* Huxley Memorial Lecture 2002. This is the revised text of the Huxley Memorial Lecture, as delivered by Pierre Bourdieu at the Royal Anthropological Institute on 6 December 2000. The final version was prepared and translated from the French by Loïc Wacquant in April 2002.
Article first published online: 22 MAY 2003
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Volume 9, Issue 2, pages 281–294, June 2003
How to Cite
BOURDIEU, P. (2003), Participant Objectivation. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 9: 281–294. doi: 10.1111/1467-9655.00150
- Issue published online: 22 MAY 2003
- Article first published online: 22 MAY 2003
Scientific reflexivity stands opposed to the narcissistic reflexivity of postmodern anthropology as well as to the egological reflexivity of phenomenology in that it endeavours to increase scientificity by turning the most objectivist tools of social science not only onto the private person of the enquirer but also, and more decisively, onto the anthropological field itself and onto the scholastic dispositions and biases it fosters and rewards in its members. ‘Participant objectivation’, as the objectivation of the subject and operations of objectivation, and of the latter's conditions of possibility, produces real cognitive effects as it enables the social analyst to grasp and master the pre-reflexive social and academic experiences of the social world that he tends to project unconsciously onto ordinary social agents. This does not mean that anthropologists must put nothing of themselves into their work, quite the contrary. Examples drawn from the author's own research (with special focus on field enquiries carried out concurrently in the far-away colony of Kabylia and in his home village in Béarn) show how idiosyncratic personal experiences methodically subjected to sociological control constitute irreplaceable analytic resources, and that mobilizing one's social past through self-socio-analysis can and does produce epistemic as well as existential benefits.
I do not need to tell you how happy and proud I am to receive a mark of scientific recognition as prestigious as the Huxley Medal and to enter into this kind of pantheon of anthropology that the roster of previous recipients constitutes. Drawing on the authority that you hereby bestow upon me, I would like, in the manner of an old sorcerer passing on his secrets, to offer a technique, a method, or, more modestly, a ‘device’ that has helped me immensely throughout my experience as a researcher: what I call ‘participant objectivation’. I do mean participant ‘objectivation’ and not ‘observation’, as one says customarily. Participant observation, as I understand it, designates the conduct of an ethnologist who immerses her- or himself in a foreign social universe so as to observe an activity, a ritual, or a ceremony while, ideally, taking part in it. The inherent difficulty of such a posture has often been noted, which presupposes a kind of doubling of consciousness that is arduous to sustain. How can one be both subject and object, the one who acts and the one who, as it were, watches himself acting? What is certain is that one is right to cast doubt on the possibility of truly participating in foreign practices, embedded as they are in the tradition of another society and, as such, presupposing a learning process different from the one of which the observer and her dispositions are the product; and therefore a quite different manner of being and living through the experiences in which she purports to participate.
By ‘participant objectivation’, I mean the objectivation of the subject of objectivation, of the analysing subject – in short, of the researcher herself. One might be misled into believing that I am referring here to the practice, made fashionable over a decade ago by certain anthropologists, especially on the other side of the Atlantic, which consists in observing oneself observing, observing the observer in his work of observing or of transcribing his observations, through a return on fieldwork, on the relationship with his informants and, last but not least, on the narrative of all these experiences which lead, more often than not, to the rather disheartening conclusion that all is in the final analysis nothing but discourse, text, or, worse yet, pretext for text.
It will quickly be clear that I have little sympathy with what Clifford Geertz (1988: 89) calls, after Roland Barthes, ‘the diary disease’, an explosion of narcissism sometimes verging on exhibitionism, which came in the wake of, and in reaction to, long years of positivist repression. For reflexivity as I conceive it does not have much in common with ‘textual reflexivity’ and with all the falsely sophisticated considerations on the ‘hermeneutic process of cultural interpretation’ and the construction of reality through ethnographic recording. Indeed, it stands opposed at every point to the naive observation of the observer which, in Marcus and Fisher (1986) or Rosaldo (1989) or even Geertz (1988), tends to substitute the facile delights of self-exploration for the methodical confrontation with the gritty realities of the field. This pseudo-radical denunciation of ethnographic writing as ‘poetics and politics’, to borrow the title of Clifford and Marcus's (1986) edited volume on the topic, inevitably leads to the ‘interpretive scepticism’ to which Woolgar (1988) refers and nearly manages to bring the anthropological enterprise to a grinding halt (Gupta & Ferguson 1997). But it does not suffice either to explicate the ‘lived experience’ of the knowing subject, that is, the biographical particularities of the researcher or the Zeitgeist that inspires his work (as Alving Gouldner  famously did in his dissection of Parsons in The coming crisis of Western sociology) or to uncover the folk theories that agents invest in their practices, as the ethnomethodologists do. For science cannot be reduced to the recording and analysis of the ‘pre-notions’ (in Durkheim's sense) that social agents engage in the construction of social reality; it must also encompass the social conditions of the production of these pre-constructions and of the social agents who produce them.
