Pierre Bourdieu

Jan Blommaert
Table of contents

It is no overstatement to say that Pierre Bourdieu is one the most influential social-scientific thinkers of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Terms designed by him – ‘habitus,’ ‘field,’ ‘symbolic violence’ and so forth – have become part of the core vocabulary of anthropology, sociology, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, cultural studies and media studies, to name just a few disciplines. Ignorance of his work is widely construed as a major intellectual flaw because ‘French Theory,’ the complex of Anglosaxon scholarly interpretations of the work of Derrida, Ricoeur, Bourdieu and Foucault (Cusset 2008), is an important part of the canon of social sciences and humanities. The mediating effect of Anglosaxon uptake and interpretation is substantial: the history of translations of works by the French Mandarins can be shown to have an impact on how such work was read, understood and incorporated in general and specific theoretical projects worldwide. In Bourdieu’s case, Gorski (2013) notes that the sequence of English translations of Bourdieu’s books did not chronologically mirror their sequence in Bourdieu’s own development and that some of his work remains untranslated. Such factors can explain the lack of attention to Bourdieu’s ethnographic and historical ambitions in much secondary work. I shall have occasion to return to this issue below.

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