The Theories of Pierre Bourdieu

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Pierre Bourdieu was somewhat of a contemporary theorist who drew on the works of Marx, Durkheim, and Levi-Strauss. He believed that social life was not driven by economics, but instead was a form of exchange, and forms of domination well outside the economy. Bourdieu’s main focus was symbolic violence. According to our lecture notes, symbolic violence is “power which manages to impose meanings and to impose them as legitimate by concealing the power relations which are the basis for its force.” He believed that deception is something that molds and maintains our society. An example of this, as stated in class, is the exchange of gifts. You cannot refuse a gift because that is considered rude. When receiving a gift you are expected to do the same for that person, even though giving someone a gift is seen as a voluntary action. Bourdieu also stressed the importance of cultural and symbolic capital. Cultural capital “transforms power relations into legitimate authority,” and symbolic capital is the “form of capital which must circulate.” An example of cultural capital would be women being discouraged from entering certain fields of study, such as the natural sciences. An example of symbolic capital would be a judge. The clothing he or she wears, the treatment they are given, and their decision making power are all used to reinforce that he or she is in charge. Bourdieu also emphasizes reproduction. Through reproduction, those who succeed will transfer their benefits to the next generation. Those who are unsuccessful will transfer their shortcomings instead. He also argues that habitus is how inequality is passed down. Habitus can be defined as “internalized schemes.” Bourdieu argues that “struggles are both class and cultural.” For example, taste can often be seen as an example of inequality and struggle between the classes. Those in the upper class commonly change what they find to be appealing in music or art so that it isn’t similar to

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