In short, one does not have to choose between participant observation, a necessarily fictitious immersion in a foreign milieu, and the objectivism of the ‘gaze from afar’ of an observer who remains as remote from himself as from his object. Participant objectivation undertakes to explore not the ‘lived experience’ of the knowing subject but the social conditions of possibility – and therefore the effects and limits – of that experience and, more precisely, of the act of objectivation itself. It aims at objectivizing the subjective relation to the object which, far from leading to a relativistic and more-or-less anti-scientific subjectivism, is one of the conditions of genuine scientific objectivity (Bourdieu 2001).
What needs to be objectivized, then, is not the anthropologist performing the anthropological analysis of a foreign world but the social world that has made both the anthropologist and the conscious or unconscious anthropology that she (or he) engages in her anthropological practice – not only her social origins, her position and trajectory in social space, her social and religious memberships and beliefs, gender, age, nationality, etc., but also, and most importantly, her particular position within the microcosm of anthropologists. It is indeed scientifically attested that her most decisive scientific choices (of topic, method, theory, etc.) depend very closely on the location she (or he) occupies within her professional universe, what I call the ‘anthropological field’, with its national traditions and peculiarities, its habits of thought, its mandatory problematics, its shared beliefs and commonplaces, its rituals, values, and consecrations, its constraints in matters of publication of findings, its specific censorships, and, by the same token, the biases embedded in the organizational structure of the discipline, that is, in the collective history of the specialism, and all the unconscious presuppositions built into the (national) categories of scholarly understanding.
The properties brought to light by this reflexive analysis, opposed in every respect to a self-indulgent, intimist return to the singular, private person of the anthropologist, have nothing singular and still less nothing extraordinary about them. As they are, in good measure, common to entire categories of researchers (such as graduates of the same school or from this or that university), they are not very ‘exciting’ to naive curiosity. (Here one can echo Wittgenstein in the Philosophical investigations [1967: para. 415]: ‘What we are supplying are really remarks on the natural history of human beings; we are not contributing curiosities however, but observations which no one has doubted, but which have escaped remark only because they are always before our eyes’.) And, above all, the fact of discovering these properties and making them public often appears as a sacrilegious transgression inasmuch as it calls into question the charismatic representation that cultural producers have of themselves and their propensity to see themselves as free of all cultural determinations.
That is why Homo academicus (1988) is arguably the most controversial, the most ‘scandalous’ of the books I have written, despite its extreme concern for objectivity. For it objectivizes those who ordinarily objectivize; it unveils and divulges, through a transgression that takes on the air of treason, the objective structures of a social microcosm to which the researcher himself belongs, that is, the structures of the space of positions that determine the academic and political stances of the Parisian academics. Those are the hidden structures that, for example, at the time of this survey, oppose Roland Barthes to Raymond Picard and, through their persons, a ‘literary semiology’ perceived as avant-garde and a traditional literary history in the style of Lanson on the defensive. One can take the violence of participant objectivation even further, as did one of my students, Charles Soulié (1995), who showed that research topics (masters theses and subjects of doctoral dissertations) in philosophy and sociology (the same would apply to anthropology) are statistically linked to social origins and trajectory, gender, and above all to educational trajectory. This means that our seemingly most personal, most intimate, and therefore most cherished choices, namely, our choice of discipline and topics (for example, economic anthropology versus the study of kinship, Africa as against eastern Europe), our theoretical and methodological orientations, find their principle in socially constituted dispositions in which banally social, sadly impersonal properties still express themselves in a more-or-less transfigured form.
