Pierre Bourdieu

Power and Cultural Capital: an Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu

Instructor: Nara Roberta Silva
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Do people think and act freely? Or are we fully determined products of our society, behaving always in ways dictated by the social conditions in which we were raised and live? For Pierre Bourdieu, the problem of agency versus structure was the fundamental question of modern social theory. Dissatisfied with pure individualism on the one hand, and simple structuralism on the other, Bourdieu developed an entirely new sociological paradigm—what he called a “Theory of Practice.” Combining elements of phenomenology and structuralism, Bourdieu provides a striking account of how social norms are at once internalized in the individual unconscious, yet are in turn shaped by individual action. To analyze social behavior, therefore, is to analyze power—the relative power of individuals, their cultural capital, over both their circumstances and each other. Reading Bourdieu, how can we understand the macro and micro dynamics of power and subordination that shape where and how we socialize—from schools to the workplace to the art gallery and the concert hall?

In this course, students will be introduced to the major work, ideas, and methods of Pierre Bourdieu. Over four sessions, we will read from Bourdieu’s books, articles, and lectures as we scrutinize the four central—and original—concepts underlying Bourdieu’s work: habitus, field, cultural capital, and symbolic violence. As we tease out their meanings and applications, we’ll strive to apprehend Bourdieu’s two signal themes: social reproduction and domination. As we go, we will ask: What is a habitus, and in what ways does it account—or not—for individual agency? What is cultural capital, Bourdieu’s central idea to explain persistent inequalities in education? How does Bourdieu’s notion of capital differ from the Marxist understanding? What, for Bourdieu, is unique about forms of violence that are not physical or reliant on force? Can one say it is a “softer” form of domination? Can Bourdieu’s theory of action, focused on reproduction, provide pathways for discussing and envisioning social change? How does Bourdieu’s work relate to the three classical sociologists: Marx, Durkheim, and Weber? How can Bordieu’s work be applied to the study of art, education, media, anthropology, psychology, and gender and cultural studies? In addition to Bourdieu, we will read from works by Loïc Wacquant, Jean-Claude Passeron, Luc Boltanski, Michèle Lamont, Annette Lareau, and others.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 14 — May 05, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open

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