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Reviewed by:
  • Pierre Bourdieu: Key Concepts
  • Henry Dicks
Pierre Bourdieu: Key Concepts. Edited by Michael Grenfell. Stockswell: Acumen Publishing, 2008. viii + 248 pp. Hb £50.00. Pb £16.99.

This book is both an excellent introduction to Bourdieu's thought and a useful reference point for his key concepts, each of which is explained by a leading Bourdieu scholar. The first section deals with Bourdieu's biography, from his humble upbringings in Denguin (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) to his later status as a committed public [End Page 517] intellectual. Highlighting the significance of Bourdieu's academic training as a philosopher, this section also explains how his endeavour to overcome the dichotomy between phenomenology and structuralism lies at the basis of his attempt to develop a sociological theory of practice. The second section discusses two key concepts of field theory: field (the objective social structure in which subjects are embedded) and habitus (the acquired dispositions of the subject). It explains how the reciprocal conditioning of habitus and field allows Bourdieu to overcome the problems of subject-object dualism. The third section focuses on four concepts characteristic of fields: social class (an essentially contested concept), capital (in its economic, social, and cultural forms), doxa (the arbitrary 'rules of the game'), and hysteresis (mismatch between habitus and field). The fourth section explores four concepts characteristic of habitus: interest (for Bourdieu, even the apparently disinterested pursuit of altruism, beauty, and truth is just a misrecognized form of self-interest), conatus (what gives habitus its dynamic character), suffering/symbolic violence (the misrecognition of arbitrary social domination as natural), and reflexivity (the sociology of sociology). The overall aims of the book are well signposted, each concept is clearly and precisely explained, the individual analyses of key concepts are mutually consistent, and there are plenty of interesting examples showing how Bourdieu's key concepts relate to both social phenomena (consumer purchasing decisions, the elitist system of Grandes Écoles, inheritance laws, and so on) and sociological methods (statistical analyses, interviews, for instance). One minor concern regarding the book's structure is that the entry on capital is in a separate section from the entries on habitus and field. Given that the key equation at the heart of field theory is '[(habitus) (capital)] + field = practice' (p. 51), it would, arguably, have made more sense to analyse these three concepts in the same section rather than analysing capital in a separate section after the analysis of social class. As far as the book's content is concerned, my only real objection is that the contributors never question Bourdieu's anthropocentrism. The economic, social, and cultural forms of capital are discussed, but natural capital is never mentioned. The concept of nature is denounced as entailing misrecognition of arbitrary forms of social domination, but the growing destruction of natural beings and ecosystems by industrial capitalism is overlooked. Objections such as these could no doubt be multiplied severalfold, and perhaps it is unfair to expect an introductory text to raise them, but unless they are raised there is a danger that the habitus of Bourdieu scholars will find itself in a state of hysteresis with respect to a social field that is increasingly structured and influenced by ecological and environmental concerns.

Henry Dicks
Wadham College, Oxford


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pp. 517-518
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