Monday, November 4, 2013

Sketch for a Self-Analysis, by Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu, a philosopher by education, and an anthropologist and sociologist by choice, is one of the most esteemed names in twentieth-century French thought. With his election in 1981 to the chair of sociology at the College de France, he joined the distinguished ranks of the most respected French social scientists, Raymond Aron and Claude Levi-Strauss. Prolific writer, Bourdieu has published more than 30 books and 340 articles over the period 1958 to 1995. The Social Science Citation Index ranking from high to low in 1989 for leading French thinkers was the following: Foucault, Bourdieu, Levi-Strauss, Derrida, Althusser, Sartre, Poulantzas, Touraine, Lacan, Baudrillard, and Aron.

Although his subject was mainly Algerian and French society,  Bourdieu’s approach is useful in analyzing power in many more illuminating ways than offered by Foucault. While Foucault sees power as "ubiquitous" and beyond agency or structure, Bourdieu sees power as economically, culturally, socially and symbolically created, and constantly re-legitimized through an interplay of agency and structure. The main way this comes about is through what he calls "habitus" or socialized norms or tendencies that unconsciously guide behavior, choices and thinking. In Bourdieu’s stipulation, habitus is "the way society becomes deposited in persons in the form of lasting dispositions, or trained capacities and structured propensities to think, feel and act in determinant ways, which then guide them."
In his Sketch for a Self-Analysis, written shortly before his death in January 2002, Bourdieu offers a "self-socioanalysis," in only 113 pages, and provides a compelling narrative of his life and career, and insights from his lifelong preoccupation with sociology, including intimate insights into the ideas of Foucault, Sartre, Althusser and de Beauvoir, among others, as well as his reflections on his own formative years at boarding school and his moral outrage at the colonial war in Algeria. Please join us as at Brooklyn Book Talk, as we explore some of the most stimulating thoughts of one of the greatest sociologists of the twentieth-century.