Monthly Archives: May 2014

The subject through the objective

My father was an instrument maker for Vickers Instruments working with lenses, designing parts and training apprentices. There was always a range of lenses around the house and the kitchen was turned into a darkroom on winter nights to make prints using a home-made enlarger. I grew up with optics and have always been drawn to the visual. Now as I deepen my engagement with Bourdieu I am making links to that past. Another name for a lens is an objective (usually made up of several elements to minimise aberration/distortion in a camera lens) which is used to focus on a subject. This seems important.

Bourdieu’s concepts and writing (or more accurately Nice’s translations of his writings) do not come easily to me (I suspect this is not unusual) and I have been spending a few days coming back to one paragraph intruducing chapter nine in The Logic of Practice entitled The Objectivity of the Subjective. In this paragraph, Bourdieu (1990, pp.135), is explaining the two representations that should be considered when researching a social reality. Firstly, the material properties that ‘can be counted and measured like any other thing in the material world’ and secondly, symbolic properties which ‘are nothing other than material properties when perceived and appreciated in their mutual relationships, that is, as distinctive properties’. He seems, therefore, to draw together objective (realist) and subjective (phenomenological) approaches to explore a ‘two-fold reality’, a reality within which the two aspects are inextricably linked. Separately he suggests that his conceptual framework focuses more on each of these dualities:

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

What I am beginning to draw from this is a rationale for adopting a subjective approach to visual research as it seems it would be impossible to design an objective/scientific technique and the subjective use of objectives (lenses) to construct interpretations is consistent with Bourdieu’s thinking. In choosing the objective (both in the purpose of making the image and the lens to be used in its construction) the researcher’s engagement with the subject reflects the researcher’s habitus and constructs symbolic properties of both agents or social realities simultaneously.

Tom Fowler mico-blogging at an industry presentation

Bourdieu, P. (1998) Practical reason: On the theory of action. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice. Cambridge, Polity Press.