Reading Bourdieu

Some months ago in the world of the social networks, I saw an interesting request by an undergraduate, asking for help about the best place to start with Bourdieu. Undoubtedly, one of the best sociologists of all times, Pierre Bourdieu is also one of the least understood. Many attribute this to his difficult writing style. Others say that social science is very difficult: if we start from the premise that we think we know how the social world operates, it is not surprising to see that when someone explains the complexity of the social world, we do not understand anything. It is because the things explained are so strange and so different from how we think they are that we offer a brutal resistance. This is the case with the work of Pierre Bourdieu.

That’s why it is needed a good start to read Bourdieu. A slow dive. It is not good to start reading his major works (Distinction, Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, Homo Academicus, Outline of a Theory of Practice, The State Nobility, Practical Reason or The Logic of Practice, The Rules of Art, Language and Symbolic Power, Masculine Domination, The Social Structures of Economy, Pascalian Meditations, The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger, Science of Science and Reflexivity, The Inheritors, The Love of Art, or Reproduction). The best is to start reading the three following books (in order): 1- Sociology in Question, 2- In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology, 3- An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. The various articles in these three books come primarily from two sources: interviews and lectures. This means that the language used is simple, avoiding the endless sentences full of subordinate: the spoken language requires few clear words to say things. In this sense, these three books are the best place to start with Bourdieu.

The value of these first three readings lies in: a) their informative nature, b) the general exposition of bourdieunian analytical frame and c) the very complete guide to the books of Pierre Bourdieu that they contain. However, these are introductory readings. That is, it is necessary to continue reading more books by Bourdieu to understand it better. In this sense, complementary to these first three theoretical readings, there are two other readings. These are concrete examples in which the Bourdieu’s analytical model is applied. These are the following books (in order): 1- On Television, 2- Propos sur le Champ Politique (only in French). These two books are still written using an accessible language because they are addressed to the general public: On Television is a transcription of a lecture on journalism broadcast on television and Propos sur le Champ Politique are several conversations between Bourdieu, Philippe Fristch and the audience at the conference on politics compiled in the book.

After reading these five books, you can start thinking in the reading of Bourdieu’s more difficult books. That is, in the reading of Distinction. To read this book, before you must read the following books (in the same order): 1- Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, 2- The Inheritors, 3- The Love of Art, 4- Reproduction, and, finally, 5- Distinction.

At this point, you can read the rest of the Bourdieu’s work in the order you want, although I encourage you to read theoretical books like 1- Outline of a Theory of Practice, 2- The Logic of Practice and 3- Practical Reason in order to understand better the aspects of Bourdieu’s work not yet understood.