chapter  9
12 Pages

Pierre Bourdieu


The social theory of Pierre Bourdieu has been a major referent point in sociology and cultural studies since the early 1970s. Bourdieu’s work has also had a significant impact on such diverse disciplines as sociology, history, criminology, law and even translation studies. At the centre of Bourdieu’s sociological project is a ‘theory of human practice’ that marries ‘subjectivist’ agent-centred approaches to social theory with ‘objectivist’ accounts that emphasize the role of structural conditions in shaping social life. A unifying theme in all of Bourdieu’s work is a critique of the cultural dynamics of domination. This critique deploys the key concepts of ‘habitus’, ‘field’, ‘symbolic power’ and ‘symbolic violence’ in considering the ways that existing social hierarchies and power relations are legitimated and reproduced by cultural representations and by practices. These representations and practices, Bourdieu argues, usually go unrecognised because of their symbolic character. But they are crucial to the process in which relations of domination are created and reproduced through the systematic imposition of categories of meaning. These categories are internalised by social actors to the extent that they secure a ‘taken-for-granted’ status and serve as a basis for practices. Bourdieu’s focus on the inter-relationship between the material and symbolic dimensions of power in social life holds out real promise for students of international relations.