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  Pierre Bourdieu


sociologue énervant



Décès de Pierre Bourdieu :(



Pierre Bourdieu

 Intellectual who challenged French social thinking.

The Irish Times (Dublin/IR), 25/01/2002.



Pierre Bourdieu, who died on January 23rd aged 71, was, for many, the leading intellectual of present-day France.

The author of more than 25 influential books including his crucial study of Algeria, Sociologie de L'Algerie (published in America as The Algerians, 1962), he launched a new European review, Liber, in 1989 to coincide with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of a new era. Most importantly, he considered that those lucky enough to have spent their lives, as he had, in studying the social world, could not be neutral or indifferent to struggle.

When French railway workers went on strike in 1995, he supported their protests against the Juppé government's reform of the social security system which, he claimed, sought only to give the government authority in the world financial markets. He was sharply critical of Juppé's successor, Lionel Jospin, and his coalition of false socialism, attacking "le neo-liberal troika" of Blair-Jospin-Schröder. He also defended those immigrants, les sans papiers, who were present in France but who could not legally justify their presence. He attacked globalisation.

It became common practice for officials of the French Socialist party to talk of la gauche bourdieusienne, their enemies on the left. The communists attacked this left, which was not so much non-political as anti-political and they viciously criticised the romantic self-comfort that they claimed its leaders enjoyed. In 1981, Pierre Bourdieu had supported the comedian Coluche in his attempt to be a candidate in the presidential elections because he was the champion of "all those who don't count as politicians".

Pierre Bourdieu was born in the south of France and educated at the lycée in Pau, before moving to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, from where he gained entrance to the Ecole Normale Supérieure. There he studied philosophy with Louis Althusser and, after being received at the agrégation, he became a lycée teacher at Moulins from 1955 to 1958.

In many respects this was a normal career trajectory. But in 1958 he took up a post as a lecturer in Algiers. To go there at a time when the future of Algeria and France's involvement there was dangerously uncertain, was courageous. But it showed the sort of man he was. Algeria was, without doubt, the outstanding problem faced by France at the time.

For Pierre Bourdieu, the clash between the Algerian peoples and French colonialism could only be understood by constructing the original economic and social forms of the indigenous civilisations, and he chose the Kabyle peoples, the Berbers. The result was his first book, The Algerians. Published in France as a cheap edition, it immediately established his importance.

In 1960, he returned to Paris and taught at the University of Paris until 1964, when he took up a post at the Ecoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales where he created the Centre for the Sociology of Education and Culture. In 1981, he was appointed to the chair of Sociology at the Collège de France.

From 1975 he directed the publication Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales in which many of his articles appeared. Once he had set up Liber, he offered writers and scholars the opportunity of writing about intellectual problems that were of general concern - he published a short poem by Harold Pinter on the Gulf War.

His sociological work covered a wide range of subjects, starting with an examination of the peasantry in the Béarn, where he had been brought up and studied farming, with particular reference to the number of peasants who did not marry. This study was historical as well as economic and sociological. In it he warned all sociologists: "Observation of reality puts us on our guard against the temptation to construct over-simple models."

He was preoccupied with detail but also concerned to produce a wide and more general system of ideas. Although he is always seen as a supporter of the student revolutionaries of 1968, he was, in fact, highly critical of their ideas. His belief that teachers could be, in spite of themselves, essentially traditionalist and that students had, unwittingly, become the bearers of a culture with which they were satisfied, was not popular.

In October 1999, he spoke to some 70 leading patrons of the audio-visual arts in Paris. "Masters of the world, do you know what you are doing?" was his question. His answer was that, since they obeyed the law of maximum profits in the shortest possible time, they were killing culture.

Last year a documentary film about Pierre Bourdieu - Sociology Is a Combat Sport - became an unexpected hit in Paris. Its very title stressed how much of a politically-engaged intellectual he was, taking on the mantle of Emile Zola and Jean-Paul Sartre in French public life, and slugging it out with politicians because he thought that was what people like him should do.

He became "the intellectual reference" for movements opposed to neo-liberalism and globalisation that developed in France and elsewhere during the 1990s. "Ours is a Darwinian world of insecurity and stress," he wrote, "where the permanent threat of unemployment creates a permanent state of precariousness." In his Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, named as one of the 20th century's 10 most important works of sociology by the International Sociological Association, he applied the notion of habitus to taste and attempted to undermine Kantian aesthetics which claimed that our notion of what is beautiful is not determined by social influences. By contrast, he argued that preferences for luxury cars, designer clothing, expensive goods and works of art are shaped by people's habitus.

His On Television attacked presenters for delivering what he called "cultural fast food". He accused many fellow intellectuals of abusing their privileged status in France by commenting on issues about which they knew little, and his 1999 book, Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market, stressed the duty of the intellectual in-fighting against creeping globalisation.

Among those he actively supported was José Bové, the French small-farmers' leader, who, in 1999, gained fame overnight by leading an attack on a McDonald's outlet, regarded as a symbol of globalisation.

His death deprives France of one of its great post-war intellectuals, a thinker in the same rank as Foucault, Barthes and Lacan.

Pierre Bourdieu is survived by his wife Marie-Claire and three sons.

Pierre Bourdieu: born 1930; died, January 2002.

Pierre Bourdieu


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