Analysis of the Sociological Concepts of Pierre Bourdieu and Their Relevance Today

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Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher born in 1930, whose scholarly works were mainly concerned with power dynamics and the ways in which power is enforced and managed across legacies: stressing the corporeal nature of social life and the role of practice in social dynamics.

Undeniably, the contributions made by Pierre Bourdieu towards the sociological field during the late 20th century has retained his relevance and importance for a contemporary understanding of inequality. Through the investigation of inequality, Bourdieu was able to develop and perpetuate an understanding of conflict which differed from the polarised theories of Marxism based on multi-dimensional deficits through his central concepts of habitus, capital, and field.

Bourdieu’s concepts of capital, field and habitus help make sense of the relationships between objective social structures and everyday practice: helping understand how power persists. The Bourdieusian approach is notorious for being rife with the complex and non-operationalizable terminology which are central to the overall theory of practice and methodology. Not only do these concepts represent the conceptual terms of his theories, but they can also be used reflexively as instruments for analysis.

Utilizing the metaphor of capital, Bourdieu describes the various forms of power such as social capital, cultural capital and financial capital: however, the combinations and levels of this, change relative to the individual based upon the field in which they are operating. Bourdieu asserts that people misrecognize their domination as an intellectual awareness when instead it is an embodied belief. Changes within the social lives of individuals naturally alter the state in which they understand their subjective situations, but only if they are aware of how these differences and changes in beliefs and attitudes are personally acknowledged. But, dominating oppressive powers will also be making an equally conscious effort to make these social crises seem managed. In this respect, it would be fair to state that when applied to modern social changes: such as the Brexit divide in the UK, or the Trump presidency in the US, a contemporary application of these theories and concepts seems highly relevant.

Drawing away from alternative theories of domination, such as those advocated by similar scholars at the time such as Foucault, Bourdieu’s concepts: again, seem more useful as they allow the possibility of individual and collective resistance. Something which, particularly in the UK and US is easily identified through the consistent abrasion between the polarised communities which are supporting recent changes to legislation, and those who actively protest it. However, Bourdieu does also suggest that the classificatory logic is heavily regulated and managed towards the division of established order, which ultimately renders any true chances of change futile due to the arbitrary nature of culture (Calhol et al, 1993:183).

The first of Bourdieu’s core concepts is the cultural capital. Cultural capital refers to familial endowments whereby parental social class values and assets ultimately influences integrational chances and achievements. Perhaps this is best shown through differences in educational stratification via schools and university. Bourdieu questions the seemingly benevolent role of teachers and instead suggests that they are agents. In his social reproduction thesis, Bourdieu argued that education performs a central role in the reproduction of social exclusion and inequality: facilitated within schools by promoting the cultural capital through penalizing the students who experienced inequalities in social class due to insufficiencies in financial and social capital (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990).Although, this is not something which is a proven fact through quantitative research and if cultural capital is seen exclusive through this lens, the generalizable analytical potential is far limited upon application to multicultural societies: which, of course, nearly all modern nations are, as well as not being able to empirically confirm his theory.

Habitus is another central concept which Bourdieu advocates, which reflects the class positions in different fields. Each field generates their own system of dispositions, incorporating both our individual and collective histories (Skeggs, 1977).

Familial habitus is stratified by class, but it’s the elite and middle classes access and accumulation of resources which ultimately determines what is considered high-brow culture and what society values (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990). The distribution and ease of access to these resources are not fairly distributed which empowers those who are privileged and distinct enough to deploy and possess it: reproducing social inequalities. Children who have admission to elite culture and life have more advantage at school than those that do not, which subjugates those excluded to develop competitive mechanisms that strive towards achieving and attaining the dominant social capital. For culture to explain contemporary variances in parental socioeconomic status this oppressive influence of culture must be experienced longitudinally.

When assessed, teachers were more supportive to those students who showed drive, and commitment: which had a direct effect on individual grades and performance. It is the previous achievements and effort which was causal on grade difference, cultural variances account for very little (Katsillis and Rubinson, 1990). The relevance of this towards understanding contemporary inequality can be supported by the promotion of cognitive skills: from this meaning that the effect of exposure to cultural capital on grades can somewhat be addressed and seen through the improvements in linguistics, cultural knowledge and reading ability for the individual (Sullivan, 2001). It is undeniable that more educational resources and those of better quality will benefit students, however, the decision to rewards these skills would indirectly promote inequalities since access is unequally class stratified. But this is pivotal on whether the teachers gave grades rewards high-brow culture over student competencies and cognition skills: and, the actual extent that media exposure affects language skills due to parental social class.

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This role of teachers should not be considered useful for understanding modern-day inequalities. Especially using the UK as an example, the variances in inequalities are not class-stratified as those of lower classes with less parental access experience greater effort towards successful integrational mobility within their education, so, contrary to Bourdieu’s suggestion, it would be fair to say that modern schooling has done considerable compensation for family influence (Goldthorpe, 2007).

