Jimmy's Reviews > In Other Words: Essays Toward a Reflexive Sociology

In Other Words by Pierre Bourdieu
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's review
Dec 08, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: sociology
Read in November, 2009

As much as I adore most of the social sciences, probably more so than any of the "hard sciences", I still have to cringe when the word science is used to describe any writer's methodology of sociology, anthropology, or western philosophy. Sociology is a particularly interesting case and point because arbitrary results can occasionally be justified as those of a reliable series of analysis and survey. In other words, scientific method seems based on more reliable and empirical tests and experiments, while sociological method seems to yield less reliable results. Of course, this brings up an entire discussion dealing more with the philosophy of science, and I'm hardly the sort of mind capable of distinguishing or explaining the difference between the two (or three, or four, or five, and so on) here. However, I can appreciate a tone of intellectual honesty when it comes to sociology. It's not so much that I'm expecting these writers to confess to this discipline essentially being a bunch of disreputable guesswork, but for sociologists to at least admit that sociological research is not essentially a science.

Bourdieu still seems to bandy about the word science as if sociology truly was one. Yet his awareness of both what the sociologist means when they say this, as well as the weaknesses of certain influences of his (Levi-Strauss, Durkheim, Weber, Merleau-Ponty, etc) motivates his ideas to step back from themselves and reflect on what sort of foundation of logic and method might stengthen their results. He seems to strive toward this goal by forcing the sociologist to reflect on their respective academic/financial positions (reflexive sociology). In this sense, Bourdieu also wants to bridge the gap between schools of thought such as phenomenology and structuralism. Which essentially means that he intends to utilize a method largely influenced by Levi-Strauss, one that approaches anthropology from a linguistic, structural, objective, and systematic perspective, while keeping in mind the sociologist/anthropologist as individual, one who's subjective perception tends to get in the way of an objective analysis of culture and social organization.

As I've mentioned, this involves a lot of philosophy of scientific method, or philosophy of research methods in general. Which is nice because it distances Bourdieu from influences such as Karl Marx, and brings him closer to the more rational approach of someone such as Max Weber. So Bourdieu is more or less talking about a "sociology of sociology", which so articulately calls for a reassessment of sociological methods of the past while addressing their respective strengths at the same time.

In Other Words is also what seems like a great introduction to Bourdieu's thought. Through the few interviews contained in this volume, he discusses his own academic career and the influences that have contributed to molding what now stands as his own quite inimitable approach. Included in this collection are also a couple of essays in which he discusses the concepts that he is famous for, such as habitus and codification. It's all very illuminating, and very much helpful for those interested in reading some of his more ambitious projects such as Distinction and Homo Acedemicus. In other words, it would be ideal if most great thinkers had a collection as brutally honest and articulate as this one.
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11/11/2009 page 68
11/11/2009 page 68
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Jimmy To a certain degree, this collection of essays focused on a similar concern as that of Wilson's in Consilience. Bourdieu displays something close to scientific skepticism, but it's still couched in the language of his predecessors. Still, I find sociologists such as him and Max Weber to be valuable exceptions to my distaste for straight-up, academic sociology. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more by him in the future.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio An amusing Google Image Search result for 'homo academicus':

In May 1961, the Italian artist Piero Manzoni packed and sealed ninety cylindrical cans, each containing thirty grams of his own excrement. Atop each tin are the words PRODUCED BY, followed by the signature Piero Manzoni, and a stenciled number designating its place in the run. A label affixed to the body of each consists of rows of the artist’s first and last names strung together and repeated over and over. This PIEROMANZONIPIEROMANZONI functions as a background on which is printed the words:

Artist’s Shit




IN MAY 1961

Jimmy MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "An amusing Google Image Search result for 'homo academicus':

In May 1961, the Italian artist Piero Manzoni packed and sealed ninety cylindrical cans, each containing thirty grams of his own excr..."

Weird. What I basically meant to say in the first comment was that Bourdieu's just one of the more rational, self-deprecating examples of well-respected sociologists in the field. In other words, I shouldn't have said "scientific skepticism" because that isn't necessarily true.

Also, I'm surprised that Pier Paolo Pasoloini never tried canning his own shit and selling it; seems like his style.

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