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Deborah Reed-Danahay, Locating Bourdieu (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2005, £21.95, 208 pages, ISBN 0-253-21732-6)—Claude Chastagner, Université Paul Valéry - Montpellier III


Should one of the best presentations of Bourdieu’s work come from the United States? That could very well be the case with Deborah Reed-Danahay’s Locating Bourdieu. I use the word ‘presentation’ on purpose for this is neither a biography of Bourdieu nor an analysis of his work, nor even a primer. One could best describe this short and dense, though extremely readable, book as an intellectual journey through Bourdieu’s most significant fields or methodologies. Reed-Danahay herself is quite familiar not only with his work but more generally with France, since she is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington specializing in the study of elementary education in rural France, more specifically in the Massif Central. She met Bourdieu a couple of times; not enough, she agrees, to say she knew him well, but sufficiently to get a grasp of the man behind his sometimes arid prose.

The book is divided into 5 chapters of roughly equal length, a short conclusion, and a longer introduction. Two appendices supplement it. One is a short obituary Reed-Danahay wrote in 2002, shortly after Bourdieu’s death, for Anthropological Quarterly, and which adds little to the book. The second, though even shorter, is a useful list of suggested readings, highlighting not only the best books and articles to enter Bourdieu’s production but also some of the best analyzes of his books. 7 pages of notes, an excellent 22-page long bibliography, and an index follow this.

Locating Bourdieu is far from being a dry, arid account of the sociologist’s work. Reed-Danahay is very present throughout the book. The excitement, and challenges created by Bourdieu’s books, its limitations, silences, or slippages are very much to the fore, expressed in a personal moving way. Her goal, as she describes it herself, was to “employ several of Bourdieu’s own methodologies in order to interrogate his work and place,” [3] balancing subjectivity and objectivity, facts and opinions, the written words and deductions. As Bourdieu himself resorted to life narratives or his informants’ biographies, Reed-Danahay uses biographical elements and takes Bourdieu as her main informant to “locate Bourdieu’s own uses of his biography within his work.” [4] Another location she tries to assess is the ambivalent space Bourdieu occupied within French academia, but she is careful enough not to tie him to a too specific location, as one of the ways Bourdieu can be defined is his mobility—both scholar and spatial. In the process, she strives to “balance what he tells us about himself and what we might understand about the contributions of his work on scholarship in humanitarian and social sciences.” [151]

I particularly like the structure of the book. Each of the 5 chapters deals with a specific aspect of Bourdieu’s work, as it appears in various books and articles. The first chapter deals with Point of View, a notion developed by Bourdieu and which Reed-Danahay applies to the sociologist himself, to the part of his work that could be described as auto-ethnography, what Bourdieu called reflexivity or auto-analysis. The second, excellent chapter deals with education. The third, using the books and articles written on rural France and Algeria, is a reflection on a topic Bourdieu constantly referred to, the conflict experienced by the ethnographers regarding his positions as both an outsider and insider. The fourth focuses on the connection between two concepts used by Bourdieu, the famous habitués, and the less prestigious, but at least as important, concept of emotion. The book concludes on an analysis of Bourdieu’s methodology, “participant objectivation,” or in her words, “situated subjectivity,” the (bilingual) oppositions champ/field, lieu/location, and his reliance on stories (career, schooling, labor, and marriage stories) and testimonies. The thematic rather than chronological presentation helps to establish connections between different themes and enables to assess the evolution, clarification, or contradiction within Bourdieu’s thought. It also allows Reed-Danahay to provide the readers with extremely clear and useful definitions and explanations of central concepts such as cultural capital, doxa, habitus clivé, familiarity, distance, native, outsider, etc.

One of the most noteworthy interests of this book is the outsider’s perspective provided by Reed-Danahay. As a Frenchman, I enjoyed reading what an American, though “Europeanist”, anthropologist had to say about Bourdieu. I relished the anecdote about Bourdieu’s warning her: “He told me French peasants would much prefer talk to you about their sex lives than about their educational experiences. And of course, they are reticent about their sex lives!” [9]; this points to a crucial difference in the way Americans and Frenchmen approach their education (and their sex lives?). Challenging too are her accounts of how French anthropologists working in rural universities would not work on their immediate surroundings but prefer more exotic places of research. Reed-Danahay looks at the dilemma of leaving home, a “particularly French story,” [34] while in the United States, the “geographical break with the family, associated with education,” occurs later for working-class children, “not until university studies or even graduate school.” She wonders at the pride the French take in their educational system, at the fact that our sense of national identity is for a large part dependent on education and schooling. Few countries, she adds, would have a popular television show called “La Dictée.”

I was particularly interested by several references made in passing to the concept of Occidentalism [9, 91 et seq.]. Though I understand why Reed-Danahay charges Bourdieu with Occidentalism, regarding his views on France in relationship to Algeria, and his approach to education (though she later acknowledges that his study of élite schools seemed to call her charges into question), I believe that a more comprehensive view of Occidentalism, particularly as referred to by Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma, or in contrast to Edward Saïd’s Orientalism, would have given more weight to her study.

Reed-Danahay also focuses on the limitations, or as she calls them “silences” of Bourdieu’s work. Most notably, the impact of peer influence, religion and the role played by the media have too often been discounted by Bourdieu, though at the same time he resorts to religious metaphors to describe the workings of various systems. She also underscores his ambivalence regarding the defense of Republican ideals, including education, while being critical of the school system. The same ambivalence informs his studies of Kabyle society within the framework of French (colonial) ethnography (it is worth mentioning in passing that in the US, Bourdieu is more often perceived as an anthropologist than a sociologist; it would have been interesting to trace the roots of this). Likewise, Reed-Danahay hints at Bourdieu’s relative auscultation of gender issues in his studies.

One of the shortcomings of the book is that it does not devote enough attention to the political impact Bourdieu had at the end of his life, particularly on his early (a mere three pages at the end of the last chapter, and a one-page ling subpart in the conclusion), or his recent, controversial work on television (1996), for instance. I am also puzzled by the fact that despite allusions to Bourdieu’s conviction that the dominated participate in their own domination, little mention or exploration is made of the concept of hegemony, particularly in its Gramscian acception. Admittedly, Reed-Danahay refers to the choice of small scale, dairy agriculture as a form of resistance to bourgeois hegemony, but rapprochement of the two perspectives would have helped locating Bourdieu on the political map. All the more so as Reed-Danahay refers to his suggestion that the resistance of working-class boys is just part of their commonsense culture, not true challenge to the structures that dominates them. This is a central question in Cultural Studies, ever since it was raised by the Birmingham Center. The French have been conspicuously absent from this debate, and this would have been a welcome opportunity to understand why. I also resent, or rather experience frustration at the fact that a central issue was devoted a mere line in the conclusion: “Does 'habitus' refer to a concept akin to ‘culture,’ as some have suggested, or, is it best thought of as a form of 'identity.’” [155] These very few limitations apart, this is probably one of the most useful books on its subject, written in an unassuming, modest, and elegant style.

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