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Pierre Bourdieu, Sociologie générale, volume 1. Cours au Collège de France (1981-1983)

Matthias Fringant (EN)
Traduction de Sierra Watkins, Ioannis Iakovoglou et Élisabeth Beauvallet
Cet article est une traduction de :
Pierre Bourdieu, Sociologie générale, volume 1. Cours au Collège de France (1981-1983)
Sociologie générale, volume 1
Pierre Bourdieu, Sociologie générale, volume 1. Cours au Collège de France (1981-1983), Paris, Raisons d'agir, 2015, 740 p., Édition établie par Patrick Champagne, Julien Duval, Franck Poupeau et Marie-Christine Rivière, ISBN : 978-2-02-127978-8.

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Notes de la rédaction

Review translated as part of the Transatlantic Collaborative Translation Workshop between Barnard College-Columbia University and École normale supérieure de Lyon. Supervised by Professors Laurie Postlewate (Barnard-Columbia) & Layla Roesler (ENS de Lyon).

Texte intégral

  • 1 Published in the following chronological order: Bourdieu Pierre, Science de la science et réflexivi (...)

1This first volume of the course in general sociology will supplement the transcripts already published of the lectures that Pierre Bourdieu gave while he held the tenured chair of sociology at the Collège de France from 1981 to 20011. When he was elected to the Collège in the spring of 1981, the principal work he had done up until then could be grouped into two categories: Algeria, and cultural and academic democratization. During the years before he assumed his duties at Collège de France, he published Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste in 1979 and Practical Reason in 1980, both major works in which he synthesized his scientific approach and applied it to the ultimate sociological object: social class.

2The course in general sociology took place at this point in his professional trajectory. The initial lecture cycle was different from all his other subsequent courses, which were devoted to a specific subject (e.g. the state, Manet, and the science of science, are among those that were published). This intial cycle lasted from 1982 to 1986 and was dedicated to advancing a general mode of thinking through the most complete explanation possible for the principal concepts that Bourdieu had created during his past empirical research. The present volume brings together the courses taught during the first two years. It also includes a short chapter written by Julien Duval and Patrick Champagne on the status of the general sociology course in Pierre Bourdieu’s work, as well as summaries of the courses, an index of names and notions, and a table of contents. The courses taught during the last three years of the cycle will make up another volume, thus providing a systematic overview of Bourdieu’s research precepts.

3The courses given during the first year and beginning of the second focus extensively on communicating “a prerequisite to any attempt at theorization in the social sciences, to wit, the relation between the scientific subject and his object, or, more precisely, the relation between the scientific subject as the knowing subject and his object as a set of active subjects” (p.12). Here, Pierre Bourdieu distinguishes academic knowledge of the social world, which differs from the practical knowledge that social subjects use in their daily lives. This distinction is necessary in order to avoid being deluded by the biases that he qualified in turn as objectivist, intellectualist, and scholarly. Because they fail to question the level to which their theory-building is dependent on the possibilities of its own social conditions, scholars tend to err in thinking that social subjects act according to sociological models constructed to study the social world. It is on this primary reflection that Bourdieu then bases the demonstration he gives of his approach, as well as the outline he provides of the complex relationships between the principal concepts of “habitus” and “field” (The notion of capital was mostly abandoned due to lack of time).

4Concerning his overall approach, Bourdieu indicates that it consists of constructing a domain of positions by establishing objective criteria that are built in opposition to practical common sense. The actual practices and representations of social subjects are then reintroduced into the theoretical model, thereby supporting the objective reality of the social world. Finally, the last stage aims at studying the relationships between, on the one hand, these practices and representations and, on the other hand, the systems of objective positions constructed in the first phase of the scientific work.

5In order to carry out the transition toward the exposition of the habitus and field concepts, Bourdieu’s recommended method can also be described in its initial phase as the study of the process by which that which is social is inscribed into the materiality of things: the notion of field comes into play here. The second stage consists of analyzing the integration process, “that is, the mechanism, the reasoning according to which objective structures and objective conditions are transformed into permanent patterns” (p.235): the notion of habitus is raised here. Lastly, the final stage is dedicated to the study of relationships between those two forms of existence, in the sense that that which is social can only exist within the connection between these two forms, between objects and bodies. The theory of action that Pierre Bourdieu proposes can be found in the correspondence between the domains of position (fields) and those of pattern (habitus).

