Pierre Bourdieu Essay - Critical Essays

Bourdieu, Pierre


Pierre Bourdieu 1930-2002

French sociologist, nonfiction writer, and essayist.

The following entry provides an overview of Bourdieu’s career through 2002.

Widely recognized for his work in the fields of sociology and cultural anthropology, Bourdieu's central focus was social class and the established cultural and social institutions that can reinforce the constraints of social class. Bourdieu approached the study of culture and sociology from a Marxist perspective and often used Marx's works to expound on theories regarding the role of education, media, and the intellectual in society. Although Bourdieu was a well-known and controversial figure in French intellectual circles for many decades, his work was almost unknown in the United States until the early 1980s. He garnered attention in American intellectual circles upon the publication, in 1984, of the English translation of his most famous work, La Distinction (1979; Distinction), an analysis of the significance of personal taste and its relationship with social status. Since then, a number of his works have been translated into English and he is often cited as one of the most important sociological theorists of the twentieth century.

Biographical Information

Bourdieu was born August 1, 1930, in Denguin, a small village in southwestern France, to Albert, a postmaster, and Noemie Bourdieu. Bourdieu attended the École normale superiéure in Paris, where most of his fellow students were financially and culturally elite. He graduated at the top of his class in 1954 with a degree in philosophy, and began teaching at a high school in Moulins in 1955. Bourdieu then accepted a teaching position in colonial Algeria at the University of Algiers, remaining there for almost two years. He returned to France in 1960 and began working as a professor of sociology at the University of Paris and then at the University of Lille. In 1964, Bourdieu became director of the Centre de Sociologie Européenne. His first major publication, Le Reproduction (Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture) appeared in 1970. In this work, Bourdieu presented what would become a common theme in all of his works. Focusing on the field of education, he argued that the French educational system perpetuated existing social and cultural divisions. He developed this and other ideas regarding art, society, and culture in a number of books and essays over the years, often collaborating with colleagues. His thoughts on power and social status in France were influenced by his rural background and his experiences in Algeria. In addition to his books and research, Bourdieu also launched the journal Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales in 1975. The goal of this publication was to dismantle mechanisms to which Bourdieu attributed the preservation of the status quo in social and economic power. Bourdieu remained a part of the French academic network for most of his career, and beginning in the 1990s, became a high-profile political activist, asserting that “the sociologist must intervene” when politics shift toward a direction he or she finds worrisome. He continued to research and write until his death from cancer, on January 23, 2002.

Major Works

Bourdieu was a prolific writer, publishing over twenty-five books and over three hundred essays and articles during his career. Besides Distinction and Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture, his best-known works include Esquisse d'une theorie de la pratique (1972; Outline of a Theory of Practice), Homo Academicus (1984), Règles de l'art (1992; The Rules of Art), The Field of Cultural Production (1993), and Domination masculine (1998; Masculine Domination). In these works, he examined ideas regarding individuals and institutions, theorizing that all human action takes place within a preset social and economic order. According to Bourdieu, existing social and cultural systems of hierarchy determine how people or individuals can acquire “capital.” From an economic perspective, money and material ownership determine one’s position and power in society; from a cultural perspective, one’s “capital” is determined by social position, which, in the case of rich and educated people, affords them a power and status not easily gained by those at a lower level in society. Thus, according to Bourdieu, culture and intellectual expertise can also serve as means of domination. He presented these assertions first in Distinction, in which he demonstrated the role of social class in shaping cultural preferences. Also contained in this work are a number of terms made famous by Bourdieu, including such descriptors as “cultural capital” and “habitus.” Although he was a sociologist by training, Bourdieu’s books cover a wide variety of subjects, and his social activism during the 1980s and political activities during the 1990s brought him much attention in France beyond his field of expertise.