It will have been noted that, in speaking of participant objectivation, I have moved, without seeming to do so, from anthropology to sociology, and, more precisely, to the sociology of the academic institution as I practised it in Homo academicus. I hardly need say that the French university is, in this case, only the apparent object, and that what really has to be grasped there is the subject of objectivation (in this instance myself), his position in that relatively autonomous social space that is the academic world, endowed with its own rules, irreducible to those of the surrounding world, and his singular point of view. But one too often forgets or ignores that a point of view is, strictly, nothing other than a view taken from a point which cannot reveal itself as such, cannot disclose its truth as point of view, a particular and ultimately unique point of view, irreducible to others, unless one is capable, paradoxically, of reconstructing the space, understood as the set of coexisting points (as P.F. Strawson might put it) in which it is inserted.
To give a better sense of what is unusual under its appearances of banality, about the overturning that consists in taking a point of view on one's own point of view and, thereby, on the whole set of points of view in relation to which it defines itself as such, I would like to call to mind the novel by David Garnett, A man in the zoo, of which I have often thought with respect to the approach I adopted in Homo academicus. It tells the story of a young man who quarrels with his girlfriend during a visit to a zoo and, in despair, writes to the director of the zoo to offer him a mammal missing from his collection, man – himself. He is then put in a cage, next to the chimpanzee, with a sign saying: ‘Homo sapiens. MAN. This specimen, born in Scotland, was presented to the Society by John Cromartie, Esq. Visitors are requested not to irritate the Man by personal remarks’ (Garnett 1960: 111). I should have put a similar warning at the front of Homo academicus to avoid at least some of the ‘personal remarks’, not always very kind, that it earned me.
The reflexivity fostered by participant objectivation is not at all the same as that ordinarily advocated and practised by ‘postmodern’ anthropologists or even philosophy and some forms of phenomenology. It applies to the knowing subject the most brutally objectivist tools that anthropology and sociology provide, in particular statistical analysis (usually excluded from the arsenal of anthropological weapons), and aims, as I indicated earlier, to grasp everything that the thinking of the anthropologist (or sociologist) may owe to the fact that she (or he) is inserted in a national scientific field, with its traditions, habits of thought, problematics, shared commonplaces, and so on, and to the fact that she occupies in it a particular position (newcomer who has to prove herself versus consecrated master, etc.), with ‘interests’ of a particular kind which unconsciously orientate her scientific choices (of discipline, method, object, etc.).
In short, scientific objectivation is not complete unless it includes the point of view of the objectivizer and the interests he may have in objectivation (especially when he objectivizes his own universe) but also the historical unconscious that he inevitably engages in his work. By historical, and more precisely academic, unconscious (or ‘transcendental’), I mean the set of cognitive structures which can be attributed to specifically educational experiences and which is therefore to a large extent common to all the products of the same (national) educational system or, in a more specified form, to all the members of the same discipline at a given time. It is what explains why, beyond differences linked in particular to the disciplines, and in spite of the competition between them, the products of a national education system present a set of common dispositions, often attributed to ‘national character’, which means that they can understand each other with a nod and a wink, and that, for them, many things go without saying which are crucial, such as what, at a given moment, does or does not deserve discussion, what is important and interesting (a ‘beautiful subject’ or, or the contrary, a ‘banal’ idea or ‘trivial’ theme).
To take as one's project the exploration of this academic unconscious (or transcendental) is nothing other than turning anthropology against itself, as it were, and engaging the most remarkable theoretical and methodological discoveries of anthropology in the reflexive analysis of the anthropologists themselves. I have always regretted that those responsible for the most extraordinary advances of cognitive anthropology – I think of Durkheim and Mauss (2003) analysing ‘primitive forms of classification’ or of Lévi-Strauss (1966) dismantling the workings of the ‘savage mind’– never applied (with the partial exception of Durkheim's  The evolution of educational thought, and scattered programmatic remarks by Maurice Halbwachs) to their own universe some of the scientific insights that they provided about societies remote in space and time. Since I have mentioned Durkheim and Mauss, I take the opportunity to recall that they explicitly aimed to implement in their research the Kantian programme of knowledge which I myself evoke when speaking of the ‘academic transcendental’. This reminder seems to me all the more necessary when, among the many obstacles to understanding between ‘continental’ anthropologists and sociologists and their English-speaking colleagues, one of the most daunting seems to me to be, on this precise point, the gulf between the research ‘programmes’ that each side owes to its immersion in very profoundly different academic and philosophic traditions and to the different academic transcendentals to which they are each unknowingly wedded.
