Bourdieu on Difference: extract 2 from ‘Sociology is a Martial Art’

So you can see how my theoretical model works here. That you should always think of a painting in relation to the space of paintings that were painted then. Doing something one way is always not doing it the way others would, but without necessarily trying to stand out*. To understand what someone does you have to understand what that person is not doing, too. It’s that simple. This is a teaching of structuralism. To understand a phoneme, you must place it in a system of phonemes.

La Sociologie est un Sport de Combat, (2002) Directed by Carles P. France: C-P Productions/VF Films.

*Bourdieu also intimates here towards the misconception that surrounded interpretations of Distinction, which read the work as a study of how humans are inherently driven to pursue status-related distinction. However, for him ‘distinction’ is about social difference and how they are reproduced and the effects thereof. This is something he is at pains to point out again in a lecture published in Practical Reason:

Here I open a parenthesis in order to dispel a frequent, yet disastrous, misunderstanding about the title Distinction, which has led some to believe that the entire book was limited to saying that the driving force of all human behavior was the search for distinction. This does not make sense and, moreover, it would not be anything new if one thinks, for example, of Veblen and his notion of conspicuous consumption. In fact, the main idea is that to exist within a social space, to occupy a point or to be an individual within a social space, is to differ, to be different. (Bourdieu, 1998: 9)

Bourdieu P (1998) Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Cambridge: Polity Press.




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