Critical Reception

While he has been well known in French intellectual circles since the 1960s, Bourdieu’s work has only recently begun to garner critical and scholarly attention outside of France. He has been compared with such French philosophers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others whose radical theories have resulted in the furthering of social causes. Indeed, according to critic Richard Shusterman, “After the death of [Michel] Foucault, in 1984, Pierre Bourdieu became the last great exemplar of this tradition.” Bourdieu's detractors have characterized his theories as overly pessimistic and deterministic, due to their focus on the pervasiveness of competition, dominance/subjugation, and the unconscious willingness of the subjugated to cede power to the dominant. Katha Pollitt is among numerous critics who have responded to this allegation; in her words, “[Bourdieu] retained, in the face of a great deal of contrary evidence, including much gathered by himself, a faith in people's capacities for transformation.” Critic Anne Friederike Müller similarly stated, “To counter the frequent reproach of determinism, Bourdieu would answer that he advocated liberation through knowledge.” Bourdieu’s later writings were subject to much controversy which critics have suggested had less to do with the theories he expounded than with discomfort over his markedly high-profile involvement, as a sociologist, in political activity. Pollitt, evaluating Bourdieu’s oeuvre, stated that his writings were “probably the most brilliant and fruitful renovation and application of Marxian concepts in our era.”

Principal Works

Sociologie d'Algérie [The Algerians] (nonfiction) 1958

Travail et Travailleurs en Algérie (nonfiction) 1963

Les Héritiers, les étudiants et la culture [with Jean-Claude Passeron; The Inheritors: French Students and Their Relation to Culture] (nonfiction) 1964

Un art moyen: essais sur les usages sosiaux de la photographie (nonfiction) 1965

L'Amour de l'art, les musées d'art européens et leur public [with Alain Darbel and Dominique Schnapper; The Love of Art: European Art Museums and Their Public] (nonfiction) 1966

Rapport pédagogique et communication [editor and contributor, with Passeron and M. de Saint-Martin; Academic Discourse: Linguistic Misunderstanding and Professorial Power] (nonfiction) 1968

Le Reproduction: Elements pour une theorie du systeme d'enseignement [with Passeron; Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture] (nonfiction) 1970

Esquisse d'une theorie de la pratique, precede de trios etudes d'ethnologie kabyle [Outline of a Theory of Practice] (nonfiction) 1972

Die politische Ontologie Martin Heideggers [Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger] (nonfiction) 1976

La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement [Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste] (nonfiction) 1979

Questions de sociologie [Sociology in Question] (nonfiction) 1980

Sens pratique [The Logic of Practice] (nonfiction) 1980

Ce que parler veut dire: l'économie des échanges linguistiques [Language and Symbolic Power] (nonfiction) 1982

Homo academicus (nonfiction) 1984

Choses dites [In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology] (essays) 1987

La Noblesse d'etat [The State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power] (nonfiction) 1989

An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology [with Loïc J. D. Wacquant] (nonfiction) 1992

Règles de l'art: genèse et structure du champ littéraire [The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field] (nonfiction) 1992

The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (essays) 1993

La Misère du monde [The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society] (nonfiction) 1993

Raisons pratiques: sur la théorie de l'action [Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action] (nonfiction) 1994

Sur la télévision: suivi de l'emprise du journalisme [On Television] (nonfiction) 1996

Meditations Pascaliennes [Pascalian Meditations] (nonfiction) 1997

Contre-feux: propos pour servir à la résistance contre l'invasion néo-libérale [Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market] (nonfiction) 1998

Domination masculine [Masculine Domination] (nonfiction) 1998

Contre-feux 2: pour un mouvement social européean [Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2] (nonfiction) 2001

Science de la science et réflexivité: cours du Collège de France, 2000-2001 [Science of Science and Reflexivity] (nonfiction) 2001


Toril Moi (essay date autumn 1991)

SOURCE: Moi, Toril. “Appropriating Bourdieu: Feminist Theory and Pierre Bourdieu's Sociology of Culture.” New Literary History 22, no. 4 (autumn 1991): 1017-49.

[In the following essay, Moi analyzes Bourdieu's social theory in the context of feminist critical thinking.]


Feminist theory is critical theory; feminist critique is therefore necessarily political. In making this claim I draw on the Marxist concept of “critique,” succinctly summarized by Kate Soper as a theoretical exercise which, by “explaining the source in reality of the cognitive shortcomings of the theory under attack, call[s] for changes in the...

(The entire section is 14648 words.)

Jonathan Loesberg (essay date winter 1993)

SOURCE: Loesberg, Jonathan. “Bourdieu and the Sociology of Aesthetics.” ELH 60, no. 4 (winter 1993): 1033-56.

