Preface

It must not, therefore, be expected that the sincere reverence for Kant which I certainly feel shall extend to his weaknesses and errors also, and that I shall consequently refrain from exposing these except with the most careful indulgence, whereby my language would necessarily become weak and insipid through circumlocution.

Arthur Schopenhauer
(from World as Will and Representation, vol. II)

We should now consider the possibility of critique of Pierre Bourdieu’s doctrine. Already during his life-time, a corpus of work and a network of scholars formed that were devoted not only to the letter of Bourdieu’s scholarship but also to the spirit of his thought. It should be clear to any serious student of social dynamics that such engagements are, in addition to a matter of explicating the correct implication and entailment of the master’s thought, also a question of position-taking and attempts to secure specific forms of recognition.

As with any doxa, such schools of thought as the one espoused by Bourdieu’s followers – however annointed as axiomatic by the master in his living days – maintain the truths and strengths of their teacher, but also his faults and weaknesses. Schopenhauer reminded us that there may be good reason to praise a living scholar – such as Schopenhauer’s model Immanuel Kant once was – for his achievements, but that those reasons are no longer valid when the master has passed away:

Towards a living writer such indulgence is needed, for human frailty cannot endure even the most just refutation of an error, unless tempered by soothing and flattery, and hardly even then; and a teacher of the age and benefactor of mankind deserves at least that the human weakness he also has should be indulged, so that he may not be caused pain. But he who is dead has thrown off this weakness; his merit stands firm; time will purify it more and more from all exaggeration and detraction. His mistakes must be separated from it, rendered harmless, and then given over to oblivion.

This attitude is appropriate in our apporach also to Bourdieu’s scholarship today. In this spirit the following text is submitted in respectful veneration of the master’s work, but with the express purpose of engaging it in a critique and to expose a part of his scholarship that was not sufficiently grounded in knowledge of how signification is produced and maintained.

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