Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria

By Ali, Erkan | New Formations, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria


Ali, Erkan, New Formations


Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria, Franz Schultheis and Christine Frisinghelli (eds), New York, Columbia University Press, 2012, 230pp; 14.50[pounds sterling] hardback

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) is recognised as one of the most influential social scientists of all time. Given his concern for such issues as class, status, taste, education, economy and politics, around which he built his theory of 'habitus' and its involvement in the production and reproduction of social patterns and systems, Bourdieu might be regarded as a sociologist's sociologist, a modern-day Emile Durkheim responsible for enhancing our understanding of the individual within the social and the social within the individual.

But as part of his writings on culture, Bourdieu has also become well known for producing some of the most original commentaries on the meaning and practice of photography, both in its everyday and sociological contexts. And in this remarkable new book we see how photography was not simply a sideline for Bourdieu, not simply incidental to his sociological and ethnological theories, but was in fact central to their development. Built around a collection of over 160 monochrome photographs taken by Bourdieu between 1957 and 1960 while he served as a soldier with the French army, Picturing Algeria is an intimate portrait of Algerian life amid the chaos and destruction of colonial struggle. The photographs are interspersed with excerpts from Bourdieu's diary notes and other writings on Algeria, as well as essays from other contributors including Craig Calhoun and Christine Frisinghelli.

If photographs represent a curious point between reality and representation, then these images are the perfect metaphors of Bourdieu's own in-between status as something of a double-agent in Algeria, working for a cold and detached colonial administration on the one hand, while connecting and sympathising ?with his subjects on the other. Bourdieu discusses the methodological role of the photographs as ethnological data in a candid interview with Franz Schultheis, which was conducted at the College de France, Paris, in June 2001. …

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