In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pierre Bourdieu

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Journalism
  • Language, Authority, Legitimacy, and Symbolic Power
  • New Media/Communication and Technology
  • History of Communication and Media Study
  • Media Audience: Reception and Consumption
  • Political Communication
  • Media Production

Communication Pierre Bourdieu
David W. Park
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0212


Pierre Bourdieu (b. 1930–d. 2002) was a towering figure in sociology and anthropology, both within and beyond his native France. During his long career, Bourdieu authored theoretical and empirical scholarship concerning a staggering array of topics, including but not limited to art, culture, education, politics, journalism, sociolinguistics, and academia itself. Bourdieu’s primary concern across much of this ambitious work was to test and extend his own understanding of social action, with its reliance on three interconnected terms: field, habitus, and capital. Bourdieu’s conception of social action borrows heavily from the structuralist thought associated with Émile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. He combined this structuralist approach with a nuanced phenomenology that emphasized embodiment. Bourdieu drew on Karl Marx’s ideas regarding class, as well as on Marx’s ideas relating to praxis and conflict. Max Weber influenced Bourdieu’s ideas about class, status, and the idea of fields. Gaston Bachelard shaped Bourdieu’s ideas concerning reflexivity and the proper construction of the methodological object. Kurt Lewin’s understanding about individuals’ relationships with fields guided Bourdieu’s own field theory. Ludwig Wittgenstein influenced Bourdieu’s appreciation for the practical logic that informs human behavior. A good way to begin to unravel Bourdieu’s thought is to appreciate his full-throttled opposition to rational choice theory, with its presumption that individuals actively generate their own behaviors through consultation of an explicit code for operations. Bourdieu’s vision of social action emphasizes the everyday dynamics of a practical logic that people apply to their own lives, whereby dispositions—as social and as structuring in their own way as any words or actions—shape actions. This lends itself to a theory of social reproduction as a process that works through these often murky dispositions, in a manner that makes it easy to fail to notice reproduction when it happens, or to misrecognize reproduction for something else. Bourdieu’s ideas remain relevant to the study of communication and the media. His critical ideas point toward important research questions concerning all of the familiar arenas of media and communication scholarship. The sources referenced here do not necessarily come from the field of communication, but rather from the more broadly imagined arena of communication and media study, which can be found (as the references indicate) across a wide range of academic pursuits.

General Overviews

A thorough understanding of how Bourdieu’s ideas relate to communication requires beginning with Bourdieu’s own essential works before moving on to his and others’ attempts to apply his framework to communication. Bourdieu’s oft-maligned writing style—full of dependent clauses, prolix asides, and carefully wrought applications of his own unusual terminology—can be quite demanding. Bourdieu insisted that his writing represented an attempt to thwart the social reproduction inherent in overly comfortable modes of expression. At the very least, this defense reveals a great deal about Bourdieu’s understanding of the communication process. It is important for communication scholars to be fully cognizant of Bourdieu’s basic arguments, and this means turning to Bourdieu’s own published work. Other authors and editors have helped to clarify Bourdieu’s thought and to point to connections with issues in communication.

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