- Pierre Bourdieu: Sociology Is a Martial Art
This is a collage-like film biography of an outspoken French sociologist, university professor and Chair of Sociology at the College de France, who died in 2002 at age 71. Filmed over a period of 3 years, it was popular in France shortly before Bourdieu's early death. Unfortunately, it may not be quite as engaging for American audiences because nearly all the soundtrack is in French (with English subtitles), while the issues addressed are so hopelessly huge that, even if it were in English, it is unlikely to be penetrable by anyone except a Bordieu enthusiast. The film's title is derived from a colorful statement in which Bordieu (in this film and in earlier writings) refers to sociology as "a martial art, a means of self-defense." It also alludes to his vocal support of certain socio-economic causes, as distinct from a reclusive scholar who stays at arm's length from his research subject. The film is enriched by several odd events, as when this "celebrity scholar" is hailed on the street by a former student who talks on and on about his influence on her, and yet never lets him speak. In another segment, he converses with the German novelist Gunter Grass on a television program; and in a third, we can follow his facial expressions as he opens, reads and is completely baffled by a letter from the French screenwriter Jean Luc Godard. In a documentary that is lengthier than most feature films, one cannot help but start to sense Bourdieu's exasperation with his own life. For more than two cinematic hours, we follow him as he goes to political rallies, research conferences, interviews with journalists, endless car and airplane trips, meetings with students, and sessions with his office staff. There is a revealing moment in which he stands alone, totally exhausted, then suddenly looks at the camera and sighs, "Poor Bordieu." He became so sought after that he no longer had the time nor the energy to do what allowed him gradually to build "cultural capital" (one of his favorite terms) and rise from his working-class origins to academic prominence.
(Reprinted by permission from Ballast Quarterly Review, Vol. 18, No. 3, Spring 2003.)