Pierre Bourdieu and La Domination Masculine


Bridget Fowler


            “I say that the idea of masculinity is one of the last refuges of the identity of the dominated classes [...] it’s characteristic of people who have little to fall back on except their labour-power and sometimes their fighting strength.” said Bourdieu in 1993.  I take this occasion, after publication of his major book on the subject (La Domination Masculine, Seuil, 1998a) to review his theory of gender relations. He has broached what he calls the “paradoxal” break with the doxa of masculine domination at several points (1998a:24). His initial ethnographic studies of Kabylia situate the opposition between masculine and feminine as the most important classification and social division of this group of Southern Algerian mountain peasants. By 1980, with Le Sens Pratique (246-7), Bourdieu was  concerned with a model of masculine domination in advanced capitalist countries. This  was eventually to surface in a lengthy article on the subject in 1990, the working paper for the new book. From 1988 his writings include brief gender surveys, identifying the exclusions of women from the best grandes  écoles  (at the level of higher education) and from the restricted or artistic field (in the sphere of cultural production). A series of writings, including Distinction, formulated a “new mode of social reproduction” from classic, family-based capitalism to a school-mediated form of social reproduction where “heirs” had to legitimate themselves through exams before they could come into their wealth in dividends or salaries. Further, if Distinction had explored the decline of classic manufacturing industry, the waning of trade-unionism and the increased seductions of the market and, The State Nobility studied the transformations in the tertiary  academic field in the making of  such an exam-based, state-certified bourgeoisie,  pinpointing especially the new (post-70s) hegemony of disciplines linked to management and administration in contrast with the earlier disciplinary pre- eminence of  philosophy, noteable for its rigorous independence. In a  note on “overproduction”, The State Nobility  reviews the simultaneous entry of women into higher education and into former male preserves (1996:287) .

            I shall  argue that Bourdieu’s sociology is more powerful than his critics tell us, although he still has some way to go in “putting the woman back in”[1]. Kabylia is used in La Domination Masculine as a canonical or exemplary case and it does undoubtedly serve to reveal the relative autonomy of gender domination: that is, the extraordinary structural constancy, irrespective of mode of production, to the pejorative attributions of nature to women and of cultural distinction to men. But the strategic advantages of  this approach hide also  its downside: so extensive is its analytical sweep that Bourdieu’s study fails to acknowledge with sufficient precision the changing characteristics of patriarchy within different periods, most noteably that of capitalist modernity[2].

            However, Bourdieu’s theory of practice permits the use of a set of  conceptual tools superior to those offered by Habermasian, Foucauldian or Giddensian approaches. Applying these further, I shall go on to tease out from the entire set of his writings an analysis of the mutual implications of gender and class. It needs to be emphasised that this is not the subject of his most recent book on masculine domination and that I both risk undermining his mature reflections on the analytical autonomy of gender domination and  of being politically incorrect in tackling these issues here. Whatever the hasards, I want to draw in my argument from Bourdieu’s own assessments of the strategies of the grande bourgeoisie, that class which in Britain sociologists  call the upper service class.  Because of constraints of length, I shall offer here an unremittingly harsh, “objectivist” view of  strategic interests. Finally, I shall end by outlining briefly some areas of contention in relation to Bourdieu which are of significance to the development of feminist theory.

Bourdieu’s Theory of  Gender Practice

            What is the “value-added” in Bourdieu’s theory of practice offer which is absent from other approaches?  This theory acts upon his well-known intention to drop certain oppositions which are barriers to thought - between the dualisms of  mechanistic thought and voluntarism, between mind and body, between coercion and willed complicity[3]. Perhaps Bourdieu’s first and most valuable achievement is to reveal the extraordinary power of “doxa” or orthodoxy in this area. Masculine domination is naturalised in the form of a profound biologisation:

It is not the phallus (or its absence) which is the principal  generator of   this world-vision, but it is this vision of the world, which, being organised   for social reasons that it will be necessary to uncover, according to the division between masculine and feminine in relational genders, can institute          the phallus, constituted as the symbol of virility - of the specifically masculine honour - as the principle of the difference between the sexes (in       the sense of genders) and  can establish the social difference between the      two essences of which the hierarchical relationship procedes from the         objective cast of the statement that there is a natural distance between the biological bodies. (1990: 14; cf. 1998a:16).

Thus Bourdieu breaks with the biologically-founded essentialism of Freud’s naive theory of penis envy while remaining faithful to its spirit. Or, to put it more subtly:

The particular force of the masculine sociodicy derives from the fact that it         brings together two operations and condenses them: it legitimates a             relation of domination which is inscribed in a biological nature, in itself  a naturalised social construction (1998a: 29).

            The natural or “doxic” attitude to the gender divide is forged behind the arena of ideology, drawing heavily on the sphere of tacitly taken-for-granted assumptions. But, going beyond Husserl’s purely phenomenological analysis of such natural attitudes, Bourdieu also explores the social conditions in which such gender orthodoxy is rooted. For the doxa derives its force from everyday practices in the sexual division of labour. In turn, such practices possess their “sweet rationale” in myths, which explain the necessity for things being as they are. More insidiously, the implications of practices are enacted and symbolically condensed in the orchestrated grandeur of circumcision and male coming-of-age ceremonies, momentous rituals in the passage through life. What is apparently going on at such occasions is the segregation of older from younger males. What is actually at stake, remarks Bourdieu, is the division of all boys from the excluded girls and the fetishism of virility (1990:14).

