Subscribe to Christianity Today
Sketch for a Self-Analysis
University of Chicago Press, 2008
128 pp., $28.00
D. Michael Lindsay
The Sociological Two-Way Mirror
When Pierre Bourdieu died of cancer in 2002, Le Monde postponed the next day's edition to put news of his death on the front page. It's inconceivable that The New York Times would do the same after the death of a prominent American sociologist, or really any scholar. Maybe an economist, but he would have to be pretty extraordinary. Think Alan Greenspan.
Yet Le Monde readers not only knew Bourdieu's name; they knew his ideas. Bourdieu was such a star within the intellectual firmament of French society that his passing was of interest to all sorts of people. His work generated international acclaim, but France was always at the center of his scholarly gaze. His passing was mourned by his nation in a way reserved in America for political figures and pop stars.
On this side of the Atlantic, the philosopher-turned-sociologist was regarded as one of the most important social thinkers of the 20th century. Indeed, at the height of his career, Pierre Bourdieu was the world's most cited living social scientist. His thinking on class differences and how they manifest themselves in everyday French life gave birth in the United States to myriad scholarly inquiries, ranging from the popularity of certain musical genres (see Bethany Bryson's "Anything But Heavy Metal") to the prominence of moral discourse among middle-class Americans (Michele Lamont's Money, Morals, and Manners).
Sketch for a Self-Analysis is a slim but twisty volume. It is not an autobiography per se (a point Bourdieu explicitly makes in the book's epigraph), yet it is the most sustained self-account of the social factors that shaped the man and his way of seeing the world. No one advocated more for a reflexive stance when approaching scholarship than did Pierre Bourdieu, so it is fitting that this work—the manuscript completed just one month before he died—would be a book-length treatment of the influences that shaped his own scholarly commitments.
For the reader seeking a full account of Bourdieu's upbringing ...