[In the following essay, Loesberg surveys Bourdieu's theories of cultural and sociological analyses as they pertain to aesthetics.]

Pierre Bourdieu's theoretical project begins—not precisely chronologically, but with an intrinsic logic—as the attempt to formulate a method of sociological and anthropological analysis that mediates between simply reproducing the perceptions of the culture studied and a scientific codification of those perceptions that gives them objective shape, but not a shape that corresponds to anything in the workings of that...

(The entire section is 10556 words.)

Morag Shiach (essay date October 1993)

SOURCE: Shiach, Morag. “‘Cultural Studies’ and the Work of Pierre Bourdieu.” French Cultural Studies 4, no. 12 (October 1993): 213-23.

[In the following essay, Shiach outlines the difficulties of placing Bourdieu's cultural theory within British cultural studies.]

Pierre Bourdieu's work has always presented something of a problem for the discipline of cultural studies in Britain, largely because it seems to operate along the fault line between textual analysis and sociological critique which has for so long disturbed the discipline's self-constitution. When Nicholas Garnham and Raymond Williams talk of Bourdieu as offering a possible ‘mediation’ between the...

(The entire section is 4302 words.)

Christian Ghasarian (review date January 1995)

SOURCE: Ghasarian, Christian. Review of Sociology in Question, by Pierre Bourdieu. Anthropological Quarterly 68, no. 1 (January 1995): 67-8.

[In the following review, Ghasarian summarizes the issues explored by Bourdieu in Sociology in Question, lauding the work for explaining some significant ideas regarding social theory.]

Social scientists must know the conditions of their productions. They must keep in mind that the relationship between subject and object is socially determined. Intellectuals' responsibility toward the social world sustains Pierre Bourdieu's reflection in this book [Sociology in Question]. Through a series of lectures and...

(The entire section is 924 words.)

Lester C. Olson (review date November 1995)

SOURCE: Olson, Lester C. Review of Language and Symbolic Power, by Pierre Bourdieu. Quarterly Journal of Speech 81, no. 4 (November 1995): 522-23.

[In the following review, Olson characterizes Language and Symbolic Power as “one of the most intellectually stimulating books about language.”]

Because he examines the sociological aspects of language, Pierre Bourdieu, a Professor of Sociology at the Collège de France, has written a series of essays that are rich in implication for students of rhetoric, communication and media. Most the essays were published earlier in French in Ce que parler veut dire, but this volume of translated essays...

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David Swartz (essay date spring 1996)

SOURCE: Swartz, David. “Bridging the Study of Culture and Religion: Pierre Bourdieu's Political Economy of Symbolic Power.” Sociology of Religion 57, no. 1 (spring 1996): 71-85.

[In the following essay, Swartz explains the main ideas behind Bourdieu's theory of culture in terms of its relationship to the sociology of religion.]

This essay examines key features of Pierre Bourdieu's sociology of culture in light of their potential contribution to the sociology of religion. Bourdieu himself has devoted little attention to the study of religion.1 Yet, significant features of his approach to the study of culture find inspiration in the materialism of Karl...

(The entire section is 6552 words.)

Sean McCann (essay date March 1997)

SOURCE: McCann, Sean. “Reintroduction of the Specialists.” American Quarterly 49, no. 1 (March 1997): 183-92.

[In the following essay, McCann analyzes possible reasons for the neglect of Bourdieu in the United States, using The Field of Cultural Production as the basis for this assessment.]

Of the French intellectuals who have arrived on American shores to transform the humanities in the last several decades, perhaps no one has received a more partial and limiting reception than Pierre Bourdieu. Compared to peers like Derrida, Foucault, Kristeva, and Lacan, whose ideas have attracted countless exegeses and attacks and who have inspired innumerable acolytes,...

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Philippe Marlière (essay date 17 October 1997)

SOURCE: Marlière, Philippe. “Blessed and Cursed by the Box.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4933 (17 October 1997): 16.

[In the following essay, Marlière outlines Bourdieu's thoughts on the media as presented in Sur la télévision.]

