these methods and their respective strong and weak points are then underlined. The latter are approached in such a way as to open a broad discussion on the problems faced by sociology such, for instance, as the status of common sense in relation to the sociological explanation. The lessons learned from these methods permit, in conclusion, the formulation of propositions for which, however, the author of this paper is alone responsible.

Brief Introduction

Touraine's use of qualitative methods is not recent, however, since his first surveys on worker consciousness (Touraine, 1966) were already recommending the semi-directed sociological interview. But it was in his book La voix et le regard that he first proposed employing the sociological intervention method, by which he hoped to renew sociological methodology. This method has had a considerable impact on French-language sociology and has given rise to numerous studies on women, students, environmentalists and the labour movement in France (Touraine, 1978; 1983b; 1987). This group of studies - carried out on the initiative of Touraine himself, with a team joined by well-known French sociologists of the day such as Michel Wieviorka and Francois Dubet - is referred to as permanent sociology, in other words a sociology constantly at work and directly involved in political and social action. The sociological study of social movements in Quebec has also made considerable use of the sociological intervention method (Gagnon, 1982; Maheu, 1988).

In Bourdieu's work, qualitative methods appear in his first studies of an ethnological nature (Bourdieu, 1977a). …

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