It is such a programme of reflexive cognitive anthropology that I endeavoured to carry out when I sought, for example, to objectivize the ‘categories of professorial understanding’ (in its contemporary French form), based on a corpus made up of cards on which a teacher of French at an elite school had recorded the grades and assessments awarded over the course of a school year to the whole set of his pupils characterized by their age, sex, and occupation of their parents (Bourdieu & de Saint-Martin 1975). Thanks to a technique adapted from graphical semiology, I uncovered the unconscious classificatory schemata, or principles of vision and division, that French teachers (but no doubt also British teachers, or those of any other advanced country) unwittingly implement in their operations of categorization and evaluation, proceeding no differently than the ‘natives’ of Africa or the Pacific islands do when they classify plants or diseases. This was based on the hypothesis that classificatory schemata analogous to the forms of classification or the cognitive structures which (as Durkheim, Mauss, and Lévi-Strauss showed) organize ‘primitive’ or ‘savage’ thought are also present, in just as unconscious a state, in scholarly thought, so that, short of exercising special vigilance, anthropologists and sociologists themselves implement them in many of their everyday judgements – especially in matters of aesthetics where, as Wittgenstein pointed out, judgements are often reduced to adjectives, or in matters of gastronomy, and even about their colleagues’ work or the colleagues themselves. (I think here in particular of oppositions such as ‘brilliant’ versus ‘rigorous’, superficial versus deep, heavy versus light, and so on.) And it is likely that you will resort to similar classificatory dichotomies to perceive and appreciate, positively or negatively, what I am saying to you at this very moment.
It begins to become clear, or so I hope, that objectivation of the subject of objectivation is neither a mere narcissistic entertainment, nor a pure effect of some kind of wholly gratuitous epistemological point of honour, in that it exerts very real scientific effects. This is not only because it can lead one to discover all kinds of ‘perversions’ linked to the position occupied in scientific space, such as those spurious theoretical breaks, more-or-less conspicuously proclaimed, in which some young anthropologists eager to make a name for themselves indulge periodically (especially when they catch the latest strain of what my friend E.P. Thompson acerbically called ‘the French flu’); or that kind of fossilization of research and even thought that can ensue from enclosure in a scholarly tradition perpetuated by the logic of academic reproduction. More profoundly, it enables us also to subject to constant critical vigilance all those ‘first movements’ (as the Stoics put it) of thought through which the unthought associated with an epoch, a society, a given state of a (national) anthropological field smuggle themselves into the work of thought, and against which warnings against ethnocentrism hardly give sufficient protection. I am thinking in particular of what might be called ‘Lévy-Bruhl's mistake’, which consists in creating an insurmountable distance between the anthropologist and those he takes as object, between his thought and ‘primitive thought’, for lack of having gained the necessary distance from his own native thought and practice by objectifying them.
The anthropologist who does not know himself, who does not have an adequate knowledge of his own primary experience of the world, puts the primitive at a distance because he does not recognize the primitive, pre-logical thought within himself. Locked in a scholastic, and thus intellectualist, vision of his own practice, he cannot recognize the universal logic of practice in modes of thought and action (such as magical ones) that he describes as pre-logical or primitive. In addition to all the instances of misunderstandings of the logic of practices I analyse in Outline of a theory of practice (1977), I could invoke here Ludwig Wittgenstein who suggests, in his ‘Remarks on The golden bough’, that it is because Frazer does not know himself that he is unable to recognize in such so-called ‘primitive’ behaviour the equivalent of the behaviours in which he (like all of us) indulges in similar circumstances:
When I am furious about something, I sometimes beat the ground or a tree with my walking stick. But I certainly do not believe that the ground is to blame or that my beating can help anything. ‘I am venting my anger’. And all rites are of this kind. Such actions may be called Instinct-actions. And an historical explanation, say, that I or my ancestors previously believed that beating the ground does help is shadow-boxing, for it is a superfluous assumption that explains nothing. The similarity of the action to an act of punishment is important, but nothing more than this similarity can be asserted.
