Pierre Bourdieu

By: Mark Kingwell
August 1, 2011

Self-conscious French sociologist PIERRE BOURDIEU (1930-2002) recognized that position is everything. His magnum opus Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979; in English, 1984) playfully reduces Kantian abstractions to class realities, and implicitly defends the hilo dictum that no taste can be inherently better than another. Not that anything goes in Bourdieu’s sociology of preferences. Instead, the choices we make about music, clothing, food, and recreation — all the aspects of self-presentation he called habitus — are herd-animal attempts to achieve superiority with respect to another. That superiority may be socially sanctioned, as in official culture or received taste, but it operates at ‘lower’ levels too, in the form of machismo, populism, or claims to authenticity. Bourdieu was well aware that such analysis was itself motivated by a thirst for distinction. “Social subjects,” he said, “including intellectuals, are not those best placed to grasp that which defines the limits of their thought of the social world.” In fact, the academic “illusion of the absence of limits” can be the most limiting thought there is — an insight Bourdieu further explored in Homo Academicus (1984; in English, 1990). In later years a public intellectual of great influence, Bourdieu coined the dismissive term “le fast-thinker” for the slick made-for television pundits he routinely trounced, and that is unimprovable. Don’t think fast, think hard!


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Chuck D and “Mother” Jones.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).

What do you think?

  1. I like Pierre. And Mark. Nice job. He’s right about TV and media pundits though. You get $60 for appearing. These people don’t need $60, especially not to talk to daytime news.So the real threat to democracy are those self-selecting narcissists who will go on the TV to say their words at every single opportunity.

    UK readers will recognise one economist in particular who has barely ever got anything right, has a one-inch penis (allegedly) and had a brief stint as Editor at The Observer in 1996 and chopped my column on TV, indeed the whole section. And he’s high on the list.

Comments are closed.