6During most of the second year of the course, Bourdieu rendered more explicit the roles that the notions of habitus and field play in his approach, giving detailed explanations of their historical background with respect to their interactions with different theoretical traditions, their principal characteristics, their past and potential future use in research practices, and finally, the mutual relationships that they maintain with each other. Succinctly, he specifies with respect to the first concept, that “essentially, the principal function of habitus [...] is to account for the simple fact that being the product of the integration of objective structures, [...] the integrated structures of the habitus generate practices that can be adjusted to the objective structures of the social world without being the product of an explicit intention of adjustment” (p.288-289). Moving on to the concept of field, the sociologist explains that it “is neither a thesis, nor what is ordinarily called a theory, [but rather] a way of thinking, a sort of mnemonic term which, when confronted with a problem, supplies the techniques to construct the object” (p.532). The notion of field makes it possible to avoid a monofocused study, taking instead into account seriously the primacy of relationships by discarding the images of the individual, of the sum of individuals, of interactions between individuals, and thereby forcing the construction of a relational space of positions, a space which must then be correlated to the dispositions of the social subjects. The space of interaction and that of objective power relations can then be thought of conjointly.

  • 2 Among Pierre Bourdieu’s other oral works are notably Questions de sociologie, Paris, Minuit, ”Docum (...)
  • 3 On this point, see Fabiani, Jean-Louis, Pierre Bourdieu. Un structuralisme héroïque, Paris, Seuil, (...)

7Since there is no lack of publications by Pierre Bourdieu that aim to familiarize the public with his thinking, we can legitimately wonder what real interest there is in this particular work. In my opinion, it is justified by a number of elements. Compared with other works by the author which have the same objective, this is the only transcription of a course of study given over a period of several years, and this permits returning periodically to what has already been discussed, clarifications, and successive elaborations. The work differs from the other transcriptions of his oral talks, by often bringing in diverse comments linked with the context within which they were made, without ever constituting a global system2. Even if Bourdieu himself expresses concern about the format, frequently indicating his reticence over how his teaching will be received in the specific context of a course, the present volume nevertheless allows more than any of the others to move toward exposing the mutual relations between the different conceptual swaths found in the author’s work. It thus presents the advantage of re-establishing the general economy of his way of thinking in all its complexity, and thereby circumvents practices such as partial, and sometimes biased, critiques of the notions he presents3. This deep dive into an original theoretical system is facilitated by the remarkable work done by the editorial team. Using the principles Bourdieu himself applied, they smoothed the rough edges of the text and added useful footnotes in order to facilitate as much the reader’s understanding of the ideas as the elaboration of certain points. They also divided the book into chapters in an apposite manner. In fine, this volume seems to allow for a better understanding of Bourdieu’s demanding undertaking, and thereby provide the possibility of empirically mobilizing it as well as scientifically criticizing it.

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1 Published in the following chronological order: Bourdieu Pierre, Science de la science et réflexivité, Paris, Raisons d’agir, “Cours et travaux”, 2001 ; Bourdieu Pierre, Sur l’État, Cours au Collège de France 1989-1992, Paris, Seuil/Raisons d’agir, ”Cours et travaux”, 2012 [] ; Bourdieu Pierre, Manet : une révolution symbolique, Cours au Collège de France 1998-2000, Paris, Seuil/Raisons d’agir, “Cours et travaux”, 2013 [].

2 Among Pierre Bourdieu’s other oral works are notably Questions de sociologie, Paris, Minuit, ”Documents”, 1980 ; Bourdieu Pierre, Choses dites, Paris, Minuit, “Le sens commun”, 1987 ; Bourdieu Pierre, Raisons pratiques, Paris, Seuil, “Points essais”, 1994 ; Bourdieu Pierre, Wacquant Loïc, Invitation à la sociologie réflexive, Paris, Seuil, “Liber”, 2014 [1992].

3 On this point, see Fabiani, Jean-Louis, Pierre Bourdieu. Un structuralisme héroïque, Paris, Seuil, “La couleur des idées”, 2016, p.102.

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Matthias Fringant (EN), « Pierre Bourdieu, Sociologie générale, volume 1. Cours au Collège de France (1981-1983) », Lectures [En ligne], Les comptes rendus, 2019, mis en ligne le 01 février 2019, consulté le 21 février 2019. URL :

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Matthias Fringant (EN)

Ph.D student in Sociology at IEHESS.

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