Childhood Studies Pierre Bourdieu
Leena Alanen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0241


Pierre Bourdieu (b. 1930–d. 2002) is widely regarded as one of the most influential sociologists and social theorists of the 20th century. He was an exceptionally productive researcher with a broad range of interests and a prolific writer: during his lifetime he published more than forty books and five hundred articles, essays, lectures, reviews, interviews, commentaries, films, and photography. His influence extends beyond sociology to philosophy, anthropology, education, geography, history, cultural studies, economics, political studies, feminist studies, science studies, and postcolonial studies. Bourdieu was born in a small village in the rural area of Béarn, in southwestern France, in a peasant sharecropper, later postman’s, family. He left his home region to pursue an academic education in Paris where he studied philosophy at the prestigious École normale supérieure (ENS). After graduation he was sent to Algeria to undertake his military service. Returning to France, he first had some teaching posts until he was nominated as director of studies at the (then) École pratique des haute études, in 1964; he also took over as director of the Centre de Sociologie Européenne. From this base, Bourdieu, with his collaborators, instigated a program of investigations into several aspects of cultural, social, and economic life, predominantly from the viewpoint of how they served in the reproduction of power and inequalities in French social life. Through his studies in the 1960s and 1970s, Bourdieu became first known as a sociologist of education. Childhood, as a topic or even an index word, hardly appears in Bourdieu’s published work. He did, however, register the phenomenon of childhood in some of his early, more methodological work when he referred to the (originally Durkheimian) notion of socialization, whereas “childhood” would have been for him “just a word,” similar to his response to the topic of “youth.” In his sociology of education, especially in his renown book Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture (orig. 1970), written with his colleague Jean-Claude Passeron, children exist in the context of “pedagogic activity” within the family and the educational system. After Reproduction, Bourdieu’s focus widened to other fields of French social life. Unsurprisingly, the first uses of Bourdieu’s ideas in child(hood)-related studies were in the sociology of education, especially after the translation of Reproduction into English in 1977. Since the new field of childhood studies started to evolve in the mid-1980s, more Bourdieu-inspired studies have also emerged, with a broadening focus on children and childhood in social life.

General Overviews

Wacquant 2006 is an account of the impulses that drove Bourdieu’s research, the central topics in his work, and his thoughts on the sociologist as a public intellectual, by Bourdieu’s student and long-time collaborator. Calhoun 2003 presents the evolvement of Bourdieu’s main works and their connectedness to his own life experiences. Bourdieu’s influence on both social theory and empirical research is assessed, and the main lines of criticism targeted on his theorization are explained. Swartz 1997 is a sympathetic introduction to Bourdieu’s life and work; at the center are his works on cultural fields and struggles for power in these fields. Lane 2000 is a good introduction to the development of Bourdieu’s thought in the context of the French intellectual field of his time. As a sociologist, Bourdieu was eminent, but also controversial, perhaps most clearly in his native France. In Lahire 2001, several of his academic colleagues in French-speaking countries indicate their debts to Bourdieu as well as their criticisms. In Calhoun, et al. 1993, Bourdieu’s theorization is brought into critical encounter with Anglo-American social theories. Much of Bourdieu’s work is directed at distinctively philosophical topics, as he proposed novel solutions to traditional philosophical questions. In Schusterman 1999, a group of philosophers discuss these in a dialogue with Bourdieu.

  • Calhoun, Craig. “Pierre Bourdieu.” In The Blackwell Companion to Major Contemporary Social Theorists. Edited by Georg Ritzer, 274–309. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405105958.2003.00014.x

    The chapter presents the evolvement of Bourdieu’s main works and its connectedness to his own life experiences. Bourdieu’s influence on both social theory and empirical research is assessed, and the main lines of criticism targeted on his theorization are explained.

  • Calhoun, Craig, Edward LiPuma, and Moishe Postone, eds. Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

    This is a collection of essays, by mainly US scholars, on the encounter between Bourdieu’s theoretical practice and various strands of Anglo-American social theory. The book includes a short concluding chapter by Bourdieu, in which he addresses potential sources of misunderstanding of his work and defends his work against its “theoreticist” readings.

  • Lahire, Bernard, ed. Le travail sociologique de Pierre Bourdieu: Dettes et critiques. Paris: La Découverte, 2001.

    The book gives a brief and general introduction to Bourdieu’s sociological theory, and in the following chapters critically assesses Bourdieu’s concepts of “habitus,” “field,” and “symbolic.”

  • Lane, Jeremy F. Pierre Bourdieu: A Critical Introduction. London: Pluto, 2000.

    This is an excellent introduction to the development of Bourdieu’s thought. Influences from his sociological and philosophical predecessors are traced, as well as his relationship with contemporary intellectuals and intellectual movements, situating him in French intellectual history and French society.

  • Schusterman, Richard, ed. Bourdieu: A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

    This book, edited by a French philosopher, provides critical perspectives on Bourdieu’s work by philosophers in the English-speaking philosophical world, from a range of philosophical perspectives. In the final essay, Bourdieu outlines a perspective through which attempts to treat his work in a foreign field (like Anglo-American philosophy) can be understood.

  • Swartz, David. Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226161655.001.0001

    The central theme in this study of Bourdieu’s lifework is the complex relationship between culture and the field of power. Bourdieu’s field-theory concepts and the metatheory for his sociology are explained.

  • Wacquant, Loïc. “Pierre Bourdieu.” In Key Sociological Thinkers. 2d ed. Edited by Rob Stones, 215–229. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

    This is a concise account of Bourdieu’s life, works, and influence.

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