Once such a phenomenon is brought into connection with an instinct which I myself possess, this is precisely the explanation wished for; that is, the explanation which resolves this particular difficulty. And a further investigation about the history of my instinct moves on another track. (Wittgenstein 1993: 137-9)
Wittgenstein is closer to the truth still when, referring again, but this time tacitly, to his own personal experience – which he assumes to be shared by his reader – he mentions some so-called primitive behaviours which, like our own in similar circumstances, might have no purpose other than themselves or the ‘satisfaction’ gained in performing them:
Burning in effigy. Kissing the picture of one's beloved. That is obviously not based on the belief that it will have some specific effect on the object which the picture represents. It aims as satisfaction and it achieves it. Or rather: it aims at nothing at all; we just behave this way and then we feel satisfied (Wittgenstein 1993: 123).
One only has to have once performed these psychologically necessary and totally desperate acts that one accomplishes on the grave of a beloved one to know that Wittgenstein is right to repudiate the very question of the function and even of the meaning and intention of certain ritual or religious acts. And he is also right to say that ‘Frazer is more “savage” than most of his savages’ because, lacking an ‘inward knowledge’ of his own spiritual experience, Frazer does not understand that he understands nothing about the spiritual experiences that he obstinately attempts to understand. And, lastly, from among a thousand, I will quote this remark of Wittgenstein about the custom of ‘shav[ing] the whole bodies of persons charged with sorcery’:
There is no doubt whatever that a mutilation which makes us appear unworthy or ridiculous in our own eyes can completely deprive us of the will to defend ourselves. How embarrassed we sometimes become – or at least many people – by our physical or aesthetic inferiority. (Wittgenstein 1993: 155)
This discreet reference to the singular, private self of the analyst is poles apart from certain narcissistic confessions of the apostles of postmodern reflexivity and it has the merit of breaking through the screen of false explanations projected by the anthropologist who ignores himself, as well as bringing foreign experiences closer by allowing us to grasp what is at once familiar and profound about them.
It follows that, while the critique of ethnocentrism (or anachronism) is, at a first level, legitimate to warn against and ward off the uncontrolled projection of the knowing subject onto the object of knowledge, it can, at another level, prevent the anthropologist (as well as the sociologist or the historian) from making rational use of his native – but previously objectivated – experience in order to understand and analyse other people's experiences. Nothing is more false, in my view, than the maxim almost universally accepted in the social sciences according to which the researcher must put nothing of himself into his research (Bourdieu 1996). He should on the contrary refer continually to his own experience but not, as is too often the case, even among the best researchers, in a guilty, unconscious, or uncontrolled manner. Whether I want to understand a woman from Kabylia or a peasant from Béarn, a Turkish migrant worker or a German office worker, a schoolteacher or a businesman, or a writer like Flaubert, a painter like Manet, a philosopher like Heidegger, the most difficult thing, paradoxically, is never to forget that they are all people like me, at least inasmuch as they do not stand before their action – performing an agrarian rite, following a funeral procession, negotiating a contract, taking part in a literary ceremony, painting a picture, giving a conference, attending a birthday party – in the posture of an observer; and that one can say about them that, strictly speaking, they do not know what they are doing (at least in the sense in which I, as observer and analyst, am trying to know it). They do not have in their heads the scientific truth of their practice which I am trying to extract from observation of their practice. What is more, they normally never ask themselves the questions that I would ask myself if I acted towards them as an anthropologist: Why such a ceremony? Why the candles? Why the cake? Why the presents? Why these invitations and these guests, and not others? And so on.
The most difficult thing, then, is not so much to understand them (which in itself is not simple) as it is to avoid forgetting what I know perfectly well besides, but only in a practical mode, namely, that they do not at all have the project of understanding and explaining which is mine as researcher; and, consequently, to avoid putting into their heads, as it were, the problematic that I construct about them and the theory that I elaborate to answer it. Thus, just as the Frazerian anthropologist will institute an insurmountable distance between his experience and that of his object, for lack of knowing how to appropriate the truth of his ordinary experience of his own ordinary and extraordinary practices by putting himself at a distance from himself, the sociologist and the economist who are incapable of mastering their pre-reflexive experience of the world will inject scholarly thought (incarnated by the myth of homo economicus and ‘rational action theory’) into the behaviours of ordinary agents, because they do not know how to break with the unthought presuppositions of thinking thought, in other words to rid themselves of their inbred scholastic bias (Bourdieu 1990; 2000).