Pierre Bourdieu's “theory of practice” has combined an impressive range of empirical topics and theoretical reflections, through the publication of a vast series of research projects from the late 1950s onwards. Among his numerous objects of study, the French sociologist has dealt with kinship, education, philosophy, economics, language, literature, museums, photography, political representation, law, religion, science and...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)

William Paulson (essay date December 1997)

SOURCE: Paulson, William. “The Market of Printed Goods: On Bourdieu's Rules.” Modern Language Quarterly 58, no. 4 (December 1997): 399-415.

[In the following essay, Paulson proposes that although Bourdieu has remained constant in his opposition to social, cultural, and economic oppression, he presents a modified version of this argument in The Rules of Art.]

In December 1995, during the second month of the largest wave of strikes and social protest France had seen since May 1968, Pierre Bourdieu was one of the leading intellectual figures to lend his support to the movement. Le Monde described his remarks as the high point of a string of speeches by the...

(The entire section is 6128 words.)

James Collins (essay date winter 1998)

SOURCE: Collins, James. “Language, Subjectivity, and Social Dynamics in the Writings of Pierre Bourdieu.” American Literary History 10, no. 4 (winter 1998): 725-32.

[In the following essay, Collins describes Bourdieu's ideas regarding the role of literature in society.]

Pierre Bourdieu's arguments about forms of capital have provided the foundations for an important series of analyses of social reproduction that rightly emphasize the prominence of educational systems in modern social dynamics. There is value in finding out how social-symbolic “capitals,” variously defined, operate within and across different national systems of social stratification. As...

(The entire section is 2994 words.)

Allen Dunn (essay date spring 1998)

SOURCE: Dunn, Allen. “Who Needs a Sociology of the Aesthetic? Freedom and Value in Pierre Bourdieu's Rules of Art.Boundary 2 25, no. 1 (spring 1998): 87-110.

[In the following essay, Dunn investigates a contradiction in Bourdieu's theory about the role of art in society.]

Sociology and art do not make good bedfellows. That's the fault of art and artists, who are allergic to everything that offends the idea they have of themselves: the universe of art is a universe of belief, belief in gifts, in the uniqueness of the uncreated creator, and the intrusion of the sociologist, who seeks to understand, explain, account for what he finds, is a...

(The entire section is 10284 words.)

Lois McNay (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: McNay, Lois. “Gender, Habitus and the Field: Pierre Bourdieu and the Limits of Reflexivity.” Theory, Culture & Society 16, no. 1 (1999): 95-117.

[In the following essay, McNay focuses on the work of Bourdieu and Michel Foucault to examine notions of reflexive identity, characterizing Bourdieu's position as more dynamic and developed.]

This article argues that the failure of certain theories of reflexive identity transformation to consider more fully issues connected to gender identity leads to an overemphasis on the expressive possibilities thrown up by processes of detraditionalization. A more sustained examination of questions related to gender,...

(The entire section is 10056 words.)

Hernan Vera (review date March 1999)

SOURCE: Vera, Hernan. Review of On Television, by Pierre Bourdieu. Contemporary Sociology 28, no. 2 (March 1999): 196-97.

[In the following review, Vera provides a brief overview of Bourdieu's On Television.]

Pierre Bourdieu is the only major contemporary theorist who has proposed a general sociology of culture. The production process, the cultural text, and the audience—in the context of social institutions, culture, and social change—can be understood better as a whole process using the ideas on the economy of symbolic practices he has developed throughout his career. This small book [On Television] is a good example of the empirical use of his...

(The entire section is 765 words.)

Richard Shusterman (essay date 3 May 1999)

SOURCE: Shusterman, Richard. “France's Philosophe Impolitique.Nation (3 May 1999): 25-8.

[In the following essay, Shusterman reviews Bourdieu's theories and writings in the context of other French theorists.]

Recent French philosophy has been most passionately loved and hated for its militant radicalism. Figures like Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault defined it through an intoxicating blend of subversive theory and progressive praxis that deployed academic erudition to wage war and wield influence in arenas of social struggle far grander than those of campus politics. As Diderot and Rousseau had done two centuries earlier (inspiring the French...

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Pierre Bourdieu and Günter Grass (interview date 3 July 2000)

SOURCE: Bourdieu, Pierre, and Günter Grass. “A Literature from Below: Günter Grass and Pierre Bourdieu.” Nation (3 July 2000): 25-8.

