Pierre Bourdieu, who's currently the most cited sociologist in the world, dedicated his life to the study of social inequality, stratification, and various aspects of human society. Here's a brief description of his life and work:
Born in 1930 in the Béarn region of the French Pyrénées, into a rural community, despite his father being a small government official, Pierre Bourdieu was a brilliant student and hard worker, gaining admission to elite schools where he had Michel Foucault as a classmate.
In 1955, he became a teacher at a secondary school in France and later conducted sociological research in Algeria in 1958. By 1960, Bourdieu was working at the University of Paris and in Lille. In 1964, he became the director of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, later known as the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).
In 1975, Bourdieu established a new French sociological journal, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, which was interdisciplinary and innovative in its use of visual materials. His 1979 publication of "La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement", with an English translation in 1984, made him a globally recognized sociologist.
In 1981, he joined the Collège de France, following in the footsteps of Raymond Aron, the first sociologist admitted to this prestigious institution. During the 1990s, Bourdieu gained recognition beyond academia for his critiques of modern media and his advocacy for anti-globalization.
Bourdieu became increasingly active in political discussions, opposing neoliberalism and promoting alter-globalization. He traveled extensively and gave numerous lectures, which made him a well-known and frequently cited sociologist.
In 2001, a documentary film by Pierre Carles, titled "La sociologie est un sport de combat" was released in Paris, about Bourdieu and his work. When Bourdieu passed away in January 2002 due to lung cancer, his death got overwhelming attention in the French media.
Selected Works in English
- "The Inheritors: French Students and Their Relation to Culture" (1997)
- "Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste" (1984)
- "Language and Symbolic Power" (1991)
- "An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology" (1991)
Selected concepts of Pierre Bourdieu
Habitus: The underlying structure shaping actions and decisions, influenced by social norms, upbringing, and historical conditions. It impacts everything from career choices to emotional expressions and is important in understanding health inequalities and social mobility.
Economy of Social Being: The unequal distribution and accumulation of a satisfactory life among individuals in society. This involves investing in life, seeking recognition, and accumulating practical efficiency, which leads to his key anthropological notions of "illusio" and the attribution of meaning to life by society.
Illusion of Life: Society attributes intrinsic meaning to life, tied to the idea of investing in life and the accumulation of "being", where individuals make calculated choices about their investments.
Social Gravity and Social Aging: Social gravity describes how society pulls individuals deeper as they invest more in life, while social aging suggests that as individuals age socially, their opportunities for diverse investments shrink.
Habitus as Mechanism: It transforms passivity into activity, where humans internalize external elements and then externalize them. It represents the generative power within individuals to create new things based on internalization.
Capital in Various Species: Bourdieu's interpretation of capital extends beyond finances, encompassing immaterial resources like social connections and cultural knowledge. He divides capital into economic, social, cultural, and symbolic categories, each with its forms and states.
Cultural Capital: Cultural knowledge, behaviors, and preferences aren't personal choices but shaped by social structures. Cultural capital is linked to social positions, conferring status and shaping interactions, often limited by social, economic, and educational factors. Equal access to cultural resources is essential.
Symbolic Capital: Unlike economic or social capital, symbolic capital isn't tied to money or direct social connections. Symbolic capital is about inherent qualities conferring power or status; it extends beyond financial or identity-based considerations. It reveals how value is aggregated symbolically and legitimizes power.
Judgment of Taste: Tastes and preferences in culture (e.g., fashion, art) are shaped by cultural factors. Different social groups judge cultural goods, reflecting societal positioning.
Specific Capital: This holds value in particular fields, influencing the hierarchies within those domains. It highlights the significance of certain forms of capital within specific contexts.
Fields: Social and professional contexts where individuals compete for reputation. Different forms of capital hold varying values in different fields, and these fields are interrelated, often structured by their connections to other fields, particularly economic and political ones.
Meta Capital: Fields possess meta capital that influences the value of different forms of capital within and across fields, affecting the relative importance of different fields in society.
Bourdieu's concepts are part of a discussion among social scientists, providing an analytical perspective for understanding societal constructs and human behavior.