Bourdieu, Pierre and Roger Chartier, the Sociologist and the Historian

By Schaffer, Scott | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Bourdieu, Pierre and Roger Chartier, the Sociologist and the Historian


Schaffer, Scott, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Bourdieu, Pierre and Roger Chartier, The Sociologist and the Historian. Translated by David Fernbach. Cambridge, UK, and Malden MA: Polity Press, 2015. 82pp. $15.95 paper (9780745679594).

"The sociologist is insufferable ..."--Pierre Bourdieu

Unlike conversations with politicians or celebrities that appear in magazines, interviews with academics very infrequently convey any sense of the person being interviewed. Leaving aside Slavoj Zizek, who very easily caricatures himself in interviews and other public appearances, it is a rare thing to gain personal insight into the scholars of our times through their recorded conversations. To me, this is why The Sociologist and the Historian is such a refreshing book, not so much because one gains any deep insight into Pierre Bourdieu the person, but rather because one can genuinely hear Pierre Bourdieu and Roger Chartier in these texts.

The Sociologist and the Historian comprises the transcripts of five discussions between Bourdieu the sociologist and Chartier the historian that were broadcast on the radio network France Culture in 1988 in their series A voix nue ("With Bare Voice"), which in its current form advertises itself as an "Entretien a deux voix, cinq demi-heures pour ecouter les confessions de ceux qui marquent notre epoque: philosophes, artistes, createurs ..." ("[A] conversation between two voices, five half-hours to hear the confessions of those who mark our epoch: philosophers, artists, creators ...) (http://www.franceculture.fr/ emissions/voix-nue).

The topics covered in this collection range across Bourdieu's oeuvre to that point, including his most widely-known concepts such as habitus, field, and culture, and serve as a kind of public introduction to Bourdieu's key theoretical contributions to sociological work. Chartier, an historian and admirer of Bourdieu, is able to tease out clarifications of these ideas in terms that are more raw, more clear, more immediate and unmediated by the exigencies of academic writing than readers of Bourdieu are normally accustomed. He pulls Bourdieu beyond the "structured structures predisposed ..." definition of habitus that comes out of Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977: 72) and brings it to bear more directly on lived experience, getting Bourdieu to converse about the ideas and not simply to restate them. So, when posed with the question of the genesis of the habitus and the idea of "society" it contains, Bourdieu lays it out in just the way one would expect over a glass of wine: society exists objectively in social structures and institutions and in human brains; "society exists in the individual state, in the incorporated state; in other words, the socialized biological individual is part of the individualized social" (55).

These, though, are but the first layer of what is a fundamentally thought-provoking text, even, and perhaps especially, for Bourdieu scholars. …

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