No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Masculine Domination Revisited

Pierre Bourdieu explains the need to challenge established perceptions and reflect on ingrained societal norms to analyze and transform gender relations. He refers to his anthropological studies in Algeria as a basis for understanding societal structures and principles, and suggests that exploring unique cultures helps reveal common principles within broader societies. The lecture aims to redefine and critically examine perceptions of masculine domination, urging a deeper understanding through empirical and philosophical analysis.

Bourdieu creates a general model that illustrates the fundamental structure of masculine regional divisions. He uses the Kabyle society as a case study to understand how the tendencies seen within it are mirrored in contemporary Western societies, albeit in different forms. Bourdieu aims to reconstruct this model, like assembling fragments of an ancient monument, to comprehend contemporary societal dispositions. Through this method, he attempts to highlight the entrenched societal norms and biases that have become internalized. Bourdieu discusses the secondary purpose of subjecting existing gender theories to scrutiny through the lens of the Kabyle test, discerning between scholastic constructs and genuinely innovative aspects in these theories.

He then presents substantive findings from his detailed analysis of the Kabyle society. He emphasizes how sexual differences are integrated and submerged within a broader system of political and cosmological oppositions, revealing how gender relations are embedded within various social, symbolic, and physical dimensions.

Bourdieu illustrates the entanglement of sexual differences within a system of oppositions, where seemingly mundane aspects of life, like food serving practices, manifest gender biases. He emphasizes how these oppositions are not just linguistic or cultural but also extend to physical, social, and symbolic realms, exerting an effect of necessity and systematicity within societies.

Gender is also constructed through institutional rights, such as circumcision, and the symbolic reworking of anatomical differences. Bourdieu discusses the social construction of the body as an ideological foundation for arbitrary oppositions, leading to a naturalization of social constructs. Socialization processes contribute to the somatization of gender relations, ultimately reinforcing societal norms and biases by linking them to perceived biological differences.

Bourdieu discusses the nuanced nature of division, noting that the visual aspect is never entirely definitive. Symbolic representations of organs play a significant role, including a feminine folklore that attempts to invert masculine symbols but is ultimately dominated by their values.

The social construction operation extends to the sexual act itself, which Bourdieu finds is rich with symbolic significance. He shares anecdotes from the Kabyle society, such as gendered rituals involving cutting objects to separate boys from their mothers or introduce them into gender-specific spaces like the marketplace. Bourdieu analyzes these rituals as symbolic separations between masculine and feminine worlds, reflecting broader socialization dynamics.

He emphasizes the continuous reinforcement of masculinity as both a reality and a symbolic power, deeply inscribed in cultural practices and linguistic constructs. Bourdieu connects cosmology to bodily movements, an attempt to substitute physical movement for the symbolic values of high and low, suggesting a link between bodily actions and societal values.

Furthermore, he explores how socialization operates without a break from reality, instilling different dispositions in men and women. This socialization molds behaviors and perceptions that reinforce masculine domination, even affecting how domination is perceived and internalized by the dominated.

Bourdieu underscores the complicity of the socialized body in perpetuating domination, highlighting that this complicity manifests not in consciousness but in emotions and passions. He criticizes the oversimplification of describing domination solely in terms of consciousness, arguing that rising consciousness alone cannot undo the deep-seated dispositions ingrained in the body and emotions.

Bourdieu emphasizes the limits of consciousness in challenging male domination. He draws connections between philosophical theories from various centuries, highlighting how passions and emotions play crucial roles in resisting oppression.

Bourdieu introduces the concept of "amor fati", which suggests a connection between love, destiny, and societal response. He argues that gender domination exemplifies how symbolic violence operates beyond consciousness, deeply entrenched in habitus and internalized dispositions.

He critiques the oversimplification of describing domination solely in terms of consciousness, emphasizing that symbolic violence operates through emotions and passions, not just conscious acts. Bourdieu challenges feminist and Marxist theories that overly rely on consciousness rising, asserting the complicity of the socialized body in perpetuating domination.

He explores the interconnectedness of social constructions, suggesting that constructed categories are conflicted and form part of a complex social structure. Bourdieu highlights the importance of bodily inscriptions in institutions and agents, shaping behaviors and identities. He underscores that societal categories become universal because they are internalized and used in cognitive processes.

Bourdieu proposes a theory that integrates materialist thinking into the analysis of the symbolic universe, especially regarding masculine domination. He asserts that the analysis of the Kabyle case can serve as a benchmark for understanding and challenging various dimensions of masculine domination, aiming for a symbolic revolution that questions the very foundations of societal structures.

Bourdieu acknowledges the gravity of the topic, expressing concern about the future of critical reason in the face of postmodern influences. He critiques postmodernism's impact on academia, cautioning against its potential to undermine critical thinking. Bourdieu emphasizes the need for liberation from dominance in academic disciplines and the necessity of critically examining the roots of theories borrowed from various fields.

Bourdieu explores the nuanced relationship between symbolic violence and physical violence. He addresses the challenge of integrating physical violence within the framework of symbolic violence, noting that the latter tends to overshadow the former due to its invisible and pervasive nature. Bourdieu cautions against a tendency in historical trends to substitute symbolic violence for physical violence in modern societies. He points out that certain societal changes or processes, such as modernization or civilization, might prioritize symbolic violence over physical violence, leading to a neglect of the latter's significance in shaping power structures and domination. He also touches on the imperialism of the universal, highlighting how the imposition of universal ideals, like democracy, can operate as a form of symbolic violence by suppressing alternative viewpoints and paths of resistance.

Bourdieu delves into the role of the state in reproducing the gender opposition between male and female. He views the state as not only possessing a monopoly on physical violence but also on symbolic violence, which he considers even more significant. Bourdieu emphasizes the state's control over the symbolic realm, including categorization processes and the distribution of symbolic recognition and certification. He discusses the impact of the state's symbolic violence on individuals, shaping their expressions and negotiation within social spaces.


Pierre Bourdieu. Conference Masculine Domination Revisited. First Erving Goffman Prize Lecture, University of California, Berkeley. April 1996. In English.