Bourdieu, Pierre: Structure and Agency


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Pierre Bourdieu's construction of meaning in relation to social practice, cultural signification, class status !

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Bourdieu, Pierre: Structure and Agency

  1. 1. Pierre Bourdieu: structure and agency Genetic structuralism Reflexive Sociology (method) Cultural Capital
  2. 2. [Linguistic] Structuralism(revisiting lecture 1) Concerned with the underlying structure of meaning in language (and human thought) Ferdinand de Saussure (1924) Course in General Linguistics "language is above all a system of signs and therefore we must have recourse to the science of signs if we are to define it properly? Semiology (Gr. Semeion - signs) - the science of systems of signs ’Signs’ includes noises, gestures, conventions, practices, belief systems, images, symbolic rituals, etiquette, military signals etc.
  3. 3. Structuralism (2) the meanings of signs is not natural nor do they have an intrinsic meaning. Rather they are arbitrary, and signs are assigned meaning This leads one to think about the functional rules and conventions which govern the assignment of meaning to signs e.g. why gestures are given their meaning. The arbitrariness of signs differs according to their role/status as sytems of communication - i.e. traffic lights vs literary texts and advertisements. Each sign constitutes a signifier and signified. Semiology concerned with the causal link between them (what causes them to be linked, seeing as meaning is arbitrary).
  4. 4. Structuralism (3) Application to socialsciences Claude Levi-Strauss (anthropologist) 1961. Trying to make explicit the implicit knowledge that enables people to communicate, interpret and understand one anothers behaviour. Application of the construction of meaning in relation to power and ideology (Roland Barthes - Myth Today). Application of the construction of meaning in relation to social practice, cultural signification, class status (Bourdieu). How do signs become status symbols? What do these meanings and processes say about the organisation of class, status and hierarchy in capitalist society?
  5. 5. Three aspects of Bourdieu’s work1. Influence of Structuralism on Bourdieu’s idea of ‘genetic structuralism. Power relations are embedded in the tissue of everyday life. See Bourdieu, P. (1993) Language and Symbolic Power. Harvard University Press. Mass2. Reflexive Sociology (method) - theory must grow out of empirical research - participant observation - reflexive sociology See Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice and Bourdieu, P. (1977/1972) Outline of a Theory of Practice.3. The symbolic capital of lifestyles in the field of cultural production - class, commodities, power and culture - habitus, field and capital (economic, social and cultural capital) See Bourdieu, P (1974{1979}) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Routledge, London
  6. 6. Key concepts Field Habitus Cultural capital Practice Distinctions and class
  7. 7. Reflexive Sociology (method) Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977{1972}) Bourdieu’s hermeneutic (relating to the whole) understanding of the way people read, understand, interpret and live their everyday lives an objective analysis of the structures which frame, limit, control and influence social life. links the objective with the subjective social spheres. Breaking down the traditional sociological dualisms Argued for complexity of peoples activities as simultaneously shaping and being shaped by the social world.
  8. 8. Objectivism and subjectivism – theproblems – ‘Objectivism‘(reproduction of the world via structures) erroneously searched for grand explanations – Critical of structural theories of the left (Althusserian Marxism) and right (Parsons) – ‘Objectivism erroneously adopts a mechanistic view of human conduct, ignoring the extent to which social life is a practical achievement by skilful actors’ (Bourdieu, 1977: 22-23) – Subjectivism: (reproduction of the world by individuals) – Critical of phenomenology and SI For assuming that social relations and values emerged automatically from social situations but were untouched by social structures, influences or forces.
  9. 9. Agency … individuals exercised agency but within existing social conventions, values and sanctions Individuals do not create the world anew Behaviour is socially constrained our social interactions are already influenced by social predispositions, conventions, rules etc.
  10. 10. …and Structure Structure (the field) social relations were not reproduced in a vacuum, but as an outcome of power relations. The field of social relations refers to the areas of social life where strategies are used in the struggle for resources. Therefore, he viewed the relations between practice (what we do in our immediate environment) and the field (the larger parameters of power relations) as being intrinsically linked that sociological methods had to observe both of these dynamics together.
