Review of “Bourdieu dopo Bourdieu” (Bourdieu After Bourdieu), edited by Gabriella Paolucci. Torino: UTET, 2010.

Review of “Bourdieu dopo Bourdieu” (Bourdieu After Bourdieu), edited by Gabriella Paolucci. Torino: UTET, 2010. Page 316, € 26.

 (Review published in “Sociologica”, n.3/2010).

The collected volume “Bourdieu After Bourdieu” is one of the first relevant debate on the work of the French sociologist in Italy. This may appear strange to the international academic community, if we consider that Bourdieu died in 2002 and well before that date he was one of the most quoted author in the field of the social sciences.

The structure of the book reflects partly the sui generis Italian reception: most of the authors have an eccentric geographical and disciplinary itinerary. Some of them are not Italian or have a trans-disciplinary competence that goes beyond sociology (linguistic, literature, history); and, above all, all of them do not come from the mainstream Italian academic sociology, even if this (of course) doesn’t affect the validity of their contributions. The book is structured in three parts: the first one is mainly dedicated to B’s epistemology. Here we can find articles on “beyond subjectivism and objectivism in Pierre Bourdieu” (Marco Pitzalis), “B’s sociology of sociological interests” (Grazia Scarfò Ghellab) and the relationship between sociology and politics (David Swartz). The second part offers an analysis of B’s major key concepts, that have become popular in contemporary social theory: habitus’s theory (Gisèle Sapiro), the field (Anna Boschetti), the capital (Marco Santoro), the symbolic violence (Gabriella Paolucci). The last part is dedicated to B’s social theory on education and social reproduction (Franca Bonichi), sociology of science (Alessandro Mongili) and to a detailed map of B’s presence and relevance in the Italian sociology from the seventies to the present (Angelo Salento).

The delay in the Italian B’s diffusion can be explained with the peculiar structure of the Italian sociological field as well as the larger intellectual field. Marco Santoro [2009, DOI: 10.2383/31372] – who contributed to this volume and wrote a recent paper on How “Not” to become a Dominant French Sociologist: Bourdieu in Italy (1966-2009) – tried to offer a bourdeianne analysis of this unsuccessful reception. This relies on a mix of social structural factors, temporal factors and more strictly cultural (epistemological and philosophical) factors. Among the firsts, it is interesting to mention the relatively marginality of the first editors of Pierre Bourdieu in Italy, whereas the academic nobility of Italian sociology, the one who possessed the necessary symbolic capital to decide who belongs to the legitimate sociological field was rather hostile to B’s work. In fact the structure of the Italian cultural and academic field is traditionally “allergic” to everything that “smells of determinism, holism, structuralism” [Santoro 2009, 61], since this form of theoretical stance “can be suspected to limit the intellectual (and moral) celebration of (individual) agency as a relatively free instance of choice” [Santoro 2009]. To this first, highly visible, epistemological factor we should add a second less apparent one: the specific feature of Italian sociological work and research. Some potential causes of B’s neglect rely to the typically Italian weak integration between theory and research, that is one founding feature of B’s work. Social theory (philosophical) usually goes vs. social research (statistical), the two only rarely merging together. If we also consider the general overproduction of theory and the relative weakness of empirical social research in Italy, we can have an idea of how a sociological work like B’s one, which is theoretical but strongly based on empirical data, could be received.

Last but not least the temporal factor played an important role in B’s intellectual marginality in Italy: when his first works have been introduced in the 70s, the Italian academic sociologists already chose their referential authors (mainly coming from the North America, like Parsons, Merton, Lazarsfeld) and B’s reception was let only to some non academic social activists and intellectuals, that privileged the analysis of the Educational system, but overlook his larger theoretical contribution. In the 80s and 90s, when probably there was a possibility of diffusion for B in Italy, we had again a drastic change of the cultural and political condition: with the fall of Berlin wall, Italian sociologists rapidly escape from every form of critical sociology and from everything that could be even lately associated with Marxism. The paradox was that if some found B in the 70s not enough Marxist, others found him too Marxist in the 80s and in the 90s. B has been a kind of “unhonored guest” in Italy – like Angelo Salento observes in the conclusive essay of the present book – until few years before his death, when the resonance of his political positions made impossible to avoid the publication of his major works, but without a substantial discussion and acceptation in the legitimate sociological academic field.

Anna Boschetti observed (in her detailed account on uses and misuses of B’s notion of field) that B’s theoretical work – unlike Sartre’s, Althusser’s, Foucault’s, Habermas’ – produced a collective international workshop. In this sense, B’s theory is a “progressive theory” (I. Lakatos), as opposed to “degenerative theory” – theories that tends to degenerate in dogmas – since it proposes a research program that ask to be falsified, proved, enriched. We can easily understand that B’s modus operandi requires a great amount of economical, human and temporal resources. These characteristics, due to the traditional fragmentary and individualistic landscape of Italian sociology are still largely waited to come.