[In the following interview, originally published in French and German, Grass and Bourdieu discuss the role of intellectuals in society, centering on topics such as sociology, literature, economics, and world politics.]

The role of the public intellectual—and the moral onus, assuming that one exists—seems ever to thread the Scylla of celebrity and the Charybdis of marginality. In a conversation printed in part simultaneously in the French daily Le Monde and German weekly Die Zeit, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and...

(The entire section is 3045 words.)

Paul Reitter (essay date 23-30 July 2001)

SOURCE: Reitter, Paul. “Gender Unbender.” Nation (23-30 July 2001): 39-42.

[In the following essay, Reitter comments on Bourdieu's Masculine Domination and examines the reasons behind his immense popularity with the French media.]

Pierre Bourdieu's newsworthiness has become news. The profile of him in the New York Times deals more with how bright his star is than with its substance, and quite a bit of the attention Bourdieu receives from the French press has to do with the attention he receives from the French press. What set this cycle into motion? In France, where academics play a much larger role in public life than they do here, academic...

(The entire section is 2194 words.)

Anne Mesny (essay date winter 2002)

SOURCE: Mesny, Anne. “A View on Bourdieu's Legacy: Sens pratique v. Hysteresis.Canadian Journal of Sociology 27, no. 1 (winter 2002): 59-67.

[In the following essay, Mesny explores the controversy surrounding Bourdieu's intellectual status in France.]


Bourdieu's last publications1 before his recent death in January have been the object of considerable attention and controversy (Alexander, 2000; Callon, 1999; Critique, 1995; Grignon, 1996; Grumberg & Schweisguth, 1996; Hamel, 1997 & 1998, Magazine Littéraire, 1998; Lahire, 1999; Martucelli, 1999; Mayer, 1995; Mongin &...

(The entire section is 3761 words.)

Richard Shusterman (essay date 8 February 2002)

SOURCE: Shusterman, Richard. “Pierre Bourdieu: Reason and Passion.” Chronicle of Higher Education 48, no. 22 (8 February 2002): B13.

[In the following essay, Shusterman details his professional relationship with Bourdieu, noting that despite their differences, they regarded each other with respect.]

French philosophy is famous for radical theory in the service of progressive social causes. If Diderot, Rousseau, and Voltaire propelled this tradition in the 18th century (inspiring the French Revolution), Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault defined it in recent times by wielding their erudition and symbolic power to wage war in arenas of social struggle far beyond...

(The entire section is 1522 words.)

Katha Pollitt (essay date 18 February 2002)

SOURCE: Pollitt, Katha. “Pierre Bourdieu, 1930-2002.” Nation (18 February 2002): 10.

[In the following essay, Pollitt provides an assessment of Bourdieu's professional career, calling his work “the most brilliant and fruitful renovation and application of Marxian concepts in our era.”]

The death on January 23 of the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu came as the American chattering classes were busy checking the math in Richard Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline—an unintentional parody of sociology in which Posner presents a top-100 list ranking writers and professors according to the number of times they turned up on...

(The entire section is 1048 words.)

Deborah Reed-Danahay (essay date spring 2002)

SOURCE: Reed-Danahay, Deborah. “Remembering Pierre Bourdieu: 1930-2002.” Anthropological Quarterly 75, no. 2 (spring 2002): 375-80.

[In the following essay, Reed-Danahay presents an overview of Bourdieu's works.]

Pierre Bourdieu died in Paris of cancer on January 23, 2002. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Marie-Claire, and their three children Jerome, Emmanuel, and Laurent. Bourdieu was a prolific writer and significant post-war intellectual whose influence on contemporary thought in the social sciences and humanities has been immense. His key concepts of habitus, field, and symbolic capital continue to shape research and theory in many disciplines. The author of over 25 books, his Outline of a Theory of Practice is the best known of his works among American anthropologists.1

Given the wide breadth of his writings, and the uneven timing of translations of his work, knowledge of Bourdieu's many contributions is scattered in the United States according to disciplinary interests, and there are relatively few scholars who are familiar with the total oeuvre. His social activism and political position in France are also not well known among his readers outside of France. During the 1990s, Bourdieu became firmly established, along with Derrida and Foucault, as a major French intellectual presence in American academia. He was at this time, already, one of the leading intellectuals in France, widely known and controversial among the public as well as among scholars. His outspoken criticism of the social class structure provoked a range of critics in France.