  11. 11. Sociological method B adopted two sociological methods and rules which would be attentive to the complex interactions between social groups and social structures. Participant observation in which the researcher – should be concerned with the different power relations shaping social life, and the most receptive way to observe these was by closely observing social practices – Takes account of the way people skilfully improvise their social roles or practices
  12. 12. Practice continued – reflexivesociology Reflexive sociology – B concerned with the different power relations between researcher and the researched – Rejected researcher/researched divide – Researcher is part of the social world and must adopt a critical attitude to own practice
  13. 13. Practice Is neither unconscious or conscious - people know how to act in daily activities People draw from doxa (doxic experience) - i.e. their taken for granted world beyond reflection (1977). The social world into which we are born and in which we operate in everyday life is already structured Each area of social life has its own social order We need unpack the nature of social rules, practices and strategies and the intuitive, automatic way people read and understand the social world in which they operate.
  14. 14. Practice (2) we engage in the social world using a combination of our practical sense and doxa agency involves individuals strategically engaging in and manipulating the rules of the social situations - playing a game going to university and studying for a degree can be seen as a game with very definite rules Students students develop a feel for the game;, I.e what are inappropriate, good and bad moves. They develop skills to play the game intuitively
  15. 15. This is an example of ‘habitus’ atwork the second-nature, understanding of what is happening, is crucial to understanding social life. B refers to it as habitus. Habitus; a set of dispositions resulting in particular practices, improvisations, bodily attitude, gestures, etc. which provide the feeling for the game. Like Blumer and Giddens, but Bourdieu has a deeper analysis of the meaning of cultural sings and meaning, strategic action and class power.
  16. 16. Cultural capital Classical Marxism - the accumulation of profit widens the division between those who own and control the means of production, and those who rely on waged labour. B extends the analysis to everyday cultural reproduction and to a notion of cultural power as a key sphere for reproducing class domination. Access to higher education is a good example The cultural ‘goods’ with which students play the game of University life University life overlaps with other social fields and other areas of social privilege (private education or a good state school; family situation; social aspirations; access to funding; ability and government policy).
  17. 17. Cultural capital (2) Getting a place at your chosen University is based on strategic struggle to attain different forms of capital (the struggle to get to University starts years before you sit your matriculations). Educational awards (degrees) are a form of cultural capital which are ‘traded’ for money,good jobs, social prestige. Symbolic capital is one of the most significant forms of capital. Possessors of symbolic capital are not only able to justify their possession of other forms of capital but are able to change the structure and rules by which the field operates. Thus higher education can be seen as a valued commodity which reproduces the three different elements of capital (economic, cultural and social)
  18. 18. Class and the social sieve -Distinction Pierre Bourdieus attempts to understand social inequality and why it is that people acquiesce to power and being dominated without resisting. He did not find the answer primarily in economic classes or the state, but in culture and ideology. And how social classes are reproduced through symbolic domination and the education system Bourdieu, P (1974{1979)) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Routledge, London The relations between ‘taste’ and class in French society. Survey between 1963-8, 1217 subjects. People asked to specify their personal tastes in music, art, theatre, home decor, social pastimes, literature etc.
  19. 19. Distinctions (2) B held that there still was a dominant valuation in favour of high- culture which is still used to express social distinction. ‘Good taste’ is dependent on a separation from the necessities of daily labour. This distance is produced by the status of the bourgeois classes as being separate from manual productive labour. class power and social inequality are reproduced at athe cultural and social level. This occurred apparently without resistance or social conflict, Is class elitism evident in recent controversies about the BBC ‘dumbing down’, complaints about the illiteracy of younger generations and the establishment of Mickey-Mouse degrees‘?
  20. 20. Bourdieu’s contribution Linked the construction of ‘taste’ and cultural practice to class distinctions It advances Marxist sociology. Develops the concept of economic, cultural, educational and social capital within a unified framework. Through this, a better understanding of the reproduction of class and status Furthermore, it also advances Bourdieus general theory of society and social agency
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