Relating Bourdieu’s concepts to key concepts in educational research

I’m trying to keep an open mind on methodological approaches as I work towards the next assignment but as I explore more deeply and with broader perspectives and interpretations I am hoping that there will be room for a range of ‘inductive, interpretive, positional and historical modes’ (Pouliot, 2012), particularly as I am increasingly (and thanks to Julien for pointing me in the right direction) aware of the distinctive positional and dispositional logics of habitus and field which I had rather naively coalesced.

A critique of Bourdieu’s concepts with reference to Pring’s key concepts of educational research:


“If habitus brings into focus the subjective end of the equation, field focuses on the objective” (Bourdieu, 1998 pp.15)

“Bourdieu’s social science attempts to capture such subtleties, by working across and between ‘subjectivist’ and ‘objectivist’ accounts” James (2011)

Theory (as a challenge to common sense):

“The language of atoms and particles needs to be related to the language of tables and chairs’ Pring (2010, pp.88)

Perhaps Bourdieu is criticising scientific approaches when describing social agents and capital:

“Social agents are not ‘particles’ that are mechanically pushed and pulled by external forces. They are rather bearers of capitals, and depending on their trajectory and on the position they occupy in the field by virtue of their endowment (volume and structure) in capital, they have a propensity to orient themselves actively either toward the preservation of the distribution of capital or toward the subversion of this distribution.” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992 pp.108-109).

Truth (described through language):

Pring suggests that language used in description may be flawed because of the many different ways in which we might describe or conceptualise what we see which may mean what is true for one person may not be true to another (2010, pp.72), or ‘picture theory of meaning’ (2010, pp.74) but that the shared recognition of the description as truth relies on there being a shared reality. Bourdieu recognises a similar concept in his critique of his own research method:

“… language is both common to the different classes and capable of receiving different, even opposite, meanings in the particular, and sometimes antagonistic, uses that are made of it.” Bourdieu (1984, pp.192)


“And there might well be a causal explanation for the acquisition of particular dispositions.” Pring (2010, pp.69)

Pring argues that social reality is constructed through the interaction of: unconscious social forces and structures, conscious inherited social understandings and transformations of these understandings as part of wider cultural change (Pring, 2010, pp.60) and by the use of ‘tightly defined theoretical language’ as a ‘substitute for ‘we ordinarily explain why people act as the do’ (2010, pp.82-83). This might be related to the Bourdieu’s concept of dispositions:

“a system of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them” (Bourdieu,1990, pp.53).


The concept of habitus has been criticised for being deterministic, what Pring might call ‘false belief in causality’ (Pring, 2010, pp.64)

[Bourdieu] “should open up his system, avoid deterministic descriptions of stable reproduction, and give voluntarism its due” Vandenberghe (1999, pp.62).

Bourdieu, P. (1998) Acts of resistance: Against the tyranny of the market. New York, New Press.

Bourdieu, P., and Wacquant, L. (1992) An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P.(1990) The logic of practice. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

James, D. (2011) Beginning with Bourdieu in educational research, British Educational Research Association on-line resource. Available on-line at: <;
Pring, R. (2010) Philosophy of Education Research 2nd Ed. Continuum.

Pouliot, V. (2012) Methodology: Putting practice theory into practice. In: Adler-Nissen, R. ed. Bourdieu in International Relations: Rethinking Key Concepts in IR. Abingdon, Routledge, pp.45.

Vandenberghe, F. (1999) The Real is Relational: An Epistemological Analysis of Pierre Bourdieu’s Generative Structuralism. Sociological Theory, 17(1), pp.32–67.


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