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Pascalian Meditations makes explicit the presuppositions of a state of Through this critique, Bourdieu charts a negative philosophy that calls into question. Through this Pascalian critique, Bourdieu charts a negative philosophy which calls into question our most fundamental presuppositions and renews the. Meditations on Pascalian. Meditations. Texts reviewed. Pierre Bourdieu () Pascalian Meditations, trans. Richard Nice, Cambridge: Polity Press, pp.

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In Januarythe French social philosopher Pierre Bourdieu died, thus bringing to an end an extraordinary academic trajectory. Born in a rural village in the South-west corner of France, Bourdieu rose to become its leading intellectual in the s, rivalling the status of Sartre, Derrida, Foucault and de Beauvoir.

It is probably as a sociologist that Bourdieu is best known, and, in particular, for his work as a sociologist of education.

Along with writers such as Basil Bernstein, this movement called for a change of emphasis away from educational outcome to the processes of pedagogical knowledge. Their work was highly philosophical in the way it dealt with educational discourses. There is a traditional antipathy in France between philosophy and sociology. In his most sustained discussion of the philosophical discourse, he opens by writing: He goes on to explain that when asked as he often was about his relations with Marx, he would reply that if he had to affiliate himself, it would be more as a Pascalian.

Why Pascal, from whom the title of this book — Pascalian Meditations was derived? We might also find between Bourdieu and Pascal a whole series of common philosophical concerns: These issues come up throughout Pascalian Meditations. The first step towards this practical knowing for Pascal is to acknowledge the wretched state and what constitutes it: Man is confronted with the enormity of the world: This point gives rise to a second step in practical reason: And, must it be added?

In effect, this connects with issues of reflexivity I shall discuss later on in this paper. Knowledge for Bourdieu also implicitly contains an interest of both individual and group. But, there is also deception and our thoughts can lead us astray. What we are told by external authority disguises a greater truth: There is then an implicit promise of liberation, if not escape, through reason from the wretchedness of the world for both Bourdieu and Pascal.

Although their means of acquiring the wherewithal for such liberation differ, they are both committed to offering the means to this end. It is a form of symbolic power by means of which those with authority impose their interests. The fact that we are compliant and implicated in its construction is not because we are servile but rather complicity is not a conscious, deliberate act.

How to move beyond it? Bourdieu referred to his approach as constructivist structuralism or structural consructivism It is a way of examining the relationship between the individual and the situation in which they find themselves.

Key terms in this theory of practice are habitus and field. Habitus is defined as: The extent to which these patterns are actualised depends on the social location any one finds themselves in at any one time. For Bourdieu, such locations are also structured mexitations both physically and organisationally — and should be understood as fields: Human activity hence proceeds through an engagement between habitus and fields and the homologies this sets up.

There can be instances of convergence through affinity, and divergence as a result of mismatches. Bourdieu saw such mismatches in the systems of scholastic inculcation, which favoured those from cultural backgrounds congruent with that of schools.

These mismatches might be expressed through language content or form, but should be understood as representing the same structures as those found in the social divisions of society. Thought could therefore shape society and the social world but it was formed by the very same structures.


A discussion of the full sense of habitus and field has been attempted in Grenfell and James In the present context, it is worth noting that habitusin particular, has been fiercely debated over the years and its usefulness questioned see Nash pasalian Paradoxically, near the end of his life Bourdieu commented to me that habitus was rarely mentioned within his own team of researchers.

Nevertheless, Bourdieu himself wrote a great deal about habitus ; antecedents of which he acknowledges across philosophy.

Pascalian Meditations

For phenomenologists, individual experience exists differentially as it meditaitons always shifting. However, this process does not take place in a free realm of signification but implies orthodox and heterodox interpretation.

Bourdieu socialises this process, so the orthodox becomes the dominant conventions of thought and action of a particular society against which any one individual may conform or deviate. In effect, what we have here is a theory of knowledge and an epistemological paradigm.

It is not possible, therefore, to take habitus and field as simple re-expressions of agency and context. This relationship is mutually constituted through thought and action:.

The relationship between habitus and field operates in two ways. On the one side, it is a relation of conditioning: On the other side, it is a relation of knowledge or cognitive construction: Field and habitus therefore exist in a world, which values and is valued differentially. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that Bourdieu should term its products symbolic capital: These are the terms which Bourdieu brings to his analysis of the discipline of philosophy. Above, I wrote that Bourdieu claimed that philosophy seemed to him to ask questions which are not essential, while ignoring those which were.

In effect, what are the causes of their questioning? Bourdieu had examples to hand from with his own experience.