            Consequently, within both the phallocentric culture of Kabylia, and indeed, the whole Western tradition originating from the Mediterranean, women are connoted with certain negative qualities and the masculine - like the noble - with positive qualities (“vir” for “male” is the linguistic root of “virtue”). Masculinity in Kabylia entails accepting the necessary destiny of the warrior and the periodic engagement in murderous acts, release from the softness of mothers and freedom from the calculativeness of the female in her market haggling. It requires spectacular, brief but profoundly consequential  acts, symbolised, outside murder or war, in the male monopoly of throat-cutting to kill beasts or in the harsh verdicts of male executive powers, preserving the unity of the clan against internal deviance (1998a: 36-7[4]). For women, on the other hand, there are only the menial, the soft, the repetitive and the private tasks. In this way, when Bourdieu earlier quotes Baudelaire’s poem Héautontimoroumenos, which includes the lines - “I am the wound and yet the knife/...The torturer and yet he who is flayed”, he interprets him as refusing to  adopt a stable perspective from either extreme position (1996c:78). Perhaps it is Baudelaire’s poem which provides the potent imagery for Bourdieu’s doublesided, tragic view of La Domination Masculine; but whatever the initial source, his theoretical construction also possesses another further dimension: “one begins to suspect that the torturer is also the victim ...” (1990: 23): the male is also mastered  by masculine domination[5].

            To grasp the ways in which the “long work of socialisation” operates on the agent, we must understand the fact that the habitus possesses a primordial sexual dimension. The habitus is a set of dispositions towards action. Rather like the craft skills of the experienced driver which teach him/her to anticipate potential disasters in a semi-unconscious way, the habitus rules out certain forms of action as “unthinkable”. But it also permits a certain freedom, hence the potential for fresh improvisation  as in the spontaneous riffs of the great jazz player.

            Yet at the most profound level, the social constructions of masculinity and femininity are actually written on the body  in the form of facial masks over emotion or controls, bodily stances, gaits, postures etc., much as the military man is drilled into his straight back[6](1990:26;1998a: 28-35).  To grasp this somatic expression of the political[7] - which Bourdieu calls the “bodily hexis” - is simultaneously to lay bare all the false essentialisms of sexism, even those which reappear in reversed form in feminist theorists such as Irigaray. The body, for Bourdieu as for Pascal earlier, is a “pense-bête” - a thinking animal (1990: 11; 1997:169). Ultimately, then, for Kabylians,  gender is a psychosomatic matter, conceived in terms of bodily oppositions - the straight man versus the crooked woman, the masculine direct gaze versus the female downward gaze. Over millennia,  the long work of socialisation goes into a process of naturalising the social[8]. Such processes have profound  consequences for the individual sense of self, demonstrated most graphically in the literal agoraphobia of a minority of women, who rule themselves out of the public space from which they have historically been excluded (1990:12).

            Secondly, Bourdieu’s theory seems to me to have an extraordinary appeal for its grasp of the seriousness of the game of masculine honour - or what he entitles  the “illusio” of masculine domination. In the West this  now exerts its effects in its pure form only on lower class “lads” who have no other “investments”. Perhaps the chief distinction of his theory of masculine  domination is its capacity to grasp simultaneously the economic/political interests at stake and also to enkindle a feel for the purely non-material, subjective, symbolic concerns that men retain in their competitive struggles between each other for reputation. This is true in relation to the illusio of the game of masculinity, whether it surfaces directly through the fighting honour of the Kabylean adult male or whether it is translated into the stakes for success in the scientific, military or artistic fields in more differentiated societies.

            In these quests for posthumously “making a mark” women fail to feature at all. Yet the cost of  creating such drastic exclusions, which confer significance on the “world-making” actions of men alone, is that they also potentially endanger men themselves with the possibility of ignominy and ridicule. Bourdieu documents this by a delicate reading of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which he understands as the work of one who brings to the light of day the peculiar insights of “une lucide exclue” (1990: 24-26 ; cf.1998a:76).  At issue in this text is especially Woolf’s portrayal of the alternation betweentyranny and self-doubt  on the part of her patriarch, Mr Ramsay, a figure who retains the character of absolute ruler within his family, despite his philosophical views of liberal enlightenment.  By contrast, Woolf’s women - whose eggs are not all in one basket - run less of a risk of humiliation and failure than do their men. Female honour is more a negative matter of chastity and fidelity. In brief, for Bourdieu, masculine honour is at once a privilege and a trap. This theory of honour also suggests the supports for the “libido dominandi”  (desire for mastery) which is at the heart of masculine domination. Not least among these is the  sexual charisma attached to the  powerful, which serves to attract women so predictably (1990:25) - as Clinton well knows[9].


Bourdieu’s most recent thought

            Today, Bourdieu argues, we live in a transitional epoch. The three most crucial structures in the perpetuation of masculine domination in modernity have been the Family, School (including both Universities and grandes écoles) and the Churches. These have served, historically, to create a “pessimistic vision” of women.Thus he takes issue with those feminists who see the domestic hearth as the fundamental starting-point of gender divisions and identifies these alternative structures as the key bearers.  Bourdieu’s particular expertise lies in revealing the nature of academic space. Of course, this is a field of contradiction and change. Nevertheless, educated culture in the past has been underpinned by Aristotelian presumptions about the inferiority of women. Today, homological  sexual divisions still permeate the academic world - thus  women tend to be in gynaecology and dermatology but not surgery, in the faculty of arts rather than science, in  lower-ranking fields rather than higher-ranking ones in disciplines such as philosophy (1998a: 98).

There is a further dimension. Women have always served as objects of exchange in marriage and have extended the social reproduction of the family by means of these marriages. In the bourgeois family, women have been  responsible for “the economy of symbolic goods “, including the appearance and unity of the family as a whole. Bourdieu argues, in my view contentiously[10],  that women’s work in the contemporary labour-market simply recapitulates this gender division of labour, centring on the presentation and representation of the self  and on their expertise in appearances. In this way women are consigned by amor fati (love of their fate) to use their femininity commercially - or, as  he puts it, they elect to continue their own dominated femininity[11] (1990: 29; 1998a:106-9). Thus he warns of the dangers of men rationalising women’s oppression within the labour-market, perpetuating masculine domination within women’s changed position (1990: 29; 1998a: 113-4).  If in Distinction, Bourdieu vividly dissected the work of the new service-sector economy with its cosmeticians, aromatherapists and reflexologists, in this study he stresses the same democratisation of luxury but links it up to the alienated choice of women.

             The limit case of such commercialised care is the  Japanese hostesses of “luxury clubs” with their provision of emotional and  sexual services for their male clients  (1998a: 107). Contrasted implicitly with these emotional services is the unalienated relationship of love, to which Bourdieu dedicates a poignant coda. Love is based on a willed alienation of the self in a form of reciprocity - however fragile - which transcends the commonsense opposition of altruism or egoism. Here Bourdieu breaks not only with ultramontane radical feminists - but with the harsh Sartrian view of love as a fraught  and dangerous trap.

            It is doubly striking that he has also extended his concern for masculine domination into a new area - homosexual love. In the 1998a text  he writes an entirely new appendix on gay movements for transformation in the legal field and  for social recognition. Bourdieu applies his theory in an unexpected way at this point, to argue that because gay men and lesbians have relatively greater access to cultural capital, they are particularly likely to win the strategic struggles over their own sexual legitimacy. He concludes by arguing that their experience of stigma and of other forms of oppression makes gays not only good champions of their own cause but also prominent in raising their voices in the social movements of other excluded groups less able to speak for themselves. 


Education, Late Capitalism and Women’s Entry to the Workforce

            I want now to raise certain questions. These are not posed in La Domination Masculine, which treats women’s oppression as analytically independent of class. Nevertheless, Bourdieu clarifies that this form of oppression has much more chance of surviving where it is part of a dialectic of distinction and pretension within which many forms of handicap - those of colonised or poor groups as well as sexual - can be used to disqualify people, and conversely less chance where the mechanisms of domination are well understood. Moreover, he links both the masculine point of honour and feminine actions in converting economic into symbolic capital to the actions required for the maintenance of the position of the (bourgeois) family overall (1998a: 104). In the light of this - and rather stressing the economic prerequisites of such positions - I recall Sir Keith Joseph’s advice to his Party in the 1970s that they should not oppose the employment of women workers, because they were in general docile and ununionised. I shall  suggest, further, that we may have been so taken up with women’s subjective experience, including the pioneering shattering of glass ceilings and  the creation of new professional lifestyles, that we might have been blind to other social facts.

            In The State Nobility  (1996a) Bourdieu begins to suggest a quite different formulation of the “new mode of reproduction” of the last 30 years. Rather than arranged marriage and dowries, he suggests, the dominant class has chosen to invest in the education of its daughters, to adopt changed fertility patterns and to benefit by their earning potential (1996a; 274-5; 287-9). This does not eliminate intra-class marriage - quite the contrary - the habitus operates to draw together partners from the same backgrounds and experiences within the university or grande école (1996a: 275). In general, women feature more prominently in the  preparatory classes for the grandes écoles, replacing the dominated class candidates in this respect (1996a:195)[12].

            Bourdieu’s work has taught us to be imaginative with regard to interests in education and especially to strategies of family advancement on the part of the grande bourgeoisie. The family itself is a field in which its members seek to be disinterested towards one another (1996b: 140). But simultaneously it is often the (extended) family which legitimates  a strategy of maximising your capitals . It is  not just a question of  amassing economic capital  - for this is a vulgar materialism (1996a: 531-3) -  it’s also useful to have in your family a bishop or a polytechnicien, thus the acquisition of symbolic capital.  The entry of women into the upper sections of the labour market, especially the higher professions or management,  could be regarded then as increasing your chances of keeping or gaining more “picture” cards in your family’s hand of cards:

One of the property of the dominants is to have families particularly       extended (the great have great families) and strongly integrated, because      united not just through the effects of the habitus, but also by the solidarity           of their interests, that’s to say, at once by capital and for capital, economic             capital certainly, but also symbolic capital (the name) and above all, perhaps, social capital (which one knows is both the condition for and the             consequence of the successful direction of capital on the part of the        members of this domestic unit). [ ...]

( 1996b:143).

            He has  recently argued that ethnomethodology is to some degree correct to see the family as an “illusion”, and to point to some indicators of  meltdown in such a constructed social entity (lone parents etc.). Yet there are also good sociological grounds for grasping the structures of the “esprit de famille”, which are still highly resilient. Here he points not just to the doxa in which to “have a family” is in the most basic status terms to normalise yourself but also the crucial nature of the family as an arena for State ratification and for the social reproduction of capitals, not least of course the inheritance of economic property. In this sense, the family is an illusion, yes, but a “well-founded one” (1996b: 145).

            It is in this same objectivating mode that I note that we have been slow to describe the class consequences of the increasing success of women as upwards invaders of service class jobs  or what Bourdieu would call the dominant class. What if the situation in 1999 were the exact obverse of the state in 1969  when “the question of sexual divisions and difference [were pushed] to the periphery of the historical process” (Alexander: 1984:127)”? What if we have become so mesmerised by these stories of women’s progress or its limits, that we failed to notice the increasing polarisation of class inequalities going on behind our backs, and the contribution of women’s work to this through the combining of high salaries at the service class level? After all, Mike Savage et al reveal that, in 1987, 61% of those families where the highest salary levels had been obtained (at that time, over £20,000) were those where there were dual service class incomes (1992: 156)[13].  Now I am  arguing neither against equal pay nor economic independence for women; I neither want to reduce women’s oppression to class, nor is there a simple way to relate this new information to programmes for reducing inequality. But these facts indicate that the split in class experience has become much wider than in the period from the mid-40s to the late 60s. This applies to both sexes. Working-class men  are culturally more denigrated and rendered more “abject” as a consequence of shifts in occupational structures and of  bourgeois women’s move into the labour-market. Working- class women suffer from the same injuries of class. Moreover, unlike their service-class sisters, they cannot throw off the double burden of paid work and housework:  “The best of times [and] the worst of times” Johanna Brenner quotes in relation to this class polarisation of  women, and this seems to me to aptly characterise the situation ( Brenner, 1993: 101; see also Walby, 1997)[14].

            In other words, perhaps a “disinterested” concern with the stakes of gender equality have increasingly masked material interests. Paradoxically, this might be true even in the area of so-called “materialist feminism”  since by a sleight of hand the “material” can come to mean only the “materiality of the signifier”, as in the work of Judith Butler (see below)[15]. But  - in Britain at least - it is  probable that the bourgeoisie[16] came to realise that it did not merely benefit by using women to socialise the next generation (Lovell, 1989: 133-151) but that it might gain also by utilising their educational capital in the labour-market (see Pickvance and Pickvance, 1994[17]).

             Certainly, there is considerable evidence in Britain of  earlier, extensive middle-class relative deprivation that might provide some of the motives  for this “change of heart” and  which explains (in part) the logic of the situation which has led to an emergent feminisation of management and professions.  Rereading Runciman’s 1966 Relative Deprivation and Social Justice, for example, we notice that the post-war settlement had, by 1962, produced a marked decline in the levels of satisfaction of  the middle class vis a vis the material improvements of the working-class[18] (Runciman, 1966: 89). One little indicator of this is the disappearance of  domestic servants in the interwar years (Runciman, 1966: 107- 109)[19]. Indeed the language of alienation used by Oakley of housework in the early 1970s is precisely to be understood in the context of the forced domestic labour of women previously free from menial and repetitive duties (1974). In this context it is important to realise how many of the earlier domestic staff have now been reconstituted as an indirect result of the decisions of middle-class women to work. As Gregson and Lowe have calculated, over one-third of  the middle class now employ cleaners and nannies (1995:155)[20]. It would be an irony if, in the name of emancipating women, the mental/manual divide became more entrenched so that the salaried women of the service class  controlled and exploited the menial or degraded labour of their sisters (Brenner, 1993: 158). And yet the reappearance in the last century of (wage-paid) servants in households  of a bourgeois rather than a feudal landowning class, reminds us that a “progressive” industrialist class by no means always bred progressive outcomes. Curiously enough, there were more domestic servants - those supposedly feudal relics - in Victorian Britain than factory-workers (Corrigan, 1977).

            The conceptual filters through which we catch these contemporary realities are often similarly misleading, this time in relation to fractions of the dominant class. For example, Savage et al - using Bourdieu’s concept of strategies- are right to suppose that there are differences in  the experience and mental structures of the higher professionals vis-a vis the private employer or manager, which they then go on to express as an “ascetic” lifestyle amongst professionals (Savage, et al. :1992: 207). But we might interrogate further the strategic “interest in disinterestedness” on the part of  this so-called “ascetic” professional group ( see Bourdieu, 1984: 250-1). Unlike the more market-loving entrepreneurial middle class, professionals typically denigrate an openly consumerist stance. Nevertheless, such “asceticism” rarely precludes the dignity of large houses and gardens, the graciousness made possible by the removal of menial chores and the social capital gleaned as the last strange harvest from the petty tortures of public schools. Moreover, within the service class as a whole it is worth noting the shift from the typically restrained body-image and frugal lifestyle of women such as Simone de Beauvoir (Moi  1993), to the new lifestyle of women adorned with power suits and Porsches, a shift encapsulated brilliantly in Bourdieu’s account of the rise of  a “new mandarin” stratum, with its distinctive body-culture (1996a).

            There is a coda to this argument. Bourdieu’s earlier works refer to a distinction between an “economy in itself”, like the peasant agriculture of pre-capitalist Kabylia,  and an “economy in and for itself”, as in the colonising, capitalist society  of France  (eg 1977: 172-3). Perhaps in this respect we might  also consider some of the wider impacts of the commodification of women’s labour-time (cf  E.P. Thompson, Glucksman). Lovell has pointed out with great acuteness that since bourgeois women also belonged to the oppressed and excluded members of 19th century Britain, they could offer an “angle of suffering” that made them more sensitive to the concerns of others (1989) . She extends this to the claim that there was a sexual division of labour in Victorian Britain, in which women became responsible for the ethical area and men for the calculative amoralism of the market (see also Davidoff and Hall (1987)). When women enter the workforce alongside bourgeois men this whole ethical sphere of  locally-based community institutions  procedes to fragment (cf Bourdieu, 1998a:105). In the sense that such institutions offer a (precarious) structural and physical bridge between classes (through political organisations, churches, scouts and guides etc.), the scarcity of time that provokes working women’s rejection of these roles brings much closer the ghettoising of forms of physical space along class lines, and with it, heightened class distance (see also, Bourdieu, 1993b)[21]. Women’s entry into the field of waged labour intensifies  a crisis in this form of gift exchange, ripping away the last paternalistic veil in the relations between the classes.


Areas of Contention in Bourdieu’s La Domination Masculine

History, literature and ideology

             It should be noted that Bourdieu’s work so far has been restricted to the analysis of the structural constants of masculine domination. I would argue that he has not yet sufficiently elaborated on the different types of patriarchy and their connection historically with different fields of power - feudal, absolutist, agrarian capitalist and industrial capitalist, etc.  In the cultural field, he has neither explored his crucial concept of masculine/ feminine honour in the different terrain of a gendered Protestant Ethic nor addressed the strategic vehicle of the novel in elaborating on the Protestant critique of aristocratic sexuality. There is a long and distinguished historical list of this kind of approach. Of recent studies, the Foucauldian analysis of Nancy Armstrong, for example, indicates the particular deployment of a new ideology of  (English) bourgeois morality centring on the strict domestication of women. She is persuasive in viewing this as especially important in the critique and demise of aristocratic morality (1987)[22]. In his tendency to prioritise for study universals of gender domination, Bourdieu has so far avoided entering into these detailed analyses of social transformation.

            Again, unlike Donzelot (1980), Sennett (1996) and Landes (1988), Bourdieu has not written on the eighteenth century genesis of the public sphere. Yet, once more, alongside its well-known experimentation with democratic forms, the public sphere had undoubted significance for gender relations, both through its initial flowering in salons where women were prominent and through the  relative absence in the eighteenth century of the subsequent ideal of a primarily child-centred family existence. Further, despite his familiarity with the work of Scott (1987), he has not elaborated on the association of married women’s paid factory work with moral degradation, as much in the discourses of nineteenth century French political economy as in contemporary French feminism (cf Landes).

            With the advent of  the modernist public sphere, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,  we have to note the cultural sexual divisions which made popular and middlebrow culture into a largely female terrain. The exclusion of women from the public space of modernist circles led to the women writers of socalled “middlebrow” fiction to possess much greater education or cultural capital than was the case for male middlebrow and popular writers (see Fowler, 1997:139-151). Women were thus constrained to attend to some features of popular projects of literature - for example, they used strong plot structures or encode within their novels  collective memories or folk-history. Not unlike Shostakovich  and  those unusual Soviet creative figures who avoided the twin dangers of an over-hermetic rarity and academic cliché, women were therefore constrained to keep one foot in the popular camp while they also experimented with elements of modernist technique or subject.


Bourdieu, Butler and Gender

             Bourdieu’s social theory has recently been contested in a new debate of considerable relevance for feminist thought. Judith Butler (1997) has attacked the socio-linguistic implications of his theory of practice as “conservative”. Such criticisms are not entirely without foundation, for it is difficult to see where Bourdieu does  identify the  source of  dynamism within the development of language (see especially Bourdieu (1991)).  Indeed, he regards the linguistic “market” for popular speech as inherently weak and compelled to exist cut off from the places where decisions are made. For him, popular language emerges publically only in marginal areas such as pubs and cafes, where working class men and women can speak freely, sustaining  a culture which has historically been unconstrained by the necessity for politeness. Bourdieu may not notice from his French vantage-point and his acquaintance with a culture which is rigorously prescriptive of  bourgeois literary linguistic usage, how  working-class, Afro-American and other transgressive forms of speech may under certain circumstances become accepted into the linguistic mainstream rather than remaining purely within the demotic currents of street-culture. As Walt Whitman once said, it is often from the most resonating areas of popular culture that change in language is generated, like the yeast in a lump of dough (see eg Fowler 1997; also Grignon and Passeron (1989)).

            Butler is therefore to some degree correct when she sees her efforts to theorise “resignification” and  her stress on an autonomous play with gender identities (1990) as threatened by Bourdieu’s theory in its present formulation.  As she remarks in Excitable Speech, the entire premises of “queer theory” and black revalorisations of “nigger” etc are challenged by Bourdieu’s Language and Symbolic Power. For Bourdieu interprets such counterhegemonic developments as equivalent to the merely childish innovations of literary experimenters. He argues tellingly that it is not enough to speak performatively (e.g. “I pronounce thee man and wife”) since social authorisation through delegation is necessary. In other words, social power is a prerequisite to influential speech and non-standard forms are permanently excluded from this. Butler, by contrast, recalls vividly those women, such as the black Afro-American, Rosa Parkes, who speaks authoratively - although without legitimate authority - to demand her civil rights. Butler thus champions the claims of a liberal avant-garde whose conceptual flexibility and imaginative freedom is undermined by what she sees as Bourdieu’s heavy sociologism. Indeed she accuses Bourdieu of mechanistic economism in the form of base and superstructure hankerings:

            “he combines a mimetic relation between the linguistic and the social,     rehabilitating the base/superstructure model whereby the linguistic    becomes epiphenomenal” (Butler, 1997: 157).

            Against this, it is my  view that Butler’s theory itself adopts the other extreme of an over- voluntaristic defence of an open future: a position which is vulnerable to the defensible criticisms made by Bourdieu of Sartre’s theoreticism and abstract notion of freedom (See Bourdieu, 1990a: 42-46; 51[23].) Moreover, Bourdieu’s social interpretation of language can be justified further when he claims that  it is not language alone that is at stake in linguistic development. Indeed, a creative, dynamic response to linguistic variation can only occur as a consequence of a whole set of shifts and restructurations of the balance of social forces between both classes and races.

            Bourdieu can surely not be accused of  the crude reflectionism of base and superstructure theories, when much of his theoretical life has been dedicated to stressing the power of classifications, representations and  ideology, and when he has explicitly repudiated the base-superstructure metaphor. Were this not so, he would hardly have needed to theorise both the forward-looking, utopian, imaginative power of  representations in art and literature and  the empirical findings which show how such “symbolic goods” are destined to end up in the hands of the dominants rather than the dominated[24].

             Bourdieu’s writing on art in fact contain a  wider theory about the fate of social transformation as a whole, and this should be extended to his arguments about ending masculine domination. For the fundamental aspect of this Bourdieusian theoretical insistence is his recognition not of the impossibity but of the fragility  of a “symbolic revolution”, such as those conceptualised in the arts, which may unite the strange bedfellows of Left intellectuals and ordinary workers, but too often on the basis of good intentions  rather than much mutual knowledge. In such symbolic appeals, as with feminism, he recognises the  possibility of change becoming bypassed into sectional interests rather than adopting a wider “universalistic” framework. Similarly his student, Sandrine Garcia, has described the internal narrowing of feminism from a broad, cross-class movement depending on the democracy of personal testimonial to a movement dominated by those with cultural and social capital (Garcia, 1994). Such movements can come to express within any given field  the specific resentments and  antagonistic relationships of a dominated fraction of the dominant class as well as those of the subordinate class, making the harnessing together of contradictions more difficult (Bourdieu, 1988: 178-80).

            Third - and most pressing - Bourdieu’s sociology brings to light the all too frequent historical experience of the “ghettoisation” of oppositional ideas, so that they are preserved at the level of rhetoric to which only lip-service is paid (hence his theory of the Church and the Museum).  It should be noted that Judith Butler’s appeal to the good conscience and good faith of the liberal avoids any consideration of  the realpolitik of historical interests and their embeddedness within certain institutional forms. Instead, it reduces gender to a voluntaristic schema of action, based on an easy game of discourses and their combative confrontation [25].

Determinism and Reflexivity

            I want finally to conclude with the long debate over Bourdieu’s  determinism ( see, for example, Alexander, 1995). There are some naive feminists who have seen Bourdieu’s sociology as drawing an illegitimate emphasis on women’s complicity with masculine domination (Armengaud, 1993: 87-8[26]). In my view this is based on an over-simplification, which ignores more complex themes. For example, Bourdieu remarks that in the canonical example of Kabylia, women still  possess a countervailing power to manipulate men by ruses and the use of magic, even if in performing these acts they are held to reveal their own supposed inferiority. (1998a: 38).

            But the issue of determinism is a crucial one in that it is in this arena that Bourdieu has been consistently accused of underemphasising the opportunities for agency. It is absolutely fundamental to note in this context that Bourdieu always insists that his theory of practice is not a theory of total determination. In the last analysis humans possess reflexivity. Reflexivity is precisely the conscious, rational  use of power to resist the various forms of determination linked to the social colonisation of the unconscious. These range from the body’s little acts of routinised  discipline, differentiated by gender, to the attractive appeal of the martyr role, most being acts which aid the established power of the dominants. The debunking ethos of carnival and pub in the area of popular culture, the role of critique and parody within the artistic sphere, and, finally, the force of a scientific socioanalysis, all gain their effectiveness from operating as aids to reflexivity. They thus create vital areas of “indeterminacy”  where a “logic of flux” takes over and a more active, path-breaking agency can take place. Historically, the role of “defrocked priests” and uprooted, plebeian intellectuals has been to serve as crucial conduits, transmitting the marginalised ideas arising within the religious and academic fields to the mass of the subordinate classes. 



            Bourdieu’s theories are realist in that they force us to understand the difficulties of change, including, in the sphere of gender, the collusion of some women (cf Krais, 1993). I have argued above that we need to examine closely what he teaches us about the interaction of gender and material interests. However, if his magnum opus, Distinction, offers a classically disenchanted  portrayal of a new, post-Keynesian mode of reproduction, with its fracturing of the petty-bourgeoisie and its increased allure of market seductions, his more recent works have been written with a greater sense of political urgency[27]. These derive from a more prophetic polemical intervention against neo-liberalism and risk a more “rational utopian” alternative, in order to challenge what he calls the “technocracy” and the “bankers’ economic realism” (1998b: 26). He has helped found  an États Généraux of oppositional forces that might undertake the necessary work of challenge and confrontation in order to avert the return of barbarism (1998b:52). Recalling certain key Republican reforms of the Third Republic (1870-1914) as a French heritage, Bourdieu nevertheless now argues for a new Europeanism and a new Internationalism. The historical experience of women prompts them to become agents of such a transformation, especially given his warnings about ways in which patriarchal societies might be rationalised in the interests of domination.

             Bourdieu is increasingly seen in Anglo-American thought as perhaps the most significant living  social scientist, yet he is now in an embattled position in France. Indeed, his own position as an authority has recently been challenged as a form of “intellectual terrorism” (Le Monde, 27.8.98 and Libération 28.8.98). In my view, we should defend his achievements, but, of course, with a critical gaze!






Alexander, J (1995) Fin de Siècle Social Theory: Relativism, Reduction and the Problem of Reason, London, Verso.

Alexander, S. (1984)  Women, Class and Sexual Differences in the 1830s and 1840s: Some Reflections on the Writing  of a Feminist History, History Workshop Journal, 18, 125-149.

Armengaud, F. (1993) Pierre Bourdieu: Grand Temoin? Nouvelles Questions Feministes, Vol 14, no. 3, 83-88.

Armstrong, N. (1987) Desire and Domestic Fiction, Oxford, OUP.

Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge, C.U.P.

Bourdieu, P. (1988) Homo Academicus, Cambridge, Polity.

Bourdieu P (1990a) The Logic of Practice, Cambridge, Polity

Bourdieu (1990) La Domination Masculine, Actes de la recherche en sciences Sociales, 84, 2-31.

Bourdieu, P (1991) Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge, Polity.

Bourdieu P. (1993a) The Field of Cultural Production, Cambridge, Polity.

Bourdieu, P. et al (1993b)  La Misère du Monde, Paris, Seuil, 1993

Bourdieu, P. and Haacke, H. (1995) Free Exchange, Cambridge, Polity.

Bourdieu (1996a) The State Nobility, Cambridge, Polity

Bourdieu (1996b) Raisons Pratiques, Paris, Seuil.

Bourdieu, P. (1996c) The Rules of Art, Cambridge, Polity.

Bourdieu (1998a) La Domination Masculine, Paris, Seuil.

Bourdieu (1998b) Acts of Resistance, Cambridge, Polity.

Brenner, J. (1993) The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: U.S. Feminism Today, New Left Review , no. 200, July-August, 101-160.

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble, Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, London, Routledge.

Butler, J. (1997) Excitable Speech, London, Routledge

Corrigan, P. (1977) Feudal Relics or Capitalist Monuments? Sociology, Vol 11, no. 3, 453-463.

Davidoff, L. and Hall, C. (1987) Family Fortunes, London, Hutchinson.

Donzelot, J. (1980), The Policing of Families, London: Hutchinson.

Ferguson, H. (1997) Me and My Shadows: On the Accumulation of  Body-Images in Western Society, Parts 1 and 2; Body and Society, Vol 3, Nos. 3 and 4.

Garcia, S , (1994) Project for a Symbolic Revolution: The Rise and Fall of the Women’s Movement in France, South Atlantic Quarterly, 93, Fall 1994 no. 4 (Special Issue: Materialist Feminism), 825 - 870.

Glucksman, M. A. (1998) What A Difference A Day Makes: A Theoretical and Historical Explanation of Temporality and Gender, Sociology, Vol 32, no. 2,


Gregson N. and Lowe, M., Too Much Work? Class, Gender and the Reconstitution of Middle-Class Labour, in T. Butler and M. Savage (1995), Social Change and the Middle Classes, London, U.C.L. Press,.

Grignon, C and Passeron, J.-C., (1989), Le Savant et le Populaire, Paris, Seuil.

Hobsbaum, E (1996) Identity Politics and the Left, New Left Review, 217, May- June, 38-48.

Krais, B. (1993) Gender and Symbolic Violence, 156-177 in eds. C. Calhoun, E. Lipuma and M. Postone, Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives, Cambridge, Polity.

Landes J. (1988) Women and the Public Sphere, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Lovell, T (1989) Consuming Fiction, London, Verso.

Lovell, T. ed. (1990) British Feminist Thought, Oxford, Blackwell.

Landes, J. (1988) Women and the Public Sphere,  Cornell U.P.

Macdonald, M. (1989-80) Cultural Reproduction: The Pedagogy of Sexuality, Screen Education, nos. 32-3, 141-153.

Maravall, J.A. (1985) Culture of the Baroque: Analysis of a Historical Structure, Manchester, Manchester U.P.

Moi, T. (1993) Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman, Oxford, Blackwell.

Murray, M. (1995) The Law of the Father, London, Routledge.

Oakley, A. (1974) The Sociology of Housework, London, Martin Robertson.

Pollert, A. (1981) Girls, Wives and Factory Lives, London, MacMillan.

Pickvance, C. and Pickvance,K. (19 94), Towards a Strategic Approach in Housing Behaviour, Sociology, Vol 28, no. 3, August, 657- 677.

Runciman, W.G.(1966)  Relative Deprivation and Social justice, London, RKP

Savage, M et al, Property, Bureaucracy and Culture, London, Routledge 1992.

Scott, J.W. (1987) L’Ouvriere! Mot Impie, Sordide! Discourses of Political Economy on Women’s Work, 119-143 in ed. P. Joyce, The Historical Meanings of Work, Cambridge, C.U.P.

Sennett, R. (1996) The Fall of Public Man, London, Faber.

Skeggs, B. (1997) Formations of Class and Gender, London, Sage.

Sokal, A. and Bricmont J. (1998) Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers’ Abuse of Science, London, Profile.

Turner, B. (1996), The Body and Society, London, Sage.

Walby, S (1990) Theorising Patriarchy, Oxford, Blackwell.

Walby, S. (1997) Gender Transformations, London, Routledge.  


Bridget Fowler, University of Glasgow.

[1] The phrase is Terry Lovell’s - see British Feminist Thought,1990.

[2] Akin to Sylvia Walby, Bourdieu suggests that there have indeed been shifts between “private” and “public” patriarchy: however, implicitly cutting across her classification, he identifies a  public, State-registered gendering of activities, such as military service, which has persisted into the twentieth century and which has been associated particularly with modern nationalist and authoritarian regimes (1998a: 94-5). His earlier work certainly resonates with depictions of Kabylean women which pinpoint their divergence from the Western canonical bourgeois pattern - it is they who monopolise the profane task of selling at the market, for example, not men, while a cultural ethos celebrating their capacity for productive labour unites rural Bearn with rural Kabylia, segmenting these forms of patriarchy from those based on women’s conspicuous leisure or specialised consumption of symbolic goods.But the bourgeois conception of the private sphere and the “family-household ideology“ (Barrett and MacIntosh, Donzelot, Sennett etc) receive little elaboration in this theory, which is aimed at a socioanalysis to counter the amnesia of structural constants, rather than a historical theory to explain the range and source of variations.  

[3] It might be added here that Bourdieu rejects the sort of argument that Greer adopts in her The Obstacle Race, where she argues that the abnegation of  their creativity is an internal matter of women’s consciousness (as opposed to an external constraint). Bourdieu argues that it is rather a strategic choice of action to be grasped beyond the level of the purely calculative consciousness but not, at the other extreme, to be mechanically linked to the demands of the economy or the State. Such choices are located rather in the semi-unconscious fit of practice with th e actor’s gender habitus (1990: 11).

[4] Bourdieu  recalls a similar division of labour from his childhood in the agricultural area of Bearn, where it is the men who undertake the dramatic act of pig-sticking, spending a leisurely day afterwards relaxing with cards, whereas the women are endlessly busy preparing the sausages, black pudding and pates (1998a: 36-7)

[5] The significance of the exclusion of women from the martial arts lies precisely in their exclusion from the supreme sacrifice of individual death for the collectivity. Historically, it is this gender division which has been so significant in legitimating masculine power and which  has been so conspicuously absent in the democracies of post-war Europe. But on the questions of nationalism, the struggles over bearing arms and gender divisions, see Cynthia Ensloe, especially on women’s attempted resistance to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

[6] Bourdieu’s concen for the sociological and anthropological  analysis of the body places him in the traditions of Feuerbach, Durkheim and Hertz (on the left hand). The body has been read as the site of  social representations in the work of  BrianTurner, who has stressed especially the control of the female body through medieval exercises in asceticism and (with different cosmological significance) bourgeois women’s hysteria and use of corsetry (see The Body and Society). But perhaps the most important historical exposition of the profound impact of different world-visions on the body is proposed by Ferguson: see especially his contrast between the early bourgeois sense of the body as a hermetically-sealed container impermeable to outside influence, and the late bourgeois or modern sense of the body as delicately exposed like filaments of an electric bulb (Ferguson: 1997). It goes without saying that Bourdieu’s similar break with the mind-body dualism inherent in the Cartesian project is a welcome development. Bourdieu’s conception of the human body as substantially formed by “society in the mind”gives his modelling of gender divisions a depth which Turner never quite achieves and which owes much to the sociological interpretations of the somatised body proposed by Elias.    

[7] Bourdieu has paid homage to the work of Erving Goffman, thus marking himself off from many of his French colleagues. Goffman’s stress on the bodily signs (tie signs in the couple etc.) that betray the state of inner relationships (Relations in Public) and on the somatisation of the body to display regulated gender, as in his prophetic Gender Advertisements,suggests that there are  instructive parallels within his distinctive brand of structuralism and that of Bourdieu’s theory of practice.

[8] See especially Bourdieu’s Le Mort et le Vif (1980), which assesses the nature of reification in history and which quotes specifically from Elias’s historical sociology. It should be added that the cosmologies and thus the languages of precapitalist societies are more profoundly ordered by gender divisions than are those of capitalist modernity (Bourdieu,1990:13).

[9] Bourdieu concludes his Actes article on masculine domination by arguing that so long as distinction is cast in the form of social distinction to be gained by a competitive struggle against the forces of nature, women will be consigned to an inferior role (1990:31). In brief - masculine domination is merely a specific form of  a wider phenomenon of deprecatory distinction. In such games of distinction women are invoked both as symbolic goods in themselves and as representatives of an inverted economy of symbolic goods which naturalises, eternises and homogenises femininity in the interests of a dominant gender.

[10] This claim as to the underlying logic of women’s paid labour has had its critics. For a different (and more persuasive) interpretation, see Walby, who identifies a marked reduction in segregation by gender overall (1997:37) and emphasises the role of women’s cheaper  productive labour within the successive “rounds of capitalist restructuring” (ch. 3) rather than their specialised presentation or sale of symbolic goods, or restriction within certain professions. On this point, see also Pollert (1981).

[11] This is also an over-generalisation. It seems to me that women’s experience of  previously male middle-class habitus(es) has tended to make them less sensitive, more resilient and closer to the “strong women” of many regional working class cultures. As well as the Madonna image, which Bourdieu’s discussion evokes, we might talk of Mother Courage (see also MacDonald, 1979/80: 153).

[12] The increasing number of titles (cultural capital) possessed by all the heirs - girls as well as boys, younger as well as older children, alongside the demand that a proportion of the non-heirs be given titles, all create a tendency to “overproduction”(1996a: 287).

[13] It is precisely in the upper sections of the service class (or, in French terms, the “State nobility” or haute bourgeoisie), where rewards from single salaries alone are upwards of £100,000, that the full impact of the dual income is most apparent.

[14] Although, in relation to the dominant class, working-class masculinityhas become more “abject” as the last refuge of machismo, ethnographic study shows that working-class women continue to experience their femininity as a burdensome responsibility (Skeggs, 1997).

[15] Skeggs again points out that “class has almost disappeared from feminist analyses, even those claiming a materialist feminist position“ (1997:6).

[16] This is a shorthand for a variety of different class fractions which occupy a position of superiority as regards control over, and appropriation of, resources on the market.

[17] This research  emphasises numerous strategies in realising aspirations for housing such as delays in having children, acceptance of certain undesirable types of work, etc. The authors restrict their analysis to conscious decisions, although they accept that it would be possible also to include unconscious strategies based on cultural transmission. Bourdieu’s concept of habitus allows us to dispense with this dichotomy. It should be noted that this research did not study the service class (or  grande bourgeoisie) specifically, although it does distinguish between manual workers’ options (eg staying in the parental home longer than liked ) and middle class options (eg moving together earlier than planned) (1994: 671).

[18] Although Runciman notes that the improvements of the manual working-class didn’t end the poverty of 5.4% of the whole pop. and was compatible with the top 10% owning 79% of the wealth (1954) Runciman (87; 89), he states the significance of middle-class responses in these terms:

“Given this general belief, and what was certainly an advance on the part of manual workers, there is nothing surprising in the resentments voiced by members of the middle classes. The knowledge that manual workers, however few, could now earn upwards of £20 a week and be the possessors not merely of television sets but of motor cars, was enough by itself to exacerbate their fears of a decline in terms of traditional middle-class standards.” (89)

[19] “[T]he working-class might not feel themselves to be the equal of the rich but they did not feel themselves to be their servants either” (Runciman, 109)

[20] They remark that  the fact that“[O]ver a third of middle-class households employ domestic waged labour in some form or another seems to testify to the crisis in daily social reproduction within middle-class households in Britain and to the reconstitution of domestic work on class lines” (1995:155). They also point out the consequences of the changes:

“Such observations suggest that we may be witnessing the collapse of the post-war association in Britain between all women and all domestic tasks. Indeed, our research provides evidence for --- the transfer of the dirtiest, heaviest and most physically-demanding and/or labour-intensive tasks to working-class women... a class-mediated hierarchy of domestic tasks is once more being constructed.” (1995:159).

                I would agree with these remarks, although it is of course an empirical question as to whether women’s experience of jobs in the commercialised service or production sectors is more favourable, and there are of course a diversity of personality patterns and consequent needs. There is no necessary engine of history ensuring that women workers in the service sector will always have access to significantly greater material and power resources thanin domestic service, although that has been the more general  experience when such work has been contrasted in the past.

[21] To this picture of cross-class activities, we should mention the frequent experience of  “burn out” amongst teachers, social workers, nurses and drugs counsellors, who represent the compassionate, “feminine” “left hand” of the State against its neo-liberal, masculine “right hand” (Bourdieu, 1998a:95).

[22]  Armstrong ‘s weakness is to also display the tendency of  Foucauldians to eliminate the elements of dissidence and tension within such “discourses”.

[23] Bourdieu remarks that Butler seems herself to have given up the view that gender transformation is like putting on a new set of clothes, citing her Bodies that Matter, (1998a:110n)

[24] The absence in his work of any extended analysis of contemporary cultural production which has operated as a transformative weapon for change does not alter this point. The exception is his affirmation of the work of the performance artist, Hans Haacke(see (with Haacke) Free Exchange, 1995).

[25] See also Lovell’s opposition of Bourdieu and Butler and her skilful navigation of a passage between their incompatible accounts of masculine domination (Lovell, T.(1997) Passing, Bourdieu Conference,Glasgow [I am grateful to Terry Lovell for letting me see the full version prior to publication])

[26] Armengaud also condemns Bourdieu’s Distinction and the Actes article on La Domination Masculine for approprating the work of many French feminist scholars,  without citation. This may be due to a distancing of his scholarly work from some of the practices current in French philosophy and social science which have permitted the spurious, or even meaningless, inclusion of references to formal logic, mathematical theory and theoretical physics. It might be noted here that Bourdieu  - and other French scholars - are thanked for their support in the critique of such sometimes spectacular misuses (Sokal and Bricmont:1998:xiii ).  

[27] At the risk of comparing dissimilar histories, I would argue that there is a parallel between the disenchantment typical of the “mentalité” of the baroque and the disillusionment of Distinction (and other contemporary texts) as they depict the “baroque stage” of late capitalism, a development of the market analogous to the seventeenth century Spanish monarchs’ instrumental use of mass culture (Maravall,1985).