Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 July 2017
I believe that Pierre Bourdieu is best understood as a phenomenological sociologist and that, equally, responses to his work in the spirit of its production have also to be understood phenomenologically. I first offer a brief justification of that view. I then seek to clarify what I take to be the nature of Bourdieu's phenomenological orientation before proceeding to an elaboration of its implications both for our understanding of Bourdieu's work and for an assessment of the range of responses to his work presented in this volume. In the light of these preliminary remarks, I then offer reflections on each of the contributions as well as some concluding comments.
Bourdieu's Explicit References to Phenomenology
Bourdieu never wrote explicitly about the influence of the work of Edmund Husserl on his thinking. However, he did offer a few suggestive hints. Asked by Axel Honneth and others in an interview of 1985 what the intellectual situation was like when he was a student, Bourdieu replied,
When I was a student in the fifties, phenomenology, in its existentialist variety, was at its peak, and I had read Being and Nothingness very early on, and then Merleau- Ponty and Husserl; Marxism didn't really exist as an intellectual position, even if people like Tran- Duc- Thao managed to give it a certain profile by raising the question of its relation with phenomenology. (, 1990a, 3)
Notice here that Bourdieu deliberately distinguishes between phenomenology and what he calls phenomenology ‘in its existentialist variety’. His comment also suggests that he was led back towards the work of Husserl by first reading Jean- Paul Sartre and then Maurice Merleau- Ponty.
Asked by his questioners whether he had ever been interested in existentialism, Bourdieu replied later in the same interview,
I read Heidegger, I read him a lot and with a certain fascination, especially the analyses in Sein und Zeit of public time, history and so on, which, together with Husserl's analyses in Ideen II, helped me a great deal – as was later the case with Schütz – in my eff orts to analyse the ordinary experience of the social.