File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0005, message 24

Date: 09 May 2000 08:59:00 -0500
Subject: Re: HAB: Habermas & Bourdieu: a good topic for the future!

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Thanks to Eduardo Mendieta, Gary Davis, and Rauno Huttunen for your 
comments on Habermas and Buber.  I am pursuing your suggestions and will 
come back to that on the list in the future.

For now, I am also interested in understanding how Bourdieu and Habermas 
stand to each other, or if not to each other, how their bodies of work 
stand to each other.  I also greatly admire Bourdieu's work, as well as 
Habermas's.  (I will bring to the list later the reason for my interest 
in these two men's work.)

One note:  G. Davis wrote:

"Also: one a social scientist influenced by philosophy, the other a 
philosopher influenced by social science."

Bourdieu's intellectual formation was in philosophy, then he turned to 
anthropology and sociology.

The two can be distinguished, of course; Bourdieu is a sociologist, and 
quite a few of his publications have been reports on sociological (or 
anthropoloigical) research. (_Outline of a Theory of Practice_ is a 
report on an anthropological investigation in Algeria.)  Habermas is a 
social theorist.

Bourdieu's recent _The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in 
Contemporary Society_ is a good example of Bourdieu's work as 
sociologist.  The work was carried out by a group of sociologists 
working together (this partly explains and justifies why Bourdieu wants 
to make explicit the need for methodological reflexivity--in order to 
produce comparable and objective data).  I would especially direct your 
attention to the section called "Understanding" in that volume, written 
by Bourdieu (many parts of the book were not written by Bourdieu but by 
his colleagues in the three-year project that formed the report), pp. 

Bourdieu writes:

"I am loath to engage too insistently here in reflections on theory or 
method addressed simply to researchers: 'We do nothing but gloss one 
another,' as Montaigne used to say.  And even if it is a question of 
doing only that but in quite another mode, I would like to avoid 
pedantic disquisitions on hermeneutics or the 'ideal communication 
situation': indeed, I believe there is no more real or more realistic 
way of exploring communication in general than by focusing on the 
simultaneously practical and theoretical problems that emerge from the 
particular interaction between the investigator and the person being 

This at least gives one idea of how Bourdieu responds to Habermas.

There follows a paragraph in which B. explains that he doesn't think it 
would be "useful" to get into "'methodological' writings on interview 

His third paragraph:

"Many decades of empirical research in all its forms, from ethnography 
to sociology and from the so-called closed questionnaire to the most 
open-ended interview, have convinced me that the adequate scentific 
expression of this practice is to be found neither in the prescriptions 
of a methodology more often scientistic than scientific, nor in the 
antiscientific caveats of the advocates of mystic union.  For this 
reason it seems to me imperative to make explicit the intentions and the 
procedural principles that we put into practice in the research project 
that we present here.  The reader will thus be able to reproduce in the 
reading of the texts the work of both construction and understanding 
that produced them."

The text goes on to present in fairly close detail the considerations 
that went into the various interviews that contributed to the 
understanding constructed and presented in the published book.  For 
Bourdieu, this is precisely where methodological reflexivity is 

Bourdieu has contrasted his field theory of the social world with 
Luhmann's systems theory by asserting the role of agents in producing 
social realities through their practices.  In the process of living 
through a set of embodied practices (habitus) that is both constructed 
by and constructs social fields and positions in social fields, social 
agents employ an infinite number of "infinitely subtle strategies" to 
pursue the objective interests.  Bourdieu also insists that for the most 
part in practice objective interests must be misrecognized.  (An 
example: Bourdieyu found that in Kabyle society (Algeria) economic 
exchange was often 'misrecognized' as gift giving.  This misrecognition 
depends on allowing a sufficient time between a gift and a 

Now, Bourdieu recognizes that while the social agent in the object 
domain will employ a battery of strategies to hide or misrecognize 
everyday practices that correspond to a social structure (described as 
fields, relations between positions in fields, and the embodied pracices 
of the agents), thus making social ressearch more challenging than a 
simple matter of asking questions and receiving answers, the researcher 
herself, as a social agent herself, is similarly located.  And the fact 
that one has gone through a disciplined course of study does not 
automatically and objectively certify that one is removed from the 
social world of embodied practices.  In fact, the case is exactly 
opposite.  By going through extensive training in scientific practices, 
the researcher has much more invested in the social strucutre itself, 
but with a different "illusio" (misrecognition), namely, the illusio of 
scientific objectivity itself.

