A Class Act

After six weeks of a Masters programme in Paris, it is the half-term holiday and I am going back to Lancashire for a short visit. It is a moment to restore and prepare for the next slog, which culminates just before Christmas.

Sociology is an important element in the course and while in the first half we have examined critical theories (Benjamin, Adenauer and Habermas), the next part will involve a sociological autoportrait. 

Bourdieu’s last published piece in 2004 (Esquisse pour une auto-analyse) was an exploration of all things cultural that made him. It is an attempt to understand which environmental factors have played a role in one’s becoming: how did Bourdieu, son of a working class family in rural southern France, end up becoming one of the country’s most important thinkers?

The first, instinctive, response is to say that he was very, very clever. But in a world where there are many very clever people, this kind of answer no longer cuts the mustard.

The second response then is to look at his upbringing and to recognise that a cultural world beyond the one he was born into moulded him. It gave him an understanding of another modus vivendi, and allowed him to move beyond his class.

The rest was probably just hard work.

When I learned about the specifics of this final task – namely that we will have to analyse our own upbringing through a Bourdieusian prism – I almost spat out my caviar. I have spent the last five years trying to understand what happened when I was at Oxford University. They were five years of my life that took me from Lancashire and spat me back out in Paris. There was a baptism by fire of social mores, academic rigour, and class protocol. Not just the place, my degree (Latin and French) was and continues to be a quagmire: What are you going to do with Latin? Where do they even speak it? You wasted at your time at university, didn’t you?

Here I am now, though, writing with a Waterman in the Historic Library of Paris, living by the Pompidou Centre, studying at the Sorbonne, and wondering what strange web of agents and actors led me here.  

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