Article

Pierre Bourdieu

Etienne Ollion

in Sociology

ISBN: 9780199756384
Published online November 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0083
Pierre Bourdieu

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Pierre Bourdieu was born on 1 August 1930 in a rural area of southwestern France. The only child of a peasant sharecropper turned postman, he left his region on the recommendation of a high school teacher to pursue an elite academic curriculum in Paris. He graduated from the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, then at the apex of French academic life. There he studied philosophy. He concentrated on epistemology and on the history of science, which set him against the then dominant current, existentialism, personified by Jean-Paul Sartre. Bourdieu’s vocation in philosophy shifted abruptly to the social sciences after he was drafted into the French army and sent to Algeria at the height of its Liberation War (1956–1962). There he turned to empirical inquiry, carrying out both ethnographic and statistical studies of colonial transformation, as well as absorbing the structuralism of Claude Lévi-Strauss. Upon his return to France, Bourdieu completed his conversion to sociology: he became Director of Studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris (1964); he founded a research center (1968), launched a journal (Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 1975), and assembled a research team focusing on symbolic power, and social inequality in their broadest manifestations. After the 1970s, Bourdieu tackled an increasingly diverse set of empirical topics (spanning art, ritual, kinship, religion, science, intellectuals, language, social classes, and political institutions, inter alia) while developing his own paradigm, seeking a pathway out of the opposition between structuralist objectivism and constructivist subjectivism—first proposed in Outline of a Theory of Practice. He then honed his distinctive conceptual triad of habitus, capital, and field in Distinction (1984) before he was elected to the Collège de France in 1982, where his research expanded to encompass the state, gender domination, the social foundations of the economy, and the experience of social suffering in contemporary society. Bourdieu addressed salient social issues, as in The Weight of the World (1999), and deepened his rethinking of the distinctive logic of practice and the epistemological dilemmas of social inquiry in Pascalian Meditations (2000). He became a leading public figure in the global mobilization against neoliberalism, while his work gained international influence across the social sciences and the humanities. At the time of his sudden death in 2002, he was working on a “general theory of fields.”

Article.  11069 words. 

Subjects: Sociology ; Comparative and Historical Sociology ; Economic Sociology ; Gender and Sexuality ; Health, Illness, and Medicine ; Population and Demography ; Race and Ethnicity ; Social Movements and Social Change ; Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility ; Social Theory

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