File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_1997/may12, message 9

Date: Tue, 08 Apr 1997 00:57:37 +0200
Subject: Re: Distinction and explanation

Carles Martínez wrote:
> -- snip --
> When I read Bourdieu's "Distinction" I liked it very much but I had a
> strange sensation: everything was circular and self-evident; therefore, it
> was like a circular discourse (and indeed a very interesting one) with a
> lack of clarity and, is some way, without a clearly accessible information.
> It's true that reality is complex and not static, but I also think that
> reductionism is one science strategy and that trying to speak and think
> clearly has some advandatges.

Dear Carles,

as you remark, Bourdieu uses a system of interwoven concepts like
capital, field, strategy, habitus ... which are difficult to understand
and to explain with ordinary language or with mainstream sociological
terms amd concepts. But within his system (or language) all these
consepts are quite precise and meaningful and therefore quite clear.
Bourdieu uses his concepts/language in a very precise, well thought-out
and homogeneous way. They don`t change much significance within his
works, even from "distinction" to "les regles de l'art". 

In some of B.'s interviews he described his efforts of the past 25 years
as one to get his concepts clearer and more precise. He tries to achieve
this by more investigating and explaining. So B. himself concedes that
20 years ago his concepts weren't so clear as they are now. But I
repeat: in substance they didn't change meaning. So eg. it makes sense
and things clearer to reread "distinction" with the knowledge of B.'s
explanations given, say in "raisons partiques" (of 1994).

Some further remarks:

a)  B's concepts become unclear and mysterious if one tries to apply
them selectively without using the related concepts. Eg. if one tries to
speak of habitus without considering the concepts of field and capital,
B's "habitus-concept" suddenly becomes unclear. But in this use, it
isn't *his* "habitus-concept" anymore. So the reproach of unclearness is
more a reproach against certain interpretations of B's theory.

b)  B. with his concepts tries to tackle the "logic of practice". This
isn't a logic someone could describe within a "clear" mathematical
system. So he has to wander through his field, to illuminate his
subjects from different aspects and angles, to turn around his subject
without beeing able to "catch" it with single and linear definitions. 

c)  B. isn't a theoretician. Theory for him is a tool to think and to
investigate social relations in social fields etc. So clearness is
similar with usefulness or applicability of theoretical concepts within
sociological fieldwork. This is the only acceptible scientific standard
for him, and he rejects definitiones ex cathedram, which may seem
clearer, but fail when applied to social reality.

d)  Certainly B. has a high position in french and international
scientific field, he knows that his books get read and become objects of
nit-picking attacks of concurrent position-holders of this field. B. is
known to be very concerned about his scientific reputation and so in his
books he tries to avoid too compromising or pointed statements. He often
carefully tries to prevent all possible misinterpretations, so often
making things less "clear". His interviews are better for someone, who
tries to access his ideas.

e)  As holder of a position in scientific field B. has to differenciate
himself from other positions, so he has to develop a distinct language,
his own concepts, to immunize his position against attacks (your
"circularity"). Someone not having a position in scientific field and
not partecipating in its struggles and fights may ask, if all
differenciations and demarcations from other theories, B. makes with his
concepts are all useful for understanding and clearness.

PS:  I hope, I didn't fall into your trap and that I didn't make things
even more unclear as you critizised them to be.
Therefore--preventively--I excuse myself for any eventual unclearnesses
remaining in my statements. ;-)   


Paul Bayer,
Munic, Germany


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