Conference – « Bourdieu and Literature »

Bourdieu and Literature

Saturday 16th May 2009

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was one of the pre-eminent figures in a French intellectual field that included Barthes, Blanchot, Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard, and which launched semiology, deconstruction and postmodernism. Highly influential in the disciplines of sociology, anthropology and cultural studies, and highly visible in his later years as an outspoken public intellectual, Bourdieu’s legacy continues to inspire research and debate across national frontiers and academic disciplines.

Supported by the Warwick Humanitites Reseach Centre and the French Studies Society, the Bourdieu and Literature conference comes at a moment of growing interest in Bourdieu’s work on literature. Bringing together scholars and staff from across the faculties, the Bourdieu and Literature will provide both an introduction to Bourdieu’s work on literature, and a supportive workshop environment to test ideas. Speakers will demonstrate and explore the range and potential of Bourdieu’s theory and method of literary analysis; examine the political implications of Bourdieu’s work on literature; and situate it in the context of Bourdieu’s wider œuvre.


Featuring internationally recognized keynotes Anna Boschetti, Jeremy Lane, Michael Grenfell and Neil Lazarus, this conference will attract delegates in both the humanities and the social sciences who have either an established or emerging interest in Bourdieu. Due to the generalizability of Bourdieu’s concepts and methodology,  the Bourdieu and Literature conference will be relevant to researchers and academics working across the range of national literary traditions, including French, German, Italian and English. Sociologists will also benefit from this opportunity to reflect on an underexamined but central component in Bourdieu’s intellectual project.


Please visit the Bourdieu and Literature website for more information and a booking form


For further information contact




Provisional Programme


09:30 – 10.15 Registration; tea and coffee (Ground Floor Foyer, Humanities)


10.15 – 10.20 Introduction (H052)


“Bourdieu, Language and Literature: Theory and Practice”


10.20 – 11.00 Michael Grenfell (Trinity College, Dublin) (H052)


11.00 – 11.30 Questions


11.30 – 12.00 Coffee (Ground Floor Concourse, Humanities)


“Bourdieu’s Idealism”


12.00 – 12.40 Jeremy Lane (Nottingham) (H052)


12.40 – 1.10 Questions


1.10 – 2.10 Lunch (Café Humanities)


“Title tbc”


2.10 – 2.50 Neil Lazarus (Warwick) (H052)


2.50 – 3.20 Questions


 3.20 – 4.00 Tea (Ground Floor Concourse, Humanities)


“World Literary Space”

4.00 – 4.40 Anna Boschetti (Venice) (H052)


4.40 – 5.10 Questions


5.10 – 5.15 Concluding remarks (H052)


5.15 – 6.00 Refreshments and free discussion (venue tbc)


Sponsored by the Humanities Research Centre and the Department of French Studies at Warwick and the Society for French Studies




Abstracts and Biographies


Prof. Michael Grenfell. Trinity College, University of Dublin

The primary aim of this paper is to consider the ways in which language features in Bourdieu’s work. It begins with providing a contextual background by situating Bourdieu’s concerns with language in field work in the Béarn and Algeria, and shows how this early work developed in subsequent studies in Education and Culture. It argues that Bourdieu offered both a philosophy of language and a language of philosophy. The former will be contrasted with the way language is treated in various academic fields: for example, linguistics (sociolinguistics and social psychology) and postmodernist philosophy. The latter will consider Bourdieu’s own language and the implications of his conceptual tools for both research theory and practice. I shall draw attention to empirical examples to explore the significance of such terms as ‘linguistic capital’, ‘linguistic habitus’, and ‘linguistic market’. In particular, the paper addresses issues of ‘legitimate language’, and its role in social reproduction, and symbolic violence. Finally, I hope to have time to say a few introductory remarks on the implications of all this for researching Literature from a Bourdieusian perspective. Issues of research practice are particularly paramount in this discussion, as well as the significance of a Bourdieusian approach for both the researched and the researcher. What is the way forward?


Michael Grenfell is Professor of Education at the School of Education in the Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Southampton, UK. He is an international researcher who has published extensively on culture, language and education and is a recognized authority on the work of Pierre Bourdieu. He is author of Bourdieu and Education (1998) and Pierre Bourdieu: Agent Provocateur (2004); Art Rules, Pierre Bourdieu and the Visual Arts (2007) and Bourdieu: Education and Training (2007).



