Pierre Bourdieu in context : ethnology and sociology in the era of French late capitalism
This thesis attempts a critical examination of the work of the French ethnologist and sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu. It reads his work in the context both of the intellectual traditions within which and against which Bourdieu has elaborated his sociological theories, and of the socio-historical developments in postwar France which those theories have sought to describe and explain. Following the development of Bourdieu's thought chronologically and thematically, the thesis argues that his most important works have been centrally concerned with the analysis of a series of social and cultural changes contingent on France's transition to an era of late capitalism, an era characterised by decolonisation, the advent of mass consumerism, unprecedented expansion in the university sector and the consequent challenge to the humanist culture traditionally dispensed there, the waning of a once dominant Left-wing political discourse and its replacement by discourses of managerialism, business efficiency, and neo-liberalism. Hence, rather than analysing key Bourdieusian concepts such as 'practice', 'habitus', 'strategy'. `cultural capital'. and `field' in purely theoretical terms, this thesis will understand such concepts as explanatory tools which emerged in response to a particular historical conjuncture, questioning the contribution they might make to our understanding of that conjuncture. The French intellectual field, with its poles of attraction and repulsion, forms an integral part of that historical conjuncture and this thesis will, therefore, also examine how Bourdieu's approach defined itself in relation to the key protagonists in that field, analysing his debt to figures such as Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau- Ponty, Gaston Bachelard, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx, as well as his more agonistic relationship with figures such as Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Frantz Fanon, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Whilst this thesis neither pretends to provide the definitive reading of Bourdieu's work nor claims that his work's significance is limited to the particular context in which it was produced, it does argue that a detailed understanding of that context forms the necessary precursor to any objective assessment of the work's strengths and weaknesses.