Bourdieu-Sociological-Knowledge - Pierre Bourdieu and the...

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Pierre Bourdieu and the Peculiarities of Sociological Knowledge Johan Heilbron Defined neither by a well circumscribed subject-matter and a corresponding form of professional expertise, like psychology or economics, nor by a shared point of view like history and perhaps philosophy, sociology has traditionally aspired to be the most general social science. Since notions as ‘human society’ or ‘social processes’ that are commonly used to characterize the sociological perspective do not provide more than a terminological minimum, the actual practice of sociologists is best understood in its intellectual context, that is, first and foremost, in relation to other disciplines and sub-disciplines. Wolf Lepenies has thus shown that sociology may be understood as belonging to a ‘third culture,’ one that is uneasily situated between the humanities and the natural sciences, and within which humanistic as well as scientistic orientations coexist and collide (Lepenies 1988). A similar observation holds for sociology in relation to the other social sciences. For institutional reasons, French sociologists have predominantly defined themselves in relation to philosophy, traditionally the ‘crowning discipline’ (Jean-Louis Fabiani) in the Faculty of Letters. Depending on the local and the national context, other sociologists have allied themselves with history, anthropology, or economics. Sociology’s claim of being the most general social science is thus inseparable from its varied relations to other disciplines and domains of knowledge. As a consequence of this peculiar position in the division of academic labor, sociology has been a discipline with a high degree of plasticity. What sociologists collectively produce tends to have a low level of cognitive and professional codification, a high degree of pluralism,
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2 dispersion and context dependency, as well as a rather volatile intellectual status. Sociology has historically fluctuated from being among the most prestigious intellectual pursuits to constituting little more than a specialty of leftovers, as Albion Small had it. In addition to the more general reasons that apply to all disciplines, even the most autonomous ones, there is thus a specific reason, based on this particular position in the intellectual division of labor, why knowledge making practices in sociology depend strongly on the conditions under which they are exercised. An appropriate way, therefore, to understand knowledge making in sociology is to examine the way sociologists have operated within and across the division of intellectual work. Sociologists have broadly followed two strategies: they have either tried to become recognized specialists in a certain domain and have there confronted other knowledge specialists, or they have ventured to construct a perspective that claims a general validity of some sort. Since the dynamics of specialization is relatively well known and hardly specific for sociology, it is more interesting to consider sociologists who have been involved in
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Bourdieu-Sociological-Knowledge - Pierre Bourdieu and the...

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