Keeping firmly in mind the irreducible specificity of the logic of practice, we must avoid depriving ourselves of that quite irreplaceable scientific resource that is social experience previously subjected to sociological critique. I realized very early on that, in my fieldwork in Kabylia, I was constantly drawing on my experience of the Béarn society of my childhood, both to understand the practices that I was observing and to defend myself against the interpretations that I spontaneously formed of them or that my informants gave me (Bourdieu 2002). Thus, for example, faced with an informant who, when I questioned him about the divisions of his group, enumerated various terms designating more-or-less extended units, I wondered whether one or other of these ‘social units’–adhrum, thakharrubth, and so forth – that he mentioned had any more ‘reality’ than the unit called lou besiat, the set of neighbours, that the Béarnais sometimes invoke and upon which some French ethnologists had conferred scientifically recognized status. I had the intuition, confirmed time and again by my subsequent research, that the besiat was nothing more than an occasional entity, as it were, a ‘virtual’ grouping which became ‘effective’, existent, and active only under certain very precise circumstances, such as the transport of the body of the deceased during a funeral, to define the participants and their respective rank in such circumstantial action.
That is only one of a great many cases in which I drew on my native knowledge to defend myself against the ‘folk theories’ of my informants or of the anthropological tradition. Indeed, it was to carry out a critique of those spontaneous instruments of critique that I undertook, in the 1960s, at the same time as I was doing my Kabyle research, to do a first-hand study of Béarn society, which, my intuition told me, presented many analogies with the agrarian society of Kabylia in spite of obvious differences. In this case, as in my study of the academic staff of the University of Paris reported in Homo academicus, the real object, partly hidden behind the declared and visible object, was the subject of objectivation and even, to be more precise, the effects of knowledge of the objectivating posture, that is, the transformation undergone by the experience of the social world (in the case at hand, a universe in which all the people were personally close to me so that I knew, without having to ask, all their personal and collective history) when one ceases to ‘live’ it simply and instead takes it as object. This first deliberate and methodical exercise in reflexivity was the starting-point for an endless to-and-fro between the reflexive phase of objectivation of primary experience and the active phase of investment of this experience thus objectified and criticized in acts of objectivation ever more remote from that experience. It was in this twofold movement that a scientific subject was progressively constructed who is at once an ‘anthropological eye’ capable of grasping invisible relationships and a (practical) mastery of the self based, among other things, on the gradual discovery of the multifarious effects of the ‘scholastic bias’ to which John Austin (1962: 3-4) makes passing reference.
I am aware that all this may appear to you both very abstract and also perhaps rather arrogant. (There seems to be something a bit delirious in experiencing the progress that one has made, throughout a lifetime of research, as a kind of slow initiatory pathway. Yet I am convinced that one knows the world better and better as one knows oneself better, that scientific knowledge and knowledge of oneself and of one's own social unconscious advance hand in hand, and that primary experience transformed in and through scientific practice transforms scientific practice and conversely.) But I am referring in fact to very mundane and concrete experiences of which I shall now give a few examples. One day, while working on a study of male celibacy in Béarn which had been triggered by a conversation with a childhood friend about a class photograph in which I appeared (Bourdieu 1962), at a time when I was trying to construct a formal model of matrimonial exchanges (this was the heyday of Lévi-Straussian structuralism), I was chatting with a person who had been one of my most faithful and most intelligent informants – she happened to be my mother. I was not thinking about my study, but I must have been vaguely preoccupied with it, when she said to me in passing, about a family in the village: ‘Oh, you know, they’ve become very kith and kin (très parents) with the So-and-sos [another family in the village] now that there's a polytechnicien* in the family.’ That remark was the starting-point for the reflection that led me to rethink marriage no longer in terms of the logic of the rule (whose inadequacy I had already realized in the case of Kabylia) but, against the then-reigning structuralist orthodoxy, as a strategy orientated by specific interests, such as the pursuit of the conservation or expansion of economic capital, through the linking of the estates of the families thus allied, and of social capital and symbolic capital, through the extent and quality of the ‘connections’ secured by the marriage (Bourdieu 1986).
