Remembering Pierre Bourdieu

A little more than ten years after his death, The Guardian takes a look at the influence Pierre Bourdieu has had on sociology and other academic fields:

Ten years after the death of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, we seem a long way from the days when he severely criticised the world of politics and the media. Sociology students the world over are familiar with concepts such as social reproduction, symbolic violence and cultural capital.

Bourdieu is also the second most frequently quoted author in the world, after Michel Foucault, but ahead of Jacques Derrida, according to the ranking produced by Thomson Reuters (previously the Institute of Scientific Information), which counts citations. “Bourdieu has become the name of a collective research undertaking which disregards borders between disciplines and countries,” says Loïc Wacquant, a professor of sociology at University of California, Berkeley…

Could another Bourdieu appear now? Certainly not, says Noiriel: “No single thinker could exert so much influence. Sociological research has gone global, whereas it was only just taking shape in France when Bourdieu established his position.”…

“Bourdieu rarely spoke out on issues with which he was not familiar,” says the sociologist Franck Poupeau, who edited his Political Interventions. From social deprivation to industrial action, his commitment was linked to “a profound understanding of these issues”. So, he believes, “another Bourdieu would be possible now, but he would take a different form, that’s all.”

Despite Bourdieu’s standing in sociology and other academic disciplines, how many Americans have heard of him? Have any major US policies or programs been based on Bourdieu’s work? Of course, perhaps these are silly questions as sociologists tend not to exert the same influence in the United States nor do we have as much space for public intellectuals. Additionally, measuring sociologists in pragmatic terms (how did they tangibly improve society) might be an American sort of question.

A related point: I have a hard time imagining any major US newspaper writing a story like this about a sociologist who had passed away ten years earlier. One explanation for this could be that Bourdieu was heads above many or all other sociologists of his generation and there is no American who could match his theories or breadth. Another is that many journalists have little knowledge about sociology or sociologists. Hence, people who write about society can be labelled a sociologist.

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