From Durkheim to Bourdieu

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The life of Emile Durkheim: 1858 - 1917[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

David Emile Durkheim is one of the founders of modern sociology. He was born at a turning point in the 19th century. He comes from a wealthy Jewish family. The context in which it emerges is that of the establishment of the French Republic from the 1870s onwards with a major crisis which is the commune of Paris: it is a subversive conflict where the communards are massacred by what remains of the royalty.

The first question is how is it that a part of society has agreed to arm itself to slaughter the poorest and what makes society no longer exist?

Obviously, the political concepts after Napoleon III are the concepts of republic, fraternity, solidarity and freedom. It is only then that he will work on the question of society, emphasizing the social question and socialism. The great ideology that will shake up the regimes is socialism, i. e. that individuals live in society and the social must emerge.

In order for a society to function, there must be links and passages between groups that make it possible to form a society, and thus social ties. Durkheim's idea is to explain social facts in a scientific way; it is part of the social science debate. As an academic, he is going to question the concept of social solidarity: he rebounds on what makes society. That is the principle of solidarity. A society is controlled and produces a collective sense through solidarity between individuals.

The debate is still topical because we are now asking ourselves the question of what solidarity is. Solidarity implies that we have a common destiny. At the end of the 19th century, a whole series of questions about society appeared, particularly because society was changing from a rural society to an urban society. Durkheim who wonders about what society is, suggests that it is characterized by the social fact. Will arise the question of how to interpret an event?

This work allows us to understand the world of today. Among his major writings have been found:

  • On the division of social work published in 1893: how the evolution of labour changed social relations. Work is not neutral. Modern work is a specialization that changes social relations. Durkheim explains how modern societies have managed to develop the division of labour and how this division produces segmentarity, i. e. how individuals are segmented into very different functions and missions from each other, which will create inequality in a certain way.
  • The rules of the sociological method published in 1895: these are the first reflections on the tools best suited to analyse society. It is a work of passage of construction of the scientific object, but also a passage towards sociology. This is the first reference on tools for analysing society. Durkheim lays the scientific foundations of sociology, i. e. how can we build a science, which is a science of society, and no longer regard society solely from an ideological point of view, but as a reality that can be viewed objectively, without passion. Social facts must, therefore, be explained and understood as scientific facts.
  • Suicide published in 1897 is an important work in sociology because suicide is considered a scientific fact, i. e. an observable fact (apart from emotions) that can be scientifically explained. This gesture is part of society and deserves to be characterized. Durkheim studied it as a social fact. After this study on suicide, he divides it into three types: altruistic suicide (failure over others), selfish suicide (refusal to exist under current conditions) and anomic suicide (impossibility of adaptation).

Durkheim is not a thinker. He is immersed in the society from which he analyses objects of contradictions.

The Dreyfus affair is an important moment because it divides society, it is a political conflict that will cross the whole of society. Society will implode and affect relationships within families. The Dreyfus case leads Durkheim to rethink the question of morality, ethics in social relations and the function of politics (a politician cannot condemn an individual without proof of guilt).

He also questions the place of religion in society. As a Republican, secularism is a structuring element of the social question. It is not only charity that must respond to society's problem, but also the state.

These are themes where it presupposes that social solidarity can be rebuilt. For him, socialism is that once individuals have become aware of the need for solidarity, they act in its direction.

In 1873 Durkheim became the first doctor at the chair of sociology. He will work on moral issues and then on the crisis provoked by the First World War: it is the rupture of society. His son André died in 1916 in the Balkans, which caused him to get involved in the issue.[1]. The following year, in 1917, Durkheim died in turn, plunged into great sadness following the death of his son in action.

The social fact[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

For Durkheim, as described in his book Rules of Sociological Methodology, published in 1895, the challenge of sociology is to study social facts. It describes social events as ways of doing and thinking in a social space. It is not something subjective, it is objective, because we can analyse the behaviour of individuals as such. The social facts consist in any case of acting, thinking, feeling, fixed or not, likely to exert on the individual an external constraint; and, which is general in the extent of a given society while having its own existence, independent of its various manifestations at the individual level. The social phenomenon in a society is sufficiently frequent and widespread to qualify as collective.