Concepts like habitus (precisely analyzed by G. Sapiro), capital (M. Santoro), symbolic violence (G. Paolucci) are highly refined conceptual constructions that B. elaborated through years of confrontation with his main intellectual references (Levi Strauss, the phenomenological tradition, Durkheim, G. Bachelard and G. Canguilhem for the epistemology). On the same time, Bourdieu applied these concepts on the empirical field, discarding theoretical debates that are insignificant for the practical research (like the micro/macro debate in sociology, the distinction between sociology and anthropology, holism/individualism, etc.). These are more products of what B. called the scholastic view (“scholè”): the point of view of the people that have time to question the world, free from the preoccupations of the every day life. A kind of “reflexive” habitus that tends to think that “real” social actors behave, as they were professional sociologists. B. once (in a interview) borrowed an insightful quote from Virginia Woolf: “General ideas”, said Virginia Woolf, “are always generals’ ideas”. Moreover, the proper sociologist’s job is to understand the blind, narrow, partial vision of the ordinary soldier lost in the battle (like Fabrizio Dongo in Le Rouge et le Noir).

A decisive factor for B’s recent fame in the world has been the strong political engagement that characterized the last part of his career, when he embraced the anti neo-liberalism movement (also called No Global by the media). Many observers, scholars, even friends found contradictory this late position of the French sociologist, who has been rather absent from the French political space until the 90s, and kept a certain distance during the French 68 and the social movements of the 60ties and 70s, when it was common sense for an intellectual to be engagé. David Swartz’s (University of Boston) contribution to the volume, analyzes in detail the evolution of B’s attitude toward politics and engagement. Even if all the sociological production of B could be considered political in a late sense, Schwartz noted that B tried for his entire life to establish a distinction between the two fields – political and sociological/scientific/intellectual. Only when he felt that the borders were collapsing – near the premature end of his intellectual career – he used his symbolic capital to enter in the political field.

Since the beginning of his field research on Algeria, B didn’t share Max Weber’s “avalutativity” postulate (a kind of “pact of non aggression with the established order”) and considered the critic of domination as the primary task of sociology. The authentic scientific research is always a threaten for the established order, because it aims to unmask the hidden interests of power. The choice of the research topics is clearly inspired by moral and political principles. The writings on the Algerian under classes document the destructivity of French colonialism and the struggle for independence. On the same time, B didn’t signed petitions or took part on demonstrations against the colonial war, like most of the French intellectuals of his time. His intention was to use the social science to report about some aspects of Algeria that were not considered in the mainstream debate on the war.

In may 68 the students protests and the workers strikes brought French to collapse, forcing the president, Charles De Gaulle, to give new election. In this contest B assumed a quite ambivalent position: on one side he was rather critical of the of the inequality and privilege that characterized the French educational system (Les héritiers. Les étudiants et la culture, 1964), on the other side he was skeptical regarding the fact that the utopian component of the student movement could really provoke a real and enduring political change.  Unlike many of his colleagues, he kept distance from the French model of the “engaged Intellectual”, in the different versions Michel Foucault (the “specific intellectual”) and, above all, Jean Paul Sartre (the “universal intellectual”) impersonate. Doing like most of his colleagues, specially in the 68, taking public position on everything (following Sartre) it seemed to him an arbitrary use of symbolic capital in the public space. For him the sociologist (like the academic intellectual) was fundamentally a “scientist” and his work should be judged following the rules of the “scientific field” (the peer review). Only in this way there could be a real form of social and cultural progress. The final change of this belief, that brought him to involuntary become a new “icon” of public intellectual was probably due to the fact that he saw the power of neoliberals exactly in this transgression of borders between science and politics and in the misuse of science by the media (above all, the television – see Sur la Television, 1996). Neoliberal governments justify and legitimate their policy generously supported by “doxosophists”: journalists, polls experts, economists create a form of mass mediated ideology apparently founded on the instruments of social sciences. This ideology justifies drastic cuts on the social welfare; it is apparently “scientific” but in truth escapes the rigid norms that superintend the scientific field, just aiming the visibility in the “politic-journalistic” field. The television is the privileged media for the transmission of this pseudo scientific ideology. Against all this, B at the end of his life, decided to take the empty place of the “public intellectual”, that belonged once at J. P. Sartre, spending his reputation and competence in the politic field. In order to defend the autonomy of the intellectual field from the logic of the market and the politics, he transgresses the borders of this autonomy, giving interviews, going in television, joining social movements. Doing this he probably acted with the conviction that the autonomy of the intellectual field can be preserved only by defeating the hegemony of the neo-liberalist’s discourse.

Vincenzo Mele

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