For English-speaking audiences, Bourdieu's work has been the subject of several book-length treatments2 and edited collections.3 A two and one-half hour documentary film on Bourdieu, “Sociology is a Combat Sport” (with the title based on a quote from Bourdieu), was widely shown in France in 2001. Bourdieu felt that much of his work was misunderstood by readers, and he tried to clarify the meaning of his work through several published interviews and essays (In Other Words [1990]; An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology [1992]).

Bourdieu was born to a rural family in the region of Béarn, in southwestern France, near the Pyrenées. His family had peasant roots and spoke the regional dialect of Gasgogne as well as French. His father, who never finished high school, was a postal worker. Bourdieu's modest origins made him particularly sensitive to issues of power and prestige in France, shaping his research interests, social activism, and defense of the underprivileged. He was a “scholarship boy” who attended lycée in the regional city of Pau and then went on to lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, before eventually entering the Ecole Normale Supérieure (one of the elite institutions of higher learning in France.) There he studied with Louis Althusser and received a degree in philosophy. He started his teaching career in 1955 in a high school in Moulins. From there, he took teaching positions in Algiers (1958-60), Paris, and then in the industrial northern French city of Lille.

Bourdieu became Director of Studies at EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) in Paris in 1964, where he edited the journal Actes de la Recherches en Sciences Sociales and founded the Center for the Sociology of Education and Culture. In his early years at EHESS, he worked with Raymond Aron. He was elected to the prestigious Chair of Sociology at College de France in 1981. His inaugural lecture at the College de France (reprinted in In Other Words as “A Lecture on the Lecture”) is now famous for its self-reflexive commentary on the giving of such lectures. Bourdieu gave his last lecture there on March 28, 2001, as he prepared to retire after 20 years. In 1993, Bourdieu received the highest honor from CNRS (the French National Scientific Research Center), the “Medaille d'Or” (Gold Medal).

Bourdieu studied philosophy, anthropology and sociology. He came of age in a French academic climate dominated by Sartre and Lévi-Strauss, amid the backdrop of the Algerian war for independence from French colonial rule. Influences on Bourdieu's work include, in addition to those thinkers already cited, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Mauss, Elias, and Goffman. His early work is characterized by a split between ethnographic peasant studies in Algeria and southwestern France on the one hand, and statistical sociological studies of education and social class in urban France on the other. Because of his interest in the situation in Algeria, he took a university post early in his career at the University of Algiers, and undertook ethnographic research while there. This work resulted in Sociologie de l'Algérie (1958), Travail et Travailleurs en Algérie (1963), and several essays, including the classic essays published in English as “The Attitude of the Algerian Peasant Toward Time” (1964), “The Sentiment of Honour in Kabyle Society” (1965) and “The Berber House” (1973). At around the same time, Bourdieu conducted ethnographic research on marriage strategies in his natal region of Béarn in southwestern France. Although Bourdieu never published a book on his rural French research, he wrote several articles, including “Célibat et Condition Paysanne” (1962) and “Marriage Strategies as Strategies of Social Reproduction” (1976). Bourdieu's work engaged with structuralism from the outset, analyzing structure while also arguing for a more nuanced version of it that could better capture the role of individual social actors.

Bourdieu first gained wide notoriety not for his ethnological work, but as a sociological critic of the French educational system. Soon after his return to France from Algeria, Bourdieu began a series of statistical studies of education and social class reproduction. This resulted in two volumes co-authored with Jean-Claude Passeron: Les Héritiers, Les Etudiants et la Culture (1964) and La Réproduction: Eléments pour Une Théorie du Système d'Enseignement (1970). The work was published just before and after the May 1968 student/worker uprisings in Paris, during which time the entire social fabric of France was being questioned. These books demonstrated that success in education depends upon symbolic or cultural capital—a complex of values, linguistic skills, and worldviews that is unevenly distributed among the population. Exclusion from the system results not only from judgments and exams in the school, but also through internalized (largely unconscious) attitudes among students that support the system of exclusion. Bourdieu made extensive use of the concepts of habitus and symbolic violence in this research, themes that characterized much of his later work on a variety of topics.