The ways of acting are conditioned individually, i. e. the way in which we perceive the environment, the sensitive individual experience; and collectively, collective determinants that imply "typical reactions".

According to Durkheim, the social fact meets four criteria:

  • Exteriority: society exists outside the individuals who make it up. The social fact is external to individuals; it is not in the individual sphere, but in the collective sphere: the social sphere. That is, he was not born with the individual and will not die with him, he transcends the individual. For there to be an assembly of individuals, there must be a society. Basically, this phenomenon has a longer temporality than life itself, it is a structure. If its role is not fulfilled, society can engage in repression. These rites function in a regulated and permanent way. Society exists outside of individuals, they only live in a societal system that exists beyond themselves. In other words, to bring individuals together, society and a temporality greater than an individual's life is needed to notice that after death it will still be there. Each individual plays his or her role in society, and we cannot get out of it. The social relationship persists, individuals only pass through. From then on, studying behaviour leads to the permanence of objects.
  • The constraint: it is the fact that society is characterized by a set of constraints of several kinds, it is when in an assembly, a feeling is imposed on all or when a collective reaction is communicated to all. It is a collective process of socialization, we accept processes dictated by society itself. The social fact imposes itself on individuals, it does not result from an individual choice, but it is the fruit of a combination of different social, economic, historical, geographical and political factors. This combination imposes constraints on the individual. Constraints vary according to nature. These constraints respond differently according to the refusal of the constraint that one assumes, it is an obligation to regulated/adapted behaviours; norms are at the origin of the "socialization process". Social events are characterized by the intensity of coercion and their coercive capacity.
  • Generality: a social fact is, by definition, marked by a certain frequency in a population, a place and a time. In the short term, the measures taken must be consistent on a collective level. But in general, they vary according to societies and times.
  • The historical criterion: in order for a fact to become social, it must become generalized and therefore, a new fact cannot be social for a certain period of time. Example: before, jeans were (barely invented) worn by gold diggers before being a social fact today, since they are now worn by "everyone".

How to study social facts? We must "treat social events as things". In order to be able to treat society, it is necessary to treat social events as things, i. e. as an object. We can study reactions together.

It is a remote object that can be qualified because it has characteristics that can be designated and inventoried. Distance allows for the introduction of scientific methods of analysis to move on to the analysis itself. Phenomena are treated as data.

So what is society, then? Social facts are the result of social life, and in particular representations.

Two levels must be contrasted: individual and collective representations. The individual representations (or "preconceptions") are the opposite of reality, it is the interpretation at the subjective level of our environment. It is necessary to go beyond personal representations in order to analyse collective representations, by which we mean the representations that the individual builds up through interaction with his environment. They constitute a coherent and personal whole and serve to organize its action. They are "unique to each individual, variable and carried in an uninterrupted stream. [...] (They) have for substrate the conscience of each one..."[2]. However, they do not allow for an objective assessment of social facts. Collective representations "are social facts. If society is represented, it allows us to define ourselves as a whole. This makes it possible to highlight social facts. These social representations integrate collective and individual aspects.

Crime, according to Durkheim, has a function in society, so it is normal. Although it does not conform to social norms, it is present in all societies, which makes it a normal phenomenon. Moreover,"the harm he does to society is nullified by punishment, if it functions regularly". It is therefore possible to judge the proper functioning of a society according to the repression exercised on crimes, because it is rational from an individual point of view expressing a societal function, because the individual is part of a collective.

The forms of social solidarity[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

What is fundamental is to work on the organization of the community. What is at stake in our modern societies? At the same time, the individual demands independence in his or her social space even as part of a society, but paradoxically he or she is even more dependent on society.

A company can operate on the anomie. In any society, there are, at certain times, circumstances of the order of collapse. It is a catastrophic phase of societies, driven by a future that they themselves have brought about by the determinism of progress and industrial production. It is a very interesting concept, because there are moments when we are no longer in linear development movements, there are obscure moments where we can think about the past without being able to return to it. He re-examines the question of temporality linked to social structuring.

