Pierre Bourdieu & Roger Chartier on false problems of sociology & history

ROGER CHARTIER: It seems to me that the social sciences – sociology, history, anthropology – are currently all occupied with the attempt to resolve a dilemma (which is perhaps a false problem anyway) between what dominated them in the 1960s, that is, approaches in terms of structures, hierarchies, objective positions, and, on the other hand, all of those attempts which /…/ desire to restore the actions, strategies and representations of individuals /…/ It is clear that in history, after the dominance of a social history aiming at exhibiting the objective hierarchies of a society, /…/ we are now geared to approaches that seek to conceie the roles of subjects. Hence the return to biography, the return to intentionality, /…/
I believe that this tension exists not only in history, but also in sociology. In the last book that you published, Choses dites, there is an interview that takes up this opposition – between structuralist approaches and all those others that have something in common with phenomenology, whether they are called interactionism, ethnomethodology or whatever – but only to declare it false or ineffective. It seems to me that for you /…/ these oppositions are largely false problems, but are non the less essential because they allow people readily to stand out and present an easy image of originality and innovation, while others, who remain loyal to structures, are dismissed as traditional or archaic. /…/

PIERRE BOURDIEU: /…/ if these false sociological problems, false scientific problems, persist, this is because they are often based on real social problems or on real social interests. For example, as you suggested, I believe that the majority of these oppositions between macro and micro, objective and subjective, and today, among historians, between economic analysis and political analysis, and so on, are false oppositions that do not resist three seconds of theoretical analysis, but that they are extremely important because they fulfil social functions for those who use them. For example, the scientific field unfortunately obeys laws of change that are completely similar to that of haute couture or that of the religious field. In other words, young people, new arrivals, start revolutions, create heresies, either real or pretend, and say: “Look, the oldies have all bored us in thirty years with economic history in the style of Labrousse and Braudel /…/” That’s exactly the same as dresses that are longer one year and shorter the year after…
Now, why are those problems false problems? /…/ First of all, there is Durkheim’s idea that sociology is difficult because we all see ourselves as sociologists. /…/ one of the obstacles to understanding is this illusion of immediate comprehension. One of the ways to break with it is to objectivize it. So we get that famous sentence thich was like a thunderclap in the world of science: “Social facts must be treated as things.”

Excerpt from Pierre Bourdieu & Roger Chartier, The sociologist & the historian (Polity 2015)

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