Along with Reproduction (1977), Bourdieu's best known books are Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977), Distinction (1984), and The Logic of Practice (1990). These three books synthesize Bourdieu's sociological and ethnographic research and formulate his theoretical approach. His notion of practice seeks to reconcile structuralist and methodological individualist approaches. It draws from concepts of social actors' “common sense” to understand how noticeable patterns emerge from human behavior. As he has written, he wanted to move from the study of “rules to strategies.” Nevertheless, Bourdieu retained a limited view of the possibilities for human agency, and focused on the constraints of the habitus and of systems of symbolic domination. Bourdieu made use of these concepts in his writings in the fields of art, literature, and language, among others.

In two recent books, Masculine Domination (2001) and The Weight of the World (1999), Bourdieu addressed social problems of sexism and poverty in his own society through trenchant critiques relying upon the concept of symbolic domination. He also wrote books attacking television (1999) and neoliberalism (1999). Bourdieu was increasingly in the French public eye in the years immediately preceding his death as an outspoken critic of globalization. Bourdieu supported the controversial peasant-hero José Bové, who led French farmers to attack a McDonalds restaurant. He also supported Algerian causes at home in France and in North Africa.

Bourdieu was not comfortable with labels of his work, and avoided easy characterizations in large part by leaving such a huge legacy of work that crosses disciplinary boundaries. He also avoided facile political labels, often alienating members of left-wing groups in France with which he, for the most part, identified. Bourdieu offered criticisms of the centers of power in France, including his own academic colleagues, with the publication of Homo Academicus (1988). His contributions to the study of power in modern society have moved social theory in new directions, helping shape arguments about social agency and structure. His premature death came as he continued up until the end to offer a critical voice in human affairs. Despite his powerful position in French academic circles and the extraordinary influence of his work throughout the world, Bourdieu's demeanor in person could be surprisingly understated and modest. Those who were privileged enough to get to know Pierre Bourdieu attest to his warmth and gentle sense of humor.


  1. The most extensive bibliography of Bourdieu's work and critical analyses of it can be found at the website HyperBourdieu.

  2. Examples include Robbins 1991; Jenkins 1991; Lane 2000; Swartz 1997.

  3. Examples include Brown and Szeman 2000; Harker et al 1990; Calhoun et al 1993; Grenfell and James 1998; Shusterman 1999.

Works by or About Pierre Bourdieu

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1958. Sociologie de l'Algérie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. [English translation: 1962. The Algerians. Transl. A. C. M. Ross. Boston: Beacon Press.]

1962. “Célibat et Condition Paysanne,” Etudes Rurales. 5-6.32-136.

1963. Travail et Travailleurs en Algérie. Paris and the Hague: Mouton.

1964. “The Attitude of the Algerian Peasant Toward Time.” In J. Pitt-Rivers (ed.) Mediterranean Countrymen. Pp. 55-72. Transl. G. E. Williams. Paris and the Hague: Mouton.

1965. “The Sentiment of Honor in Kabyle Society.” In J. G. Peristiany (ed.) Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society. Pp. 191-241. Transl. P. Sherrard. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

1972. Esquisse d'Une Theorie de la Pratique. Geneva; Droz [English translation: 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Transl. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.]

1973. “The Berber House.” In Mary Douglas (ed.) Rules and Meanings: The Anthropology of Everyday Knowledge. Pp. 98-110 Harmondsworth: Penguin.

1976. “Marriage Strategies as Strategies of Social Reproduction.” In R. Foster and O. Ranum (eds.) Family and Society: Selections from the Annales. Transl. E. Forster. Pp. 117-4. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

1979. La Distinction: Critique Sociale du Jugement. Paris: Editions de Minuit. [English translation: 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Transl. Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.]

1980. Le Sens Pratique. Paris: Editions de Minuit. [English translation: 1990. The Logic of Practice. Transl. Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.]

1984. Homo Academicus. Paris: Editions de Minuit. [English translation: 1988. Homo Academicus. Transl. P. Collier. Cambridge: Polity Press.]

1990. In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology. Transl. Matthew Adamson. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

1996. Sur la Télevision. Paris: Liber Editions. [English translation: 1999. On Television and Journalism. Transl. P. Ferguson. London: Pluto Press.]

