Pierre Bourdieu: education and training


Grenfell, Michael James (2007) Pierre Bourdieu: education and training, London, UK, Continuum, 28pp. (Library of Educational Thought).

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Description/Abstract

Pierre Bourdieu is now regarded as one of the foremost social philosophers of the twentieth century. Born in a small village in the French Pyrenees, his extraordinary academic trajectory took him to the leading academic training schools of Paris. Eventually, he was nominated as ‘Chair’ at the College de France; that most prestigious institution which groups together 52 of leading French academics, philosophers and scientists.

Bourdieu’s output was voluminous. Beginning with ethnographies of the Béarn and Algeria, he went on to offer extensive studies of education, culture, art, and language. For much of this time, Bourdieu was regarded as a sociologist, and he had a major influence in this academic field. However, his was a very particular type of sociology. His own academic training was as a philosopher and it was only after personal experiences ‘in the field’ in Algeria and the Béarn, that he abandoned the traditional route of academic philosophy for sociology. This was in the 1950s, a time when sociology had not yet acquired its contemporary popularity. Certainly, his early works can be read as more anthropologically orientated, a perspective he never really lost over the next fifty years of his career.

During the 1960s and 70s, Bourdieu seemed very much the private academic, sharing the Parisian intellectual world with other leading French writers such as Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Lyotard, Althusser, and Lacan. Increasingly, however, he became a public figure rivalling the reputations of writers in his immediately proceeding generation – for example, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Later in life, his interventions into the public arena became more frequent. At this time, he also published further work on the media, painting, economics, literature and gender politics. In 1992, he published The Weight of the World, an extensive series of account of ‘social suffering’ across French society. This work projected Bourdieu into the media limelight and became a bestseller.

I first met Bourdieu in 1983 – before he became BOURDIEU. During the subsequent two decades, I was lucky enough to meet with him on several occasions and work with him and his team in Paris. I have used his methodological approach in a range of academic studies: language and classroom discourse, Higher Education and participation, art and educational aesthetics. I have published widely on Bourdieu and these topics in books such as: Bourdieu and Education: Acts of Practical Theory (1998); Bourdieu: Language, Culture and Education (with Prof. Mike Kelly 1999); Pierre Bourdieu: Agent Provocateur (2004); and Art Rules (with Cheryl Hardy 2007). This latest book offers an account of Bourdieu’s work on education. It is divided into four main parts.

Part I establishes an Intellectual Biography for Bourdieu. It describes his life events in detail in the context of the socio-historical climate of the times. The ways these impinged upon Bourdieu and shaped his thinking are highlighted. Reference is made to the French intellectual tradition, how it characterised itself, and the differences and similarities Bourdieu shared with it. The roots of a sociological tradition dating back to the eighteenth century are presented as a way of locating Bourdieu’s thinking within this developing discipline. Bourdieu’s work is set alongside that of the founding fathers of sociology – Marx, Weber, Durkheim – in order to show what Bourdieu shared with these and how he modified their principal concepts.

Part 2 is a critical discussion of Bourdieu’s thinking on education. Part 2 begins by presenting Bourdieu’s theory of practice. His approach is characterised by a set of conceptual ‘thinking tools’: for example, habitus, field, capital, etc. These are defined and their relationship to each other explained. How they are employed in empirical studies is also discussed, as is how this theory of practice is also a practice of theory. Salient sociological issues are addressed.

Part 2 is made up of eight sections, which offer a chronological account of Bourdieu’s major works on education. The first section begins with the educational aspects of his early work in the Béarn (his home region) and in Algeria. His analyses of university students and issues of studying are then addressed. The concerns of the ‘new’ sociologists of education are described in the context of their day. Bourdieu’s seminal text – Reproduction – is discussed in detail. This coverage shows what Bourdieu understood by ‘the School’ and ‘pedagogic authority and action’. The principal aim of Part 2 is to offer an accurate account of what Bourdieu wrote and how his ideas were shaped by the world of events and ideas which surrounded him. However, it also considers his theories in terms of their developmental nature and their continuing relevance today. This coverage is a critical enquiry into Bourdieu’s studies of education. In the 1980s, Bourdieu published two major studies on the French academic field and elite training schools. Details of his field analyses are offered and the final conclusions to be drawn from them discussed. A further issue of the applicability of these studies and their conclusions to contexts other than France is also addressed. Finally, Part 2 returns to issues of policy and practice; in particular, the role that Bourdieu played in public committees on educational reform, and his proposals for change.

Part 3 focuses on the reception of Bourdieu’s work on education and its influence. A number of critical responses are considered. Critiques are discussed in terms of Bourdieu’s own theory of practice and the strength of the objections raised. Part 3 begins with the new sociology of education; what characterised it and how Bourdieu’s ideas fitted into this movement. Questions are raised about its evolution and about the issues that subsequently emerged. In many places, Bourdieu’s perspective is contrasted with the work of other writers; some radical, some neo-conservative. Finally, Part 3 addresses ‘social theory’ itself. Bourdieu’s own theories are compared with other theoretical developments in the social sciences and with the nature of ‘fin de siècle’ social theory.

Part 4 has two principal aims. Firstly, to bring the critical reception of Bourdieu’s work up to date by considering ways in which it has been discussed in the twenty-first century. A range of authors’ critical responses and applications is quoted. One particular focus here is the structure of Higher Education, and how morphological changes in the field have shaped learning and teaching. Secondly, Part 4 aims to show ways in which Bourdieu’s theory of practice has the potential to be employed in a variety of areas in educational research: classroom learning, teacher education, Higher Education policy, etc. Some of these topics do not explicitly address the usual sociological concerns – race, gender, class – but deal with issues of teaching and learning. The theme of ‘language’ is used as a focus for this discussion. Part 4 also looks at the language of educational research and contrasts it with Bourdieu’s own. There are examples taken from classroom language to show how others writers’ analyses of educational discourse can be developed to provide further illumination using Bourdieu’s conceptual tools and empirical approach. Finally, Part 4 also addresses the nature of educational knowledge itself and the conduct of educational research. Reflexivity is a key concept here. Part 4 concludes with a consideration of how such reflexivity can be operationalised in practice and the status of the resultant knowledge. Reflexivity returns the book to issues of theory and practice in education.


Bourdieu has taken his place in a line of major thinkers about education. The principal aim of this new book is to show why.

Item Type: Book
ISBNs: 0826484018 (hardback)
9780826484017 (hardback)
Related URLs:
Keywords: bourdieu, education, training, methodology, philosophy
Subjects: L Education > LA History of education
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Education > Professional Practice & Pedagogy
ePrint ID: 52021
Date Deposited: 04 Jun 2008
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2014 18:35
Publisher: Continuum
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/52021

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