- Practice, Politique, Postmodernism
I. The Text
Invitation to Reflexive Sociology is a book that is not quite a text. Tiles in a genre mosaic abut one another: Fantasy Interview with the Great Man (Part Deux, a construction not a transcript), Fatherly Advice on Becoming a Sociologist (Part 3, from a seminar for Bourdieu’s students), several essays at a “How to Read Bourdieu” (Part 1, Appendices, Notes, from Wacquant). The unbounded border mosaic of intertexts, present and absent, draws down readers’ accumulated cultural capital toward indebtedness.
If you have read Bourdieu’s The Logic of Practice (1990), whose first half sets forth his most original theoretical ideas (elaborating and superseding the older Outline of a Theory of Practice, 1977), and at least one of his major sociological studies Distinction, 1984; Homo Academicus, 1988; La Noblesse d’Etat, 1989), then Invitation may help you decide whether to read more from Bourdieu, and what. If you have only a vague sense that Bourdieu is a leading social theorist who engages the telling intellectual issues of the day, Invitation may convince you that, along with his near neighbors in social space (as he himself defines them in Homo Academicus, 276), Foucault and Derrida, Bourdieu sets the stage for our postmodernist play.
And if you have ever wondered what Bourdieu thinks of his actual and potential rivals: sociological, intellectual, and philosophical (except Derrida and Foucault), or simply enjoy stockpiling ammunition for use in future intellectual battles of your own, Invitation is a fully-stocked armamentarium.
But Invitation is also a voice, one that resonates with our own, speaking as we would like to speak (if not necessarily saying what we would like to say), about the construction of reality and society, experience and meaning, language and power, the social and the personal, time and the body, gender and domination, science and politics, academics and intellectuals. Perhaps it is only an illusion, but in this text as nowhere else, we seem to hear Bourdieu speaking, rather than writing. Bourdieu writes himself out of his writing in too many ways. However written his speaking may be here, however defensive, didactic, or undialogical, to a small degree at least it allows us to write him back in.
And if you are a student, or any sort of newcomer, to academic and intellectual discourse in what was once humanistic and social studies, I advise you to read and challenge this book.
II. Postmodernism, Si or No?
So, is he or isn’t he? The short answer, I think, is that Bourdieu writes as a chastened defender of the great modernist projects, a modernist for postmodern times. But while his desire is with the best of modernism, his method is shaped by the same rebellion against modernism and structuralism that characterizes his close contemporaries Foucault and Derrida.
Here, taken from Invitation, is my reading of Bourdieu’s project and consequent overt stance against postmodernism, to be followed by a counter-construction of Bourdieu as postmodern in spite of himself.
The project of Bourdieu’s desire is a grand sociology which realizes in part the modernist dream of a scientific objectivity hard won through its own reflexivity: “Sociology can escape to a degree [from its necessarily socially determined point of view on the social world] by drawing on its knowledge of the social universe in which social science is produced to control the effects of the determinisms that operate in this universe and, at the same time, bear on sociologists themselves” (67).
This is the motivation for Bourdieu’s many studies of the academic and educational systems of his native France, and generally for his studies of how the social system shapes our perceptions and desires. He constructs his notion of what scientific objectivity about such matters means following Marx’s criterion that social facts exist “independently of individual consciousness and will.” But what exist objectively for Bourdieu in the social world are pre-eminently relations, not positive entities, and with this he has already taken the first, structuralist step into postmodernism.
Still, he wants to draw a line...