George Steinmetz

The Algerian origins of Bourdieu’s concepts and his rejection of social reproductionism

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This paper examines the emergence of Bourdieu’s central theoretical concepts during the foundational Algerian phase of his career. It argues that Bourdieu’s Algerian experiences were a key source of his resistance to theoretical approaches privileging social reproduction. The first section revisits 1950s French sociology in order to demonstrate that it was taken up with discussing late colonialism as crisis-ridden and rapidly changing. Bourdieu immersed himself in this literature. The second section examines the colonial origins of Bourdieu’s key concepts: habitus, symbolic capital, field, practice, and reflexivity which are all inherently dynamic, processual, and antithetical to ontologies of social reproduction. They refer back to the crisis-ridden, splintered, turbulent character of French Algeria. The third section addresses the claim that there are «two Algerias» in Bourdieu’s writing, one historical, the other timeless and unchanging. This critique fails to grasp the theoretical purposes for which Bourdieu redeployed his Kabyle material. The conclusion argues that the misunderstanding of Bourdieu is part of the failure to understand his Algerian work, which is part of the repression and misunderstanding of colonialism and sociology’s colonial origins


  • Pierre Bourdieu
  • social reproduction
  • Algeria
  • colonialism
  • social change


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