To Lou on Bourdieu was RE: The Suicide of New Left Review

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at
Thu May 4 19:21:38 MDT 2000

Hi Lou,

I am by no means a Bourdieu scholar, I just know of a handful of concepts
and articles around education. But I admired his role in the big French
strikes.  As far as I am aware he came out in support of the workers.

In education I have found his notion of cultural capital very useful.  It
says that for success in schooling one must have cultural capital - i.e.
read certain books, seen certain dramas, films, gone to certain exhibitions
etc.  If you have done this you will exhibit the kind of ease and
confidence which is essential to success.  In this context it is of course
the middle class who feel as if they belong in the halls of "learning" and
"culture", while the working class always feel as if they are interlopers.

When I went to university all those long years ago, I had to sit in
tutorials around Shakespeare.  The lecturer was English and a sprinkling of
students were too.  They spoke to each other in that posh accent that still
dominates the English cultural and political landscape.  The rest of us,
all Paddies just one generation from the bog, looked on in dismay and wonder.

It has taken me a life time to learn that the lecturer and the English
students did not know any more than the Paddies. They simply acted as if
they did. They also knew which films to talk about in class.  I will never
forget losing a girl because I wanted to take her to a Disney movie (Swiss
Family Robinson). She turned me down and later I found out that another
student (English bastard) took her to a Swedish film.

I also think Bourdieu research around what he terms 'doxa' is very
important.  Here he asked working class students why they had failed at
school.  They all said that it was because they were stupid.  None of them
blamed the teachers, schools or lack of equipment etc. They had all
interiorised the ruling class opinion that to be working class is to be
stupid and is to fail.

So you see Lou, Bourdieu is a very different kettle of fish from Butler &
Zizek for he has been asking and researching the kind of issues that you
and I have spent a life time struggling around.

comradely greetings on Marx's birthday


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