philip s. gorski
It is not di≈cult to imagine some readers repeating the title of this book in the
form of an incredulous question: Bourdieusian theory and historical anal-
ysis?! Wasn’t Bourdieu first and foremost a theorist of social reproduction
rather than a theorist of historical transformation? While the question is a
legitimate one, the incredulity is misplaced. As we will see, it is based on
certain misconceptions about Bourdieu’s work, misconceptions that are un-
fortunately quite widespread, particularly in the Anglophone world. These
misconceptions are the result of how Bourdieu’s works were received, espe-
cially by English-speaking audiences and, more specifically, of the order in
which they were read and the impact which this had on how they were read.
Once these misunderstandings have been dispelled, it will become clear that
the project suggested by this title is firmly rooted in Bourdieu’s own work. The
main purpose of this brief introduction is therefore quite modest: to convince
the reader that the title needn’t be followed by a question mark and that
Bourdieu himself was something of a historical analyst.
It is one thing to show that a Bourdieusian approach to historical analysis is
possible and quite another to assess whether it is fruitful. That requires that
one put Bourdieu’s concepts to work, see where they come up wanting, reflect
on how they can be elaborated and refined, and compare the approach as a
whole to its rivals. And that is what the essays in this volume seek to do. While
all of the contributors to the book are deeply knowledgeable about and appre-
ciative of Bourdieu’s work, they do not all come to the same assessment about
his approach to sociohistorical change. Some find it compelling and complete,
while others feel it should be revised or even supplemented with other theo-
ries. The aim of the volume, then, is not to compile a catechism but to initiate
a discussion.
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