But it was my whole way of conceiving the existence of groups – clans, tribes, regions, classes, or nations – which gradually came to be completely transformed in the process (see Bourdieu 1985): instead of ‘real’ entities, clearly demarcated in reality and in ethnographic description, or genealogical sets defined on paper according to strictly genealogical criteria, they appeared to me as social constructions, more-or-less artificial artefacts, maintained by sustained exchanges and by a whole material and symbolic labour of ‘group making’ often delegated to women. (Here is an example of the to-and-fro movement to which I was alluding a moment ago: I am thinking of the work of an American anthropologist, Michaela di Leonardo , who showed that women nowadays in the United States are great users of the telephone – which earns them the reputation of being garrulous – because they are entrusted with maintaining kinship relationships, not only with their own family but also with their husband’s.) And I could show similarly how my analysis of the Béarn house as estate and household, and all the strategies whereby it asserts and defends itself over and against rival ‘houses’, enabled me to understand, in what I think is an innovative way, what was then called ‘the king's house’ and how, before the gradual invention of the specific logic called raison d’État, the logic of the rational bureaucratic state, royal ‘houses’ could, to conserve or increase their estate, resort to reproduction strategies quite equivalent, both in principle and implementation, to those practised by Béarn ‘houses’ and their ‘household heads’ (Bourdieu 1997).
I have spoken of honour and, given more time, I might have tried to recall before you the protracted labour of empirical observation, analysis, and theoretical reflection that led me from the ordinary notion of honour – the object of my very first anthropological enquiries, which I presented to those who accompanied and protected my entrance into the profession, Julian Pitt-Rivers, Julio Caro Baroja, and John G. Peristiany – to the concept of symbolic capital, which is extremely useful, even indispensible in my view, for analysing the most characteristic phenomena of the economy of symbolic goods which perpetuates itself within the most modern economy, such as, to give just one illustration, the very special policy of symbolic investment practised by major firms and foundations and related forms of sponsoring. But I would like to give you rapidly another example of a particularly fruitful to-and-fro: having discovered in Virginia Woolf's (1929) To the lighthouse mythological structures that I would not have noticed had my eye not been sharpened by familiarity with the Kabyle (and more generally Mediterranean) vision of the division of labour between the sexes, I was able, thanks to the extraordinarily subtle analysis that Virginia Woolf develops in that novel of how the dominant masculine is dominated by his domination, to discover in return the limits of the lucidity of an anthropologist who had not managed fully to turn anthropology against itself. I was helped in particular by Woolf's supremely cruel yet delicate evocation of the libido academica, one of the specific forms taken by the follies of masculinity, which could and should have figured in a less coldly objectivist version of Homo academicus, that is, one that would have been less distant from the object and subject of objectivation.
A last example of the controlled use of anthropology – which, it should be clear by now, is radically opposed to the wild use that some anthropologists in want of exotic locations now make, especially in France, of ethnological analogies: starting from a redefinition of ‘rites of passage’ as rites of institution, I was able to detect and dissect one of the functions of the French ‘elite schools’ which remain the most well hidden (in particular by their function of training and selection), namely, that they consecrate those entrusted to them, assigning to them a superior essence by instituting them as separate and distinguished from common humanity by an uncrossable frontier (Bourdieu 1992; 1996). But, more broadly, I was able to understand more intimately and, it seems to me, more profoundly, a whole set of rites of the academic tradition, which have the function and effect of giving the solemn sanction of the assembled collectivity to the new birth that the collectivity at once performs and demands – think of the ‘commencement’ and graduation ceremonies of British and American universities, which solemnly mark the end of a long preparatory initiation and ratify by an official act the slow transmutation that has been operated in and by the expectation of consecration; or inaugural lectures, or even, if you allow me to say so, a rite of aggregation to the invisible college of canonized anthropologists such as I am now performing before you and with you.
I would like to close by discussing another effect of reflexivity, more personal but of great importance, in my view, for the progress of scientific research which, I have gradually come to think – as if in spite of myself and contrary to the principles of my primary vision of the world – has something of an initiatory search about it. Each of us, and this is no secret for anyone, is encumbered by a past, his or her own past, and this social past, whatever it is –‘working class’ or ‘bourgeois’, masculine or feminine, and always closely enmeshed with the past that psychoanalysis explores – is particularly burdensome and obtrusive when one is engaged in social science. I have said, against the methodological orthodoxy sheltered under the authority of Max Weber and his principle of ‘axiological neutrality’ (Wertfreiheit), that I believe that the researcher can and must mobilize his experience, that is, this past, in all his acts of research. But he is entitled to do so only on condition that he submits all these returns of the past to rigorous scientific examination. For what has to be questioned is not only this reactivated past but one's entire relation to this past which, when it acts outside of the controls of consciousness, may be the source of a systematic distortion of evocation and thus of the memories evoked. Only a genuine socio-analysis of this relation, profoundly obscure to itself, can enable us to achieve the kind of reconciliation of the researcher with himself, and his social properties, that a liberating anamnesis produces (Bourdieu 2001).