For these reasons, that misrecognition of scientific objectivity hides 
the interested practice of constructing social subjects through 
imposition of the researcher's "point of view" onto acting social 
agents, Bourdieu writes quite a bit in every text about how he and his 
colleagues put methodological reflexivity into practice.  I think this 
is how 'reflexivity' has a precise meaning for Bourdieu that it doesn't 
have for Habermas, or for Dewey, or for other theorists who use this 
word or its cognates in their own theorising.  (I mean their meanings, 
even if precise, are different.)

Bill Hord
Houston, TX, USA

Date: 08 May 2000 21:47:39
From:Gary Davis <>
Subject:HAB: Habermas & Bourdieu: a good topic for the future! 
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Dear Eduardo: Thanks for your stimulating comments!

Eduardo Mendieta wrote (#21: re: reflexive theory):

> When I said they are hardly comparable, ....I have not said anything about
> the one being
> correct and the other false. And, then, once we recognize that, we should
> proceed to ask why they mean such different things, that is, why did they
> come up with such different readings on the idea of "reflexivity."

Yes. Interesting.

> And here
> we would have to talk about one being German and the other French; one
> coming from the Frankfurt School, the other from French Post-War Marxism,
> etc. Comparision that require more time, space and knowledge than I have.

Also: one a social scientist influenced by philosophy, the other a philosopher
influenced by social science. This dichotomy is simplistic, of course (as all
dichotomies are), but also perhaps not, to a degree, inasmuch as philosophy
may be more than metatheory, and making this difference is central to
Habermas' sense of reflexivity: *that* there is more to reflexivity than
theory, even metatheory.

But largely, I was responding in a mode of questioning: Who *is* Bourdieu?
Everytime I open a book by him, I've not yet been drawn in, and I recognize
that I just don't know yet that much about Bourdieu. You were clearly
soliciting close attention to Bourdieu's idiom, so I wondered....wandered.

> Nonetheless, the question is an important one because it may lead us to
> recognize weakness in both positions. Further, Bourdieu is emerging as the
> most important social thinker to come out of France in the second half of
> the 20th century.

Yes, I know. *Therefore,* I rather assertively woandered, if you will.

> A good friend of mine, who lives in Germany, but studied
> in France in the 60s said to me: "Bourdieu is becoming what Sartre was
> during the sixties." And then he told me to read Bourdieu's __The Weight of
> the World__ (which in French is entitled The Misery of the World), and his
> __Pascalian Mediations__. And I am doing what my friend recommended. I also
> read something else which he did not know about, namely __Acts of
> Resistance__ a beautiful series of paper columns and articles on
> globalization, neo-liberalism, bureacracy, etc. Just comparing this last
> book, which is Bourdieu for beginner, and something comparable by Habermas,
> let us say his latest __Die postnationale Konstellation. Politische
> Essays__, you can see how different they are.

Well, then, perhaps this could be a very fruitful context that might develop
for the list, over the coming years (I'm not going to unsubscribe, anyway).
Something very worth pursuing, for those who have the time! (Not I, either,

> But Gary's intuitions are fairly accurrate, see Jeffrey Alexander's
> devastating critique of Pierre Bourdieu in the book I mentioned __Fin de
> Siecle Social Theory__, but I am less sanguine that him on thinking that
> Universal Pragmatics will solve all theoretical problems.

O, darn. No, really, I believe that Habermas intended his formulations (1976
or so) as a philosophical contribution to an interdisciplinary research
program, and this seems to have been amply shown in his discursive practice of
the past quarter century.

> I stand with
> Wittgenstein and Rorty on this one, theory should be like a tool box, you
> should reach into and take from it what you need for your task.

Hmmm. Sounds like a can of worms.

> Sorry, but have to run.

Thanks, though!

In solidarity,


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