Symbolic Capital and Social Classes

In this short but dense piece, written for a special issue of the journal L’Arc devoted to the medieval historian Georges Duby (whose sprawling oeuvre Bourdieu admired and drew on for its scrupulous genealogy of the mental-cum-social structure of the feudal triad of knight, priest, and peasant, Bourdieu sums up and clarifies the core thesis of Distinction just as he was completing the book. Th is article is valuable for (1) stating forthrightly Bourdieu’s conception of the ‘double objectivity’ of the social world and spotlighting the recursive constitution of social and mental structures; (2) stressing the performative capacity of symbolic forms and their multi-level implication in social struggles over and across social divisions; and (3) suggesting alluring parallels and obstinate differences between Bourdieu’s ‘genetic structuralism’ and both the literary vision of Marcel Proust and the marginalist microsociology of Erving Goffman – two of his favorite mental ‘sparring partners.’ In all, this article illuminates how Bourdieu mingled Marx’s sensuous materialism, Durkheim’s teachings on classification (later extended by Cassirer), and Weber’s insights into hierarchies of honor into a sociological model of class all his own.

Released: Replika 87, 7–18.
Ágoston Fáber