Is Bourdieu’s Theory Too Deterministic?

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Marc Joly’s book engages a vigorous debate with Jean-Louis Fabiani’s critical reading of Bourdieu’s theoretical legacy. Both authors seem to disagree on the precise boundaries of Bourdieu’s determinism and the space he leaves to liberty, resistance and reflexivity.

In 2001, Pierre Bourdieu attended a Colloque at Cerisy-la-Salle in his honour. The colloque was held at Centre International de Cerisy (France), 12-19 July 2001. The co-organisers subsequently edited Le symbolique et le social : La réception internationale de la pensée de Pierre Bourdieu, [1] at which I was lucky enough to be present. What was unexpected was that—with the memorable exception of Tassadit Yacine—the conference gathered together only his foreign researchers. This was due to Bourdieu’s embattled status within France.

Restoring Bourdieu

This embattled stance continues to be evident in Joly’s most recent work. His book is welcome for many reasons, not least for its sustained engagement with Jean-Louis Fabiani’s Pierre Bourdieu : Un structuralisme héroïque (2016). Fabiani, supervised formally by Bourdieu, has since expressed his profound disillusionment with the alleged ‘hybris’ of his ‘thesis-father’s’ sociological approach. If Un structuralisme héroïque ends with the regret that he will never again be able to joke with his former teacher, he also submits Bourdieu’s sociological oeuvre to a critique all the more devastating because it is undeniably well-informed. Fabiani reiterates many now-familiar critical tropes whilst advancing new grounds for negative appraisal. The task, therefore, that Joly has set himself in the light of this is a timely and important investigation: for he aims at nothing other than the reaffirmation of Bourdieu’s advances, described by both Louis Pinto and Pascale Casanova as a ‘symbolic revolution’ in sociology.

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