The BSA Bourdieu Study Group held its first study group event on 8th June 2012 since it officially established itself in January 2012. This event drew together Bourdieuian scholars for a debate around issues relating to public engagement and Bourdieu’s legacy. It posed such questions as: should the sociologist be helping people to reflect and question their own lives and conditions, why do we do sociology, and was Bourdieu really a public sociologist?
In Bourdieu’s later years he asserted that sociologists cannot be neutral and advocated helping the public develop a reflexive mode of relating to the world. During the 1990s he became more deeply involved in political debate and a critic of neoliberalism. In 1993 The Weight of the World – which became a bestseller in France – was published. Jim Wolfreys (2000) argues that:
‘The Weight of the World became one of the defining books of the 1990s… Along with Bourdieu’s highly political interventions since 1995 it has been a major factor in what is perhaps his single most notable achievement of recent years, that of ‘relegitimising a discourse of resistance.’
In 2001 Pierre Carles documentary La sociologie est un sport de combat (Sociology is a martial art) – which followed Bourdieu for three years – was released. In it Bourdieu proposed that sociology is a fighting sport, not an intellectual technical tool for the elite to validate their choices. Parts of the film were played at the end of the event. Yet some still question whether Bourdieu was ‘doing’ public sociology.
To address this question, the event brought together one of the most prominent advocates of public sociology – Professor Michael Burawoy of the University of California, Berkeley, a world leading sociologists and current President of the International Sociological Association and Professor Derek Robbins who has been one of the leading exponents of Pierre Bourdieu’s theories in the fields of sociology for over forty years.
It was a enjoyable and at time lively event, held at BSA meeting room in Imperial Wharf. The room was arranged in 30 seat boardroom-style, to allow for debate and discussion. The events proved very popular and tickets sold out within two days. We received much positive feedback. Here are just a couple of the comments we got.
‘I found it particularly interesting that Prof Michael Burawoy examined the paradoxes of Bourdieu, something I hadn’t anticipated at a Bourdieu Study Group event! I enjoyed this questioning approach and the subsequent response from Prof Derek Robbins, which together deepened my understanding of certain Bourdieusian concepts. I thought it was an excellent example of two academics with differing views supporting their claims in constructive ways, whilst being highly informative for their audience at the same time. Great to catch up with friends/colleagues I have met at previous events too’
Linda Cooper (Anglia Ruskin University)
The first BSA Bourdieu Study group meeting held at Imperial Wharf London was a tremendous success. Professors Michael Burawoy and Derek Robbins were on fine form elucidating the work of Bourdieu and more broadly the role and value of Sociology. I await future meetings with great anticipation.’
Katie Blood (Nottingham Trent University)
At the end of the event there was still no clear agreement on whether Bourdieu was a public sociologist, but I’m sure those who attended have a lot more intellectual knowledge to argue either way. Whether sociologist should be doing ‘public sociology’ themselves seemed to be an even more challenging issue to debate.
Wolfreys, Jim. (2000) In perspective: Pierre Bourdieu. INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM JOURNAL [online]. Available at: http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj87/wolfreys.htm. [Accessed: 20/01/2013]