Bourdieu’s concept of the field was used to describe the different systems of structured positions. Fields are an intellectual construct, which alter as they respond to changes in the games which shape them and other fields: the games is another metaphor used to describe the struggle for positions of power within a field, and by participating in the game individuals reinforce the value of it by producing and perpetuating the belief in the value of the stakes (Bourdieu, 1993). The participation in each game is dependent upon their habitus, varying in how individuals play the game and their feel for it (Bourdieu, 1990). At the crossroads where field and habitus meet, dominating power relations become normalized: in the same way as cultural capital, but because it is embodied is appears innate. Habitus reinforces and reflects social stratifications such as sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and class. In this respect, habitus is seemingly both individual and social, reflecting individual experience and reinforces social classifications: reflexive too in the way in which how the social interacts with the social trajectory and life experiences of everybody (Wacquant, 2004). Furthermore, the habitus frames varying types of capital to which individuals have access. Habitus, field and capital work in conjunction with each other through the process of legitimization. Those who possess the authority and ability in symbolic capital then frame what becomes legitimate within a field and value becomes denoted. With an awareness of conversion possibility, a different form of capital can become converted and integrated within and across fields (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992).

Assessing modern relevance of these theories can be analyzed using a capability approach which illustrates what people are genuinely able to do and be. Regarding this, this means would identify the aspects of life that represent the capability sets for collective and individuals and can measure the extent to which they were able to live a life they felt had reason to value (Sen, 1999). Beverly Skeggs argues that this is a limited analysis as it fails to address the socio-culture nature of reasoning and choice: choice, as a society, we understand in a middle-class way, relative to access of resources and individual’s perception of their privilege (Skeggs, 2004). Building upon Bourdieu’s work but instead homing in the importance of the role of women, Skeggs asserts that the differences in acceptance of class were far greater stratified for women. Men who were working-class were able to draw upon this to establish their identities, however, for women, it was far more exclusive to do this. This is perhaps best explained through the sites in which class in enacted and experienced: the home and the body. Both are central foci for developing values and identity and vehicle of symbolic violence (Skeggs, 1997).

Symbolic violence refers to the imposition of systematic means with meaning upon society as a collective, in a manner which establishes itself as legitimate. Their social trajectory is accepted as legitimate and their desire to change their circumstances is waived. Despite these assumptions, Skeggs’ contributions revoke such claims, as women are more aware of their status and in order to overcome in they consistently improve their appearance, relationships, and their minds: which, if true, heavily questions the relevance of the application of Bourdieu’s theory towards understanding contemporary inequalities: the women that lacked this desire for self-improvement where those that were far more distanced from the middles classes (Skeggs, 1997). The vehicles for these improvements on an institutionalized scale were the education sector and marriage marker, which both became means of capital conversion to cultural growth.

The way in which how people came to understand the meaning of work itself, reflects much about their habitus and the extent of how they internalized dominant ideological discourse on the essentialist importance of employment and self-reliance, satisfaction and fulfilment through work. The classifications of class, gender, and race all shape and affects what individuals deem possible and plausible, helping people make sense of their circumstance. Although gauging a feel for the game is incorporated within habitus, ultimately the effect of this does little to shape the nature of the field of the rule of the game.

It would be fair to state that if the mechanisms for social reproduction where changed from Bourdieu’s, then the importance of his work can be far better explained. Pointing to the example of education, the improvement towards access and compensation nullify his claims regarding parental capital affecting success and improvement: but, of course, they may continue to persist in the same way ethnicity and gender-related inequalities do. This would lead to the conclusion that; this continuation of inequalities must work in an alternative way than to what Bourdieu suggests. Or, schools could just not be as malicious as he claims. But, lastly, the way in which social reproduction becomes a longitudinal process in life which is influenced equally by circumstance and context as must as risk and individual decision making. Cultural capital within subcultural communities is both an independent and dependent variable. Culture turns into the capital in establishing group boundaries, hierarchies and individual sense of belonging as equally influenced. But is also done so through interaction/

So, seeing as Bourdieu’s sociology fails to adequately explain macro theories and longitudinal application, therefore the necessity to continue to use his works as a rite-of-passage for any researcher or sociologist. Perhaps this can be due to the similarities amongst academics in their lived experienced: offering a political identity to more liberal academic. But his work offers a powerful bulwark for the academics and professionals. In this respect, Bourdieusian sociology ought to be considered an ideological formation predicated upon common experience for integration of and implementation of the academic left and right. By offering a form of ersatz radicalism driven by the constant need and desire to improve oneself as much as possible in as many different forms of capital certainly establishes itself as one of the considerably more desirable theories for theorists themselves as it glorifies and legitimizes the sociology with the sense of social responsibility and elevation

Informational capital becomes a final standpoint through which to assess Bourdieusian contemporary relevance, as open access certainly plays a central role in establishing and developing social capital between institutions and the individual: creating a mutual culture of cohesive trust through the willing and ready flow of information accessible for both parties. But, in terms of social capital, information included within and amongst legislation literally states societal operations and values. The potential data gathered from each community is untapped, and each can represent a different form of knowledge, such as the shared public access to the OFSTED reports. In an economy of knowledge, this flow of information becomes as quickly a medium of trust as it does diminish and revert it through data leakage and information sales.

Bourdieu’s theories and concepts can be criticized and questioned on many different grounds. Perhaps the most obvious and most important is the lack of objectivity or conceptual clarity. Due to this, many researchers and scholars have operationalized his concept of capital in a plethora of different ways and all draw towards somewhat differing conclusions. There have been several studied that have attempted to refine these measurements and indicators of cultural capital to analysis the different aspects of middle-class culture which have a genuine and empirical impact on education systems and personal goal attainment and success: however, often they still all fail by polarising their views and focusing only on limited features of highbrow culture.

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