Durkheim distinguishes between two types of social solidarity: mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity:

  • mechanical solidarity is a society where individuals are similar in that they all share, in the same way and according to the same intensity, the elements constituting the common consciousness. In other words, it is a traditional society where all individuals are similar and share a common consciousness.
  • organic solidarity is based on the differentiation of tasks and the individuals who perform them; on the existence of specialized subgroups. Within the social group, the existence of the individual as an autonomous source of thought and action is given free rein. Modern society is a society that will be built on the differentiation of tasks. It's the opposite of mechanical engineering. We are not in solidarity with each other on the same functions, even on different tasks that involve an exchange issue. There may be sub-groups that offer different temporalities and knowledge fields. There are different social groups that can give free rein to the individual giving him or her autonomy that gives him or her the right to exist.

The place of the religious fact[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Durkheim underlines the crucial importance of religious phenomena in sociology. He will say that religious facts have always been important. Moreover, we are in a world that is becoming secularized.

Religion is used in the creation of social bonds. Not only does it ensure that everyone has the same beliefs, but it also ensures that everyone has the same morality and that people's thoughts remain fairly uniform. In this sense, religion ensures the integration of individuals into a group.

Even if there is a loss of religiosity, we must be careful that the religious can subsist, however. Religious fact always makes it possible to explain the social fact, in particular the secularization of the social world, because the religious subsists even beyond the loss of religion. Religious fact does not disappear even if we are in a secular society, because the behaviour remains guided by morals of religious essence. Religion is a moral structuring fact. Religious crime "is the crime against collective things (public authority, morals, traditions, religion). Religious crime is the first form of crime in a developing society. It's an assault on the sacred. We do not escape from the moral values that come from the religious.

The Theory of Socialization[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Durkheim elaborates the theory of socialization according to two processes. Social integration is consciousness, belief and common practices (religious society), interactions with others (domestic society), common goals (political society). It builds social cohesion. To make society, we must define common values linked to a process of social integration. The process of integration relativizes the individual's freedom in relation to the values he/she has integrated. It also creates social cohesion. On the other hand, social regulation is the fact that the community must be provided with rules, which refers to the moderating role played by society, i. e. the moral authority it exercises over individuals. Interactions between members of the group are organised around a social hierarchy and agreed and adopted rules. In other words, it is the integration of societal norms that make it possible to manage one's passions in a moderate way. So at the level of structures, ways of doing things and representations can build action.

Durkheim describes the characteristics that make it possible to recognise a modern society: common goals, principles of justice, symbolism and solidarity between individuals (organic solidarity). All these elements make it possible to create a theory of society and social change.

In questioning suicide, Durkheim defends the idea that suicide is a social fact in its own right - it exerts coercive and external power over individuals. From there, he tries to characterize it. It is determined by intimate and psychological reasons. It is also informed by social causes, social determinants. For Durkheim, it is necessary to get out of the personal analysis of suicide and to study it as a social fact.

Durkheim distinguishes several reasons for suicide. Altruistic suicide is the fact that the individual considers himself unable to fulfill his duties, selfish suicide is the refusal to exist in relation to social norms, anomic suicide is the impossibility of arriving to exist in a very complex system or he is endowed with responsibilities that he cannot assume. This goes back to the way society exacerbates contradictions and fatalistic suicide intervenes in cases of over-regulation, social life is extremely regulated, and individual room for manoeuvre is reduced. Social control and standards are too important to support.

To conclude, on the one hand, suicide is indeed a social event that occurs through a lack of socialization; on the other hand, society has difficulty producing socialization.

Pierre Bourdieu: a political theory of the social world[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Pierre Bourdieu : 1930 - 2002[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Pierre Bourdieu.

Bourdieu performed his military service in Algeria in 1958. He will be passionate about Algeria and point out something fundamental, namely the gap between discourse and reality. Basically, the field of social sciences and a field in which special attention must be paid to the relationship between discourse and reality.

In order to analyse the relationship between speech and facts, Bourdieu is committed to sociology. His thinking has had a considerable influence in the humanities and social sciences. His sociological work is dominated by an analysis of the reproduction mechanisms of social hierarchies. By studying Algeria and traditional Kabyle society, he will make the transition to sociology. Then he will study social groups by elaborating a political theory and taking alter-globalizationist positions.

Among his major writings is Le déracinement published in 1964, a work in which he studies the effect of uprooting on the Algerian population and shows the destructuring effects of this process. Published in 1979, La distinction, critique sociale du jugement, Le sens pratique in 1980, La misère du monde in 1993 and La domination masculine in 1998.

He will construct a theory that focuses on sociology, philosophy and politics. In 1980, he held the chair of sociology at the Collège de France. From then on, he criticized globalization and drew closer to anti-globalization movements.

The concept of habitus[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The habitus is the act of socializing with traditional people, a definition that is summed up as a "system of regulated provisions". It allows an individual to move within the social world and interpret it in a way that is unique to him or her and common to the members of the social categories to which he or she belongs.

The set of traits and properties resulting from the appropriation of certain knowledge and experiences. It makes behaviours, habits, reflexes. We are regulated by a history that will contract the different experiences.

Primary habitus is made up of the oldest and therefore most durable provisions, whereas secondary habitus refers to school habitus, family habitus and professional habitus.

The habitus is an internal structure still undergoing restructuring. It is dynamic and has the function of feeling and acting. The individual is determined by models of behaviour integrated during the various socialization processes and based on his or her experience; he or she acts by reference to situations that have existed: it is the habitus. However, we are not always aware of how we act. We cannot necessarily know that all acts are determined in us.

The provisions of habitus are transposable, systematic and present; they build a system that makes our practices tendencial and which underpins coherence in our behaviour. Bourdieu compares it to a computer program that performs functions. On the other hand, the human machine can have failures, this is what differentiates it from computers: there can be blockages, contradictions and inconsistencies.

There are two processes of socialization, the primary one that takes place during childhood (family, school) and refers to the oldest provisions, and secondary one that goes from adolescence to the end of life (work, professional colleagues, etc.). It is grafted on the primary habitus.

The habitus is an internal structure that is always in motion and in the process of restructuring. In habitus, there are collective dimensions that generate generational conflicts arising from a conflict of habitus. The younger ones work with parenting models, but also have built-in flexibility that clashes with the values of the older ones.

Bourdieu distinguishes between two types of habitus movements. On the one hand downgraded which is the social transfer of descending habitus: problem of social adaptation and on the other hand reached which is the transfer of ascending habitus. However, social reproduction undermines conflicts of habitus. In the questions of education and classroom conditioning there are classroom habits (classroom behaviour, experimentation).

There is a class habitus in contradiction which engages an interpretation of society as a social space for conflict. This gives rise to problems of conflict in a multidimensional social space, which is a conflictual social space.

Social field and conflictuality: between reproduction and distinction[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

« On peut ainsi représenter le monde social sous la forme d’un espace (à plusieurs dimensions) construit sur la base de principes de différenciation ou de distribution constitués par l’ensemble des propriétés agissantes dans l’univers social considéré. Les agents et les groupes d’agents sont ainsi définis par leurs positions relatives dans cet espace. »[3].

In other words, distribution is governed by a set of principles, where agents and groups are defined according to their relative position. It all moves according to the circumstances. It is a space that is built from different capital.

  • human capital is all the skills, talents, qualifications, experiences accumulated by an individual that partly determine his or her ability to work or produce for himself or herself or for others;
  • economic capital: made up of the various factors of production and all economic goods;
  • cultural capital: corresponds to the set of values, intellectual qualifications, either produced by the school system or transmitted by the family;
  • Social capital is defined as the totality of social relationships that an individual or group has;
  • Symbolic capital: corresponds to all rituals related to honour and recognition.

Social agents are therefore distributed according to a double logic:

  • Hierarchy: social groups according to the volume of capital at their disposal. The higher the capital, the higher the individual is in society.
  • The distinction: according to the capital structure, i. e. the respective importance of the two capital species in the total volume of their capital.
Espace social de Bourdieu.svg.png

The Review of Bourdieusian Thought[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

His theory defines society as a place of conflict in which the fundamental stakes depend on the management of forces. It describes a conflicting society that does not necessarily mean violence. Social groups will be determined on the basis of capital, while capital can be added or opposed.

Bourdieu develops a post-Marxist analysis in which the possession of economic capital predominates over other capital. Social oppositions are determined between those who own most and least capital.

Social agents distribute capital according to a double logic, namely by ranking social groups according to the volume of capital at their disposal and by a distinction according to the capital structure, i. e. the respective importance of the two types of capital in the total cumulation of their capital.

The social world is a field of antagonisms and differentiation processes, it is also a market in which one can play. Everyone uses his or her possibilities to increase capital or prevent others from acquiring it. The challenge is to accumulate. Social agents always seek to maintain or increase the volume of their capital and thus to maintain or improve their social position; on the other hand, social order conservation mechanisms predominate because of the importance of coping strategies.

Each class has its own specificities:

  • the dominant class has economic and/or cultural capital provided. There are therefore tensions within this group according to which capital is most abundant. It is a class that distinguishes itself by a strong endowment of financial and/or cultural capital.
  • the petty bourgeoisie finds its unity in its desire for social ascension, but is crossed by cleavages and contradictions according to the endowment of capital.
  • finally, the working classes are characterized by their financial and cultural dispossession.

The position of social agents in a field depends on their position in the social space. One can therefore analyse a political class according to its social position.

There are strategies that are implemented by social agents for the conservation or appropriation of capital. Social reproduction refers to the sociological phenomenon of intergenerational social immobilism. This term describes a social practice relating to the family, which consists of maintaining a social position from one generation to the next through the transmission of a heritage, whether tangible or intangible.

Among the investment strategies, we can distinguish:

  • stratégies d’investissement biologique ;
  • stratégies successorales (mariage) ;
  • stratégies éducatives ;
  • stratégies économiques ;
  • stratégies symboliques.

The effectiveness of reproductive strategies depends on the reproductive tools available to agents that change with the structural evolution of society. Society is a contradiction between conservatives and those who want to change it.

The political power[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Political power is characterized by the concept of "dispossession":

« The field of political production is the place, inaccessible to the layperson, where forms of politically active and legitimate perception and expression are produced in competition between professionals engaged in it, which are offered to ordinary citizens, reduced to the status of consumers. »

Politics is a field defined as a political profession that is inaccessible to the layperson. On the contrary, its purpose is to exclude it in order to retain power. In other words, politics is a professional field of capital production.

In post-modern societies, politics is a matter of professionals and therefore inaccessible to the "layman". Clientelism in a perspective of electoral consumption, all consumers, the consumer is conditioned by consumption making politics a market whose customers must be loyal. Thus, the poorest are in the denials, so that there is a concentration of capital in the hands of a "political elite".

Politics requires a particular habitus, i.e. the concentration of specific capital, which allows the establishment of a set of values to be shared among politicians. Politics is the place where knowledge can be transmitted.

One distinguishes two characteristics, namely that there is a societal divorce and that politics becomes a "game", which means that there is de facto solidarity between political insiders.

Bourdieu also distinguishes two types of political capital:

  • The capital of personal notoriety: the fact of being known and recognized in one's person.
  • the delegated capital of political authority: product of a limited transfer of power (the political mandate).

Bourdieu shows that, according to his hypothesis, modern politics is a market that suffers from the laws of the market, with phenomena of capital concentration, exclusion, the manufacture of techniques and political discourses, i. e. autonomous languages that no one can understand.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. Kermoal, B. (2012). Un deuil de guerre: André Durkheim, décembre 1915. Retrieved 30 September 2015, from
  2. Moscovici, Des représentations collectives aux représentations sociales, p. 63, in Jodelet D., Les représentations sociales, coll. Sociologie d’aujourd’hui, P.U.F. 1989.
  3. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Espace social et genèse des "classes". Actes De La Recherche En Sciences Sociales, 52(1), 3-14. doi:10.3406/arss.1984.3327