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October 2021

Bourdieu, Smith and disinterested judgement

Journal/Book: Sociol Rev. 1999; 47: 108 Cowley Rd, Oxford Ox4 1Jf, Oxon, England. Blackwell Publ Ltd. 403-431.

Abstract: The paper presents a sympathetic critique of Bourdieu's work in terms of the tension between its critical intentions and its leanings towards sociological reductionism. Although Bourdieu argues against such reductionism in his methodological pronouncements, his empirical studies tend to reduce actors' putative disinterested judgements to functions of their habitus in relation to the social field and to unconscious strategies of distinction. Further, his concept of (non-monetary) forms of capital occludes the difference between use-value and exchange-value and the corresponding distinction between the pursuit of goods and the pursuit of distinction, which are vital for both explanation and critique. Moreover his suspicion of normative judgement on the part of social science and his concealment of his own normative standpoint subvert his critiques. Thus in relation to Bourdieu's analysis of the role of mis-recognition in social life I argue that this requires a delineation of the extent of justified recognition. In developing the argument I draw upon Adam Smith's analysis of moral sentiments and his critique of undeserved recognition and the pursuit of distinction. Where Bourdieu is dismissive about moral issues, Smith treats moral sentiments as irreducible to interest or instrumental action and as a significant element in the reproduction of social order. The paper concludes with some implications for the nature of critique in social theory.

Note: Article Sayer A, Univ Lancaster, Dept Sociol, Lancaster LA1 4YW, ENGLAND

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