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Marx/Bourdieu: Convergences and Tensions, Between Critical Sociology and Philosophy of Emancipation

Part of the Marx, Engels, and Marxisms book series (MAENMA)


This text proposes a partial confrontation between the critical thought of Karl Marx and that of Pierre Bourdieu, within the framework of a new exploratory hermeneutics of theoretical texts, which breaks with the presupposition of coherency of “works” and “authors” in the wake of Michel Foucault’s warnings in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969). By dissociating the concepts and methods from the “works” from which they are derived, our ambition is to create renewed “sparks of knowledge.” To do this, we will keep at a distance from the systematic reconstructions called “Marxism” or “Bourdieusianism.”

Four fields are explored. The first field concerns the methodology of the social sciences: specifically, the relationship between observed concrete facts and theoretical abstraction. The second field concerns the sociology of social classes between objectivism and constructivism. Bourdieu’s “structuralist constructivism” and Marx’s hesitations between economism and constructivism are compared. The third field concerns the theory of praxis between the sociology of action and revolutionary politics. The fourth field concerns the political philosophy of emancipation, important in Marx’s approach, present but more marginal in Bourdieu, who is rather inspired by Spinoza’s work on the knowledge of determinisms, thus narrower than that of Marx.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-031-06289-6_6
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  1. 1.

    I thank Keith Dixon (who was active in the Marxist ranks and who collaborated with Pierre Bourdieu in Association Raisons d’Agir) for his translation of this chapter, an example of his generosity in friendship. The quotations from Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault are translated from the French editions and the pagination of the books by Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and Jacques Rancière also refers to the French editions.

  2. 2.

    See also, as a further contribution to this critique, once again in 1969, the conference entitled “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?” (Foucault 2001).

  3. 3.

    On the concept of critical sociology which underlies the analyses presented in this text, see Corcuff (2012a).

  4. 4.

    On the political philosophy of emancipation used here, see Corcuff (2015).

  5. 5.

    The pair “class in itself”/“class for itself” is of marginal importance in the work of Marx, and appears only in six sentences of The Poverty of Philosophy, a polemical text written against Proudhon and published in 1847: “Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle.” [Marx 1955: Chapter Two-Part 5].

  6. 6.

    “Resuscitating the possibles, Marx, despite his vigorous cleansing, does not entirely escape from traces of the scientific, historial and progressive religiosity, that was so characteristic of his century,” admits the heretical Marxist philosopher, Daniel Bensaïd (1990: 153).

  7. 7.

    On the tendency to dissociate structural social critique and emancipation in the early twenty-first century, facilitating the development of “post-fascist” uses of hypercritical conspiracy theories which provide justifications for xenophobic, sexist and homophobic discrimination in a nationalist theoretical framework, see my study of the French case (Corcuff 2021).

  8. 8.

    With a view to re-associating structural social critique and emancipation, see the political philosophy of Miguel Abensour (1939–2017), now sadly no longer with us; cf. the interesting synthesis provided by Manuel Cervera-Marzal (2013). See also the sociological work of Luc Boltanski (2009) and, on the crossroads between sociology and political philosophy, our own exploration of these issues (Corcuff 2012a).

  9. 9.

    From his youthful to his late writing, we provide a sample illustrating Marx’s major preoccupation with individuality in the second part of our Marx XXIe siècle, entitled “From the wounded individual to the “total man”” (Corcuff 2012b: 59–98).


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Corcuff, P. (2022). Marx/Bourdieu: Convergences and Tensions, Between Critical Sociology and Philosophy of Emancipation. In: Paolucci, G. (eds) Bourdieu and Marx. Marx, Engels, and Marxisms. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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