On the other hand, he was against developments in philosophy since the s; most noticeably, post-modernism and, by implication, those who purport to engage in a philosophy of the history of philosophy. Using his theory of field analysis, Bourdieu saw changes in the philosophical field in France as symptomatic of particular socio-historical conditions. For example, the fact that philosophy was still taught in French High Schools meant that it was particularly prone to ‘subversion’ in the post period with its ‘anti-institutional mood.

In this sense, the centralisation of the French scholastic system offered ripe conditions for a focused anti-institutional attack. However, Bourdieu argued that this spirit of revolt was combined by the new philosophers of the s with a ‘conservative reaction’ against the menace posed by the growth in social sciences; especially linguistics and anthropology He makes the point, as an aside, that once he had to explain to a boureieu American visitor that all their intellectual heroes – Althusser, Barthes, Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault – were marginal within the French university system, and even disqualified from officially directing research as they themselves did not hold a doctorate p.

Bourdieu saw in this situation the effects of institutional instability on mrditations young of the s who sought to assert their authority through ‘a historicist critique of truth and the sciences ‘ ibid. For Bourdieu, this evolution in the s was the cause of overturning of the dominant philosophical trends.

Formal logic based on mathematics, analytical empiricism, and phenomenology were sidelined in such a way that ‘attachment to formal and universal truths appeared old fashioned and even a little reactionary compared with the analysis of cultural historic meditationz Behind these arguments lie questions not simply about the representation and provenance of knowledge but of knowledge itself; apparently the very stuff of philosophy.

What is ‘true’ for Bourdieu and what significance does it have? Twentieth-century theories of scientific knowledge were heavily influenced by the philosophy of Karl Popper.

Popper denounced ‘historicism’ and argued for the founding of ‘objectivity’ based on falsification in the pursuit of so-called ‘objective knowledge without a knowing subject’. However, for Popper, a key notion in this foundation of ‘objective knowledge’ was the ‘critical community’: For Durkheim too, the subject of science was a product of an ‘integrated collective’. In many ways, this notion implies the systems of censure, authentication and specification that Bourdieu himself saw as central to the operations of scientific groups.


However, Bourdieu sought to overwrite such notions with his more general concept of field. Field brings with it a whole set of operational consequences. For example, it follows that by applying field theory to a scientific fieldthose within it need to be understood as acting according to their own norms nomos which define what is ‘thinkable and unthinkable’, and thus also articulated or not.

This process operates through knowledge connaissance and recognition reconnaissance. Those who know the rules regularities can use them and, at the limit, are allowed to invent new ones. All those active within the field share a resonant habitus ; in fact, the field chooses the habitus as much as the habitus chooses the field. He also makes the point p. Paradigms expressed knowledge in a commonly agreed language and clearly defined limits of discourse.

However, although Bourdieu shared Kuhn’s view of change as coming through breaks and revolutions from within and without the paradigm, he argued that it was too attached to the Durkheiimian view of a community governed by a ‘central norm’ and did not explain the nature of change. Change, for Bourdieu was defined by the nature of fields themselves in that they are made up of individuals and groups competing for the dominant positions within the field and, in fact, between fields. Everything else follows from this principle.

Scientific fieldsBourdieu argued, operate with two types of resources: Scientific resources amount to the knowledge base of the field. Microcosms within it possess varying forms and quantities according to the esteem, etc. Financial resources are simply money capital. In fact, these two notions relate closely to Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic capitaland can be expressed in terms of the configurations of cultural, economic and social capital.

These forms are never independent and, within and across disciplines, scientific activity is more of less dependent on economic resources. This dependency is, according to Bourdieu, weak in areas such as History and Maths, but strong in Physics and Sociology.

Bourdieusian meditations

Moreover, the different forms of resource are cut across by other structures within disciplines: The latter refer to institutional principles of differentiation and thus organisation. There is the risk that scientific knowledge is subordinated to temporal principles and economic resources. In fact, Bourdieu argued that in much discipline knowledge, it is precisely such misrecognitons which are hidden; in other words, knowledge based on a particular financial and organisational structure of the academic field in place and time rather that on ‘truth’ itself.

The logical extension of this argument is that scientific knowledge fields need to be as independent as possible p. Paradoxically, and consequently, Bourdieu was critical of areas such as philosophy. For him, these did have autonomy but they then misused it by cutting themselves off and operating according to their own internal logic of self-interests. Bourdieu was not the first to notice the apparent relativity of knowledge, and that philosophy itself was based on a search for stable epistemological foundations.

This quest lies at the base of Popper’s philosophy. An extreme form of post-modernism which would see all articulations in the name of real truth or knowledge as fictions, was only the other side of the same illusory coin. Certainly, Bourdieu had little time for those who would argue that any search for an external objectivity was a ‘fabrication’ and fictive for example, Latour and Woolgaror for so-called semiotic ethnographers for example, Marcus and Geertz who see reality to be read as a ‘text’ ibid.: