This chapter aims to show that Bourdieu mobilized in his work an in-depth and very particular reading of Marx and of certain Marxists. He always kept his distance from Marxist economic theorizing, as he did, moreover, with those operated in the two other great economic “paradigms”: neoclassical and Keynesian, but also various theoretical traditions, which he saw as toolboxes more than reference spaces in which he would navigate. Early reader of Capital, from which he adopts some concepts or schemes, trained as a philosopher in a context of centrality of Marxism in the French intellectual field, Bourdieu was at the same time very early opposed to the influential communist “stalinian” mood at the École normale supérieure and in the university. In 1963, he nevertheless accepted an invitation to present his work on educational inequality at Louis Althusser’s seminar, with his young colleague Jean-Claude Passeron. Until 1968, Althusser was favourable to Bourdieu’s sociological engagement, and Bourdieu-inspired sociologists were, for some of them, relatively closer to Marxist intellectuals and organizations, including the then powerful Communist Party. This complex posture led Bourdieu to a very ambivalent form of systematic and apparently contradictory mixture of avoidance and close relationship, which would become more pronounced in two historical contexts: the “Marxist moment” of May 1968 and the following years, and the collapse of the reference to Marx in the French intellectual and political field at the turn of the 1970s. A third and new period of proximity and more direct intellectual confrontation emerges after 1993 and the publication of La misère du monde (The Weight of the World), which I will analyse in depth. Using various sources, I propose a realistic and systematic account of a very original Marx reading and usage, which relates to a not less original scientific habitus. Distinguishing different contexts of uses and references, I also try to stress the strong continuity in the double and circular movement of his thought, combining a close and empathic relation to an intellectual tradition on one side, and a more critical vision of its political and symbolic expressions and uses on the other side, the last being based on a stance on sociological reflexivity, which makes Marxism a central object of analysis.
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Bourdieu was a close friend of Eric Hobsbawm from the 1960s until the early 2000s.
Bourdieu has never ceased to soak himself in empirical economics texts, such as the studies undertaken by various French institutes, the work of François Morin, the studies carried out by a research group on savings, the Marxist studies of François Chesnais on globalization in the 1990s, and so on. There are very explicit traces of his readings in the references of Distinction or of The Social structures of the economy.
A specific study should be devoted to these controversial attacks, which appear primarily in the footnotes, and to the preliminary rebuttals of adverse positions, which are quite frequent in Bourdieu’s work and which, in certain respects, link this work to a tradition of lively intellectual debate revolving around intellectual Marxism, as illustrated, for instance, by Lenin’s book Materialism and Empirio-criticism. This explains in part why researchers who are more or less right-wingers tend repeatedly to equate Bourdieu purely and simply with Marxism, or even with Marxism-Leninism, and to replace scientific discussion with ideological condemnation. Indeed, these researchers forget the close ties between the Bourdieu of the 1960s and Raymond Aron, a symbolic figure of a form of anti-Marxism (on this point, see Joly 2012).
See the publication of this interview in Questions de sociologie (Sociological Questions) (Bourdieu 1980). There is a relatively close formulation at the very end of Outline of a Theory of Practice, where the “final resort” becomes a “final analysis,” which leads to the admission that symbolic capital ultimately depends on economic capital. This was in 1972.
The globalization issue is at the centre of Marxist economics, as is that of financialization. In The Social Structures of the Economy, Bourdieu refers to François Chesnais, a Marxist economist with Trotskyist training, who worked for the OECD. One of Chesnais’s works is published in the Raisons d’Agir collection founded by Bourdieu after 1995.
In particular, the postscript to the Rules of Art, in 1992 for the French edition, sets out Bourdieu’s position with regard to the defence of social conquests: particularly in the most autonomous fields and in the context of the globalization of economic power: Bourdieu (2018).
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Lebaron, F. (2022). Bourdieu, Marx, and the Economy. In: Paolucci, G. (eds) Bourdieu and Marx. Marx, Engels, and Marxisms. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-06289-6_11
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