Social Status Tends to Seal One's Fate, Says France's Master Thinker

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Jan 6 09:30:59 MST 2001

Boy, did I ever have Bourdieu wrong. I just assumed that because he was a
French professor who published in New Left Review and who was championed by
Doug Henwood, he was to be shunned. In my muzhik mind, Zizek, Bourdieu and
Butler formed some kind of unholy trinity. This Times article seems to
indicate that he has nothing in common with the typical trendy
post-Marxist. I will now go lash myself with a cat-o'nine-tails that I keep
in the bedroom for special occasions and order one of his books from

> It is hard not to see in Mr. Bourdieu's own career a glaring
>exception to his sociological rules. Born into a poor family in a
>tiny village in rural southwestern France, he spoke Gascon, now a
>moribund regional dialect, until he started elementary school. His
>father was an itinerant sharecropper turned postman who never
>finished high school. All in all, not circumstances conducive to an
>auspicious habitus, especially for an aspiring master thinker.


> Though Mr. Bourdieu graduated at the top of his class, he was
>repulsed by the Parisian intellectual milieu. "A lot of what I've
>done has been in reaction to the École Normale," he said. "I think
>if I hadn't become a sociologist, I would have become very
>anti-intellectual. I was horrified by that world."
> A stint as a teacher in Algiers during Algeria's war for
>independence led him to abandon philosophy for social science. His
>first several books, ethnographies about the plight of Algerians
>under French colonialism, were also implicit rebukes to the
>Parisian establishment.
> "I thought that the French didn't understand a thing about what
>was happening in Algeria," he said, "in large part because the
>intellectuals holding forth on the issue didn't know anything about
> The last thing he wanted or expected, Mr. Bourdieu insists, was to
>become part of the intellectual establishment. He said he rebuffed
>overtures from the College de France for three years in a row.
>Finally, in 1981, he relented.

Louis Proyect
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