Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 July 2017
Since the turn of the century, the international reception of the work of Pierre Bourdieu has steadily gathered pace and taken on such a magnitude that we can say (with some exaggeration) that genetic structuralism now occupies the position of the hegemon within the global field of sociological theory, comparable perhaps to the one of structural functionalism in the post- war period. Nowadays, one can like or detest Bourdieu's critical sociology; however, one cannot aff ord to ignore it. He is the main ‘attractor’ in the field of sociology (with Michel Foucault playing a similar role within the rival, anti- disciplinary field of the so- called ‘Studies’). His critical sociology with its highly sophisticated integration of the classics – not just Karl Marx, Max Weber and Émile Durkheim but also any major sociologist and philosopher of the twentieth century one can think of – into a unified theory of the social world, allied to a rigorous empirical exemplification of the concepts of field, habitus and symbolic violence, Bourdieu is the epitome of sociology: Mister Sociology himself. But even if – or, perhaps, precisely because – he incarnates in person what sociology stands for, his brand of sociology has also become a counterexample and a foil for all those who want to break with the scientism, rationalism, structuralism, determinism, materialism, utilitarianism and so forth, they associate with his critical sociology.
For the inveterate criticasters, his theory of reproduction represents only a hypercritical (in)version of structural functionalism that exacerbates all the defaults that were once associated with the Parsonian system: ‘overintegrated vision of society’ (Lockwood 1992) + ‘oversocialized conception of Man’ (Wrong 1994). Like its negative counterpart, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, it inverts functionalism. By putting it back on its feet, however, it reinforces its vices. Being myself a great, though not uncritical admirer of Bourdieu (Vandenberghe 1998), I am neither interested in principled critiques of Bourdieu nor in uncritical celebrations of his work, not to mention the unimaginative renderings of his sociology one finds in every textbook of sociology by now.