I know that I run the risk, once again, of appearing at once abstract and arrogant, whereas I have in mind a simple experiment that any researcher can, it seems to me, perform for her- or himself with very great scientific and also personal profit. The reflexive device that I set in motion by carrying out ethnographic research at about the same time in Kabylia and in Béarn, in a far-away colony and in my home village, had the effect of leading me to examine as an anthropologist – that is to say, with the inseparably scientific and ethical respect due to any object of study – my own milieu of origin, at once popular and provincial, ‘backward’, some would even say archaic, which I had been led (or pushed) to despise and to renounce, or, worse yet, to repress, in the phase of anxious (and even avid and over-eager) integration into the cultural centre. It was no doubt because I found myself in a position to train a professional eye, both understanding and objectivizing, upon the world of my origin that I was able to tear myself from the violence of an ambivalent relationship in which mingled familiarity and distance, empathy and horror, nay disgust, without falling into the populist forbearance for a kind of imaginary ‘people’ in which intellectuals often indulge. And this conversion of the whole person, which goes far beyond all the requirements of the most demanding treatises on methodology, was at the basis of a theoretical conversion which enabled me to reappropriate the practical relation to the world more completely than through the still-too-distant analyses of phenomenology. This turn-around was not effected in a day, through a sudden illumination, and the many returns I made to my Béarn fieldwork – I carried out my study of male celibacy thrice over – were necessary both for technical and theoretical reasons but also because the labour of analysis was accompanied each time by a slow and difficult labour of self-analysis (Bourdieu 2002).
So if I have always worked to reconcile anthropology and sociology, it is because I am profoundly convinced that this scientifically damaging division must be overthrown and abolished; but also, as you will have seen, because it was a way of exorcising the painful schism, never entirely overcome, between two parts of myself, and the contradictions or tensions that it introduces into my scientific practice and perhaps into my whole life. I used to see a strategic ‘coup’, which greatly contributed to the social (or salon) success of Lévi-Strauss's Structural anthropology (1968), in the fact that it replaced the French word ‘ethnologie’, presumably too narrow, with the word ‘anthropologie’, which, for an educated French reader, evokes both the profundity of the German ‘Anthropologie’ and the modernity of the English ‘anthropology’. But I can none the less not prevent myself from wishing to see the unity of the sciences of man asserted under the banner of an Anthropology designating, in all the languages of the world, what we understand today by ethnology and sociology.
La réflexivité scientifique s’oppose à la réflexivité narcissique de l’anthropologie post-moderne tout autant qu’à la réflexivitéégologique de la phénoménologie en ceci qu’elle s’efforce d’accroître la scientificité du savoir en retournant les outils les plus objectivistes de la science sociale non seulement sur la personne privée du chercheur mais aussi et surtout sur le champ anthropologique lui-même et sur les dispositions et les biais scolastiques que ce champ entretient et récompense chez ses membres. ‘L’objectivation participante’, en tant qu’objectivation du sujet et des opérations de l’objectivation ainsi que de ses conditions de possibilité, produit des effets cognitifs réels pour autant qu’elle permet à l’analyste de saisir et de maîtriser les expériences sociales et académiques pré-réflexives du monde social qu’il tend à projeter inconsciemment sur les agents ordinaires. Ceci ne veut pas dire que les anthropologues ne doivent rien mettre d’eux-mêmes dans leur travail, bien au contraire. Des exemples tirés des recherches de l’auteur (et notamment ses enquêtes de terrain conduites simultanément dans la lointaine colonie de Kabylie et dans son village d’enfance du Béarn) montrent comment des expériences personnelles particulières constituent des ressources analytiques irremplaçables dès lors qu’elles sont soumises à un contrôle sociologique méthodique. Mobiliser son propre passé social par le biais d’une auto-socioanalyse peut et doit produire des profits épistémiques autant qu’existentiels.
* [Translator's note] A polytechnicien is a graduate of the École Polytechnique, one of France's foremost elite schools and a major recruiting ground for top corporate leaders and state managers (see Bourdieu 1996).
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