1998. La Domination Masculine. Paris: Editions du Seuil. [English translation: 2001. Masculine Domination. Transl. Richard Nice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.]

1998. Contre-feux: Propos pour Servir à la Resistance Contre l'Invasion Neo-Libérale. Paris: Editions Liber. [English translation: 1999. Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market. Transl. Richard Nice. New York: New Press.]

Bourdieu, Pierre and Alain Accardo (eds.) 1993. La Misère du Monde. Paris: Editions du Seuil. [English Translation: 1999. The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Societies. Transl. P. Ferguson. Stanford: Stanford University Press.]

Bourdieu, Pierre and Jean-Claude Passeron. 1964. Les Héritiers, les Etudiants, et la Culture. Paris: Editions de Minuit. [English translation: 1979. The Inheritors: French Students and their Relation to Culture. Transl. Richard Nice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.]

Bourdieu, Pierre and Jean-Claude Passeron. 1970. La Réproduction. Eléments Pour Une Théorie du Système d'Enseignement. Paris: Editions du Minuit. [English translation: 1977. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. Transl. Richard Nice. London and Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.]

Bourdieu, Pierre and Loic Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Brown, Nicholas and Imre Szeman (eds.). 2000. Pierre Bourdieu: Fieldwork in Culture. Rowman and Littlefield, Pubs.

Calhoun, Craig, Edward LiPuma and Moishe Postone (eds.). 1993. Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fowler, Bridget. 1997. Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory: Critical Investigations. NY: Sage.

Grenfell, Michael and David James (eds.). 1998. Bourdieu and Education: Acts of Practical Theory. London: Taylor and Francis.

Harker, Richard, Cheleen Mahar and Chris Wilkes (eds.). 1990. Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu: The Practice of Theory. Palgrave.

Jenkins, Richard. 1992. Pierre Bourdieu. London and New York: Routledge.

Lane, Jeremy F. 2000. Pierre Bourdieu: A Critical Introduction. London: Pluto Press.

Robbins, Derek. 1991. The Work of Pierre Bourdieu. Boulder and San Francisco: Westview Press.

Shusterman, Richard (ed.). 1999. Bourdieu: A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Swartz, David. 1997. Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Roy Boyne (essay date June 2002)

SOURCE: Boyne, Roy. “Bourdieu: From Class to Culture, In Memoriam; Pierre Bourdieu 1930-2002.” Theory, Culture & Society 19, no. 3 (June 2002): 117-28.

[In the following essay, Boyne compares Bourdieu's Distinction with The Weight of the World, tracing the differences in thought and empirical data that led to changes in Bourdieu's theory of sociology and art in later years.]

I will try to establish two things: first the continuing use but outdated nature of the model of working-class culture found in Distinction; second, the relationship between that model and the work which is reported in The Weight of the World.1...

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Howie Chodos and Bruce Curtis (essay date November 2002)

SOURCE: Chodos, Howie, and Bruce Curtis. “Pierre Bourdieu's Masculine Domination: A Critique.” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 39, no. 4 (November 2002): 397-412.

[In the following essay, Chodos and Curtis purport that Bourdieu's concepts in Masculine Domination are limited in their application.]

In a marked break with an earlier pessimism about the political potential of academic sociology (Mesney, 2002), Pierre Bourdieu extended his systematic program of social research to an increasingly public involvement with political questions in the decade before his death on 23 January, 2002. He organized and edited a multi-authored volume on...

(The entire section is 7282 words.)

Further Reading


Anderson, Eric, and Francesca M. Cancian. Review of Masculine Domination, by Pierre Bourdieu. American Journal of Sociology 107, no. 5 (March 2002): 1381-82.

Favorably assesses Bourdieu's Masculine Domination, labeling it a provocative and significant work.

Balfe, Judith Huggins. “Déjà Vu, All Over Again?” Contemporary Sociology 21, no. 2 (March 1992): 152-53.

Maintains that Bourdieu's The Love of Art was a groundbreaking work in its time.

Bogart, Leo. Review of Distinction, by Pierre Bourdieu. Public Opinion Quarterly (spring 1987): 131-34....

(The entire section is 886 words.)