Dr Jeremy Lane University of Nottingham

In the Preface to Les Régles de l’art (1992), Bourdieu launches a characteristically scathing attack on the idealism of those literary critics who insist on the transcendent value and meaning of the great works of literature. In opposition to such idealist readings of literature, Bourdieu advocates a ‘science of literary works’ which will relate literary forms to their historical, social, and political conditions of production. The reading of Éducation sentimentale (1869) that follows represents Bourdieu’s most detailed attempt to achieve just this, to relate Flaubert’s novel to its historical conditions of production, to the ‘literary field’ from which it emerged. This paper argues that, far from representing a break with idealist theories of literature, Bourdieu’s reading of Flaubert’s novel in fact represents an alternative form of idealism, inasmuch as it assumes L’Éducation sentimentale to contain within itself an unchanging ideal core of meaning, an ideal core that reflects precisely the state of the literary field at the time of its production. In this sense, Bourdieu’s theory of literature is merely a more sophisticated version of the kind of historicist idealism implicit in the work of Lukacs, for whom novels were held to express the spirit of their age. These kinds of historicism typically have difficulties accounting for the fact that literary works produced at one time and place endure through time, crossing national and linguistic boundaries to be consumed in other places and at other times, where they may take on different meanings and be attributed alternative values. In this sense, to insist that a novel’s meaning may transcend the material conditions of its production is not necessarily to indulge in an idealist fantasy; it may be to embrace a fully historical and materialist understanding of literature. Paradoxically, there is no better example of this phenomenon than Bourdieu’s own reading of L’Éducation sentimentale in which he offers an extremely idealised account of the relationship between literature and the market in mid-nineteenth-century France. This idealised account reflects the political imperatives of the moment in which Bourdieu published Les Règles de l’art and his desire to find a model of autonomous literary production to oppose to a contemporary literary field dominated by market interests. By examining these two different forms of idealism in Les Règles de l’art, this paper will explore what might usefully be salvaged from Bourdieu’s theory of literary fields and what might require reformulation or rethinking.


Jeremy F. Lane is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of French Studies at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of Pierre Bourdieu: a critical introduction (Pluto, 2000) and Bourdieu’s Politics: problems and possibilities (2006). His current research focuses on the discursive construction of jazz in French-language jazz criticism from 1918 to 1945.



Prof. Anna Boschetti

The Rules of Art is focused on a national framework, but in the last decade research has shown that Bourdieu’s hypotheses can be transposed, specified and developed in a worldwide perspective, allowing one to overcome the implicit ideological assumptions and the epistemological limits of traditional comparative studies. This paper will present the theoretical and empirical contributions of these studies, particularly with regard to the following issues: the articulation between different types of factors constantly evolving; the processes of circulation and transformation; the structure and properties of the trans-national space and its effects; the scale variations, from the global to the local; the tensions and dynamics produced by the fact that any agent can be simultaneously or successively inscribed in different spaces/markets/fields; the analysis of the concepts used in research – including the concept of field – in order to avoid the risk of naturalisation. The paper will also underline the specific achievements of these researches with regard to other approaches, such as the different kinds of Comparative Studies, Translation Studies, Transfer studies, Cultural Studies, Postcolonial Studies; examples of historical semantic proposed by the Begriffsgeschichte, the “School of Cambridge” and by the “New sociology of ideas”; and models based on the “centre/periphery” opposition.


Anna Boschetti teaches French literature at the University of Venice, Department of Italian and philological studies. She is foreign correspondent for CSE of Paris, founding member of the Fondation internationale Pierre Bourdieu, associated editor of the review Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales and member of the network ESSE (Pour un Espace des Sciences Sociales Européen Author of many publications, among others Sartre et les « Temps modernes », Paris, Minuit, 1985 (The intellectual Enterprise, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Ill., 1988); La poésie partout. Apollinaire, « homme époque », 1898-1918, Paris, Seuil, 2001; La Rivoluzione simbolica di Pierre Bourdieu, Venezia, Marsilio, 2003. Her present research is focused on a trans-national and trans-disciplinary approach to the literary space and on the analysis of concepts used in literary history.



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