BSA Bourdieu Study Group event: Gender and Bourdieu, “Is doing gender unavoidable?”

On 13th December 2012 the BSA Bourdieu study group held it second official event at the School of Law and Social Science, University of East London, since forming.

The study group decided to hold an event on Bourdieu and gender as over the years of organising on a variety of topics – Bourdieu and education, Bourdieu’s key concepts, Bourdieu and social class – gender has been present and sometime dominant in the papers submitted.

Capture Bourdieu and genderBourdieu first entered the sociological discussion of gender relationships in the 1990s. In 1998 he published La Domination masculine . Bourdieu argues that the relations between men and women are tied to masculine domination and that this masculine domination or habitus gives men and women a specific role in society.

Bourdieu’s work also often causes divisions between feminists. Many argue that although he explored gender relations in his work, he paid very little attention to feminist theory, focusing instead on gendering of taste or how structured sexual division of labour generates a sexually differentiated perspective on the world. However, others dispute this insisting that his contribution has scarcely been recognized by feminists. They claim that one of Bourdieu’s most important insights is that gender is present in all social relationships. Furthermore, Bourdieu’s work is valuable to feminist approaches because theoretical frameworks and political programmes are always embedded in social relations.

There has been a range of responses to Bourdieu and gender from academics and the event wanted to bring together different perspectives for discussion. However, as a study group we are also interested in the new ways Bourdieu’s concepts can be applied and will invite speakers that will create debate and discussion with the audience.

With this in mind, we decided to invite three keynote speakers – Dr Catherine Hakim, Dr Lisa Mckenzie and Professor Derek Robbins, all with very different approaches to Bourdieu. A decision that unknowing to us was to turn out to be a fiercely debated issue over academic’s personal facebook profiles, twitter and JISCMAIL and indeed would lead to some very uncomfortable emails. I shall leave the comments anonymous even though they were widely distributed.

‘I’m shocked and disappointed when I saw her [Dr Catherine Hakim] name on the programme for this event (and as a keynote speaker!). Having her on the programme would certainly be reason enough to dissuade me from attending an event.’

‘Unbelievable: the BSA had to wait forty years until Bourdieu told them that gender mattered??? And all those women sociologists running around in the meantime saying something very like this, didn’t count???’



It seemed the main objection of our event came from people who disagreed with Dr Catherine Hakim’s development of the concept of ‘erotic capital‘. ‘Erotic capital’ refers to a person’s combination of physical and social attractiveness and its power in all social interactions; in the workplace, politics and in public life generally, as well as in the invisible negotiations of private relationships. Her publication Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital has received large scale mainstream media attention. As such, one twitter comment from a study group member stated ‘that the era of pop-sociology had arrived with our event.’


As a study group, we aim to try to host interesting events and provide a platform for debate and discussion. We schedule much more time for questions and answers after each key note speaker and hold a panel discussion at the end, after each speaker has given their talk to facilitate more debate. We also believe that sociology has a place to tackle the often difficult subjects that other disciplines avoid. As such, there will always be queries over the topic of our events as well as the speakers that are invited. However, as ‘erotic capital’ had received so much media attention and we are a Bourdieu study group, we wanted to engage with the concept and debate whether this is a way Bourdieu could be use as well as hear from other keynotes speakers about their interpretation of Bourdieu and gender.

Professor Derek Robbins

Professor Derek Robbins


Dr Catherine Hakim’s talk gave an overview of the concept of ‘erotic capital‘. This was followed by some heated questions from the audience. Dr Lisa Mckenzie’s key note speech focused on white working class women, who are mothers to mixed-race children living on a council estate in Nottingham. The research highlighted the importance of belonging and neighbourhood, whilst focusing upon local value systems. She spoke of the theoretical influence of the work of Pierre Bourdieu, with particular influence relating to symbolic violence, capital exchange, and power relationships with neo-liberal structures. Prof Derek Robbins who has long been one of the leading exponents of Pierre Bourdieu’s theories in the fields of sociology for over forty years gave a historical speech on La domination masculine and social constructionism.


Over all, we received much positive feedback at the end of the event. Here are just a few comments.


A very stimulating event on gender and Bourdieu. All three papers were brilliant.’ (Punita Chowbey, Sheffield Hallam University)


‘I found all three speakers illuminating.’ (Dr Andrew Robert Branch , University of East London)



Professor Derek Robbins key note speech was particularly fascinating. His historical analysis on the development of Bourdieu’s concepts and his observation that some scholars make judgements about Bourdieu’s concepts and ideas without accounting for the historical conditions of their formations is an especially important lesson for all sociologist working on whichever topic.’ (Kristoffer Halvorsrud, University of Nottingham)

On the whole, I found the event very stimulating. However I found Catherine Hakim’s arguments rather simplistic and shallow. She tended to ignore class in order to advance a threadbare thesis that women could use their “erotic capital” to get ahead in the world. Working class women don’t have this luxury and their employment options will be limited.’ (Ray Campbell, University of East London)

Overall there were some passionate debates and many enjoyed the day.

We are looking forward to seeing study group members at the BSA annual conference in April in our sub-stream as well as in our annual study group meeting. Our next event will be sometime in June on Bourdieu and Passeron. More details will follow soon.


One thought on “BSA Bourdieu Study Group event: Gender and Bourdieu, “Is doing gender unavoidable?”

  1. […] Bourdieu in ethnicity and migration studies, urban studies, education, social class, social theory, gender, Bourdieu as a public sociologist and special events for postgraduate […]

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