Pierre Bourdieu: Biography, Cultural Capital, Habitus, and Criticism

Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher and public intellectual, who was born on 1 August 1930 and died on 23 January 2003. Bourdieu’s work was mainly a study of the dynamics of power in the society and how it is transferred within the social constructs of society and through generations. His best-known book “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment Taste” looks to analyze the judgment of an individual based on their position, or even better, are the results of the position. In the process, he tried to analyze the influences of both external social structures and subjective experiences on an individual.

pierre bourdieu bio

The Public Intellectual

Bourdieu developed a keen interest in the politics around him, being a critic of neoliberalism, many saw him leaned towards the Marxist sense of things. He saw sociology not as “intellectual entertainment” but as a serious discipline of science to understand human nature. There can be observed a correlation between Bourdieu’s writings about sociology and the influence of politics in his life. Through the course of his life, he used sociology to express and understand politics and believed that the sociologists had political responsibilities to mend things.

Pierre Bourdieu’s Capital Explained

Cultural Capital

Marx had some influence over Bourdieu as the cultural capital theory can be traced back to the ideas of Marx. Bourdieu believed that capital dictated one’s position in society and their social life; he believed that the impact of capital could be seen to the depths of the social constructs beyond just the economic concept.  Bourdieu believed that the symbols of materialism were defining the social class one belonged to. For instance, having luxury cars would set one in the elite class of society. He believed that cultural capital was also an indicator of where one stood in society and was a major source of inequality among classes. He further added that there were three aspects to cultural capital, they are: embodied, objectified and institutionalized. An accent possessed by someone is the embodied part; a luxury car is an objectified part whereas degrees or credentials are an institutionalized aspect of cultural capital.

Pierre Bourdieu: Habitus

This has been Bourdieu’s most reputed but ambiguous project; it basically refers to the physical embodiment of cultural capital. The habits, skills, and dispositions one uses to gather their life experiences. In a very basic sense, habitus is how one would react in a given environment on the basis of how they’ve reacted throughout their life. For instance, if a person is from a financially unstable background and they get a high paying job, they would still look to save some money as that is what they have been taught throughout their life that is their survival skill set.

Habitus is also the development of taste in a human being because of their social status, for instance, a person from the higher part of the society would enjoy art more than a person from the lower part of the society. This is so as the high-class person has been doing it throughout their life and has been accustomed to the same.


Bourdieu believed that the world had been divided into several sections, corresponding to “fields”. The aspects such as law, religion, sports, etc. have their own set of rules and regulations along with forms of capital. Some of these fields are intertwined, for instance, religion, and education come together when students are taught religion in college. However, Bourdieu believes that these fields still have these fields have a form of autonomy towards them and it is better if they don’t get intertwined.

Bourdieu believed that each position has its own practices and positions, the struggles are very unique for each field as people from the social construct try to assert their dominance over the field. These artists tried to overcome the coherence which was established by their previous generation, with their own but ended up being criticized by their next generation. Hence, the fields were no longer coherent and everyone had a very personal perspective in mind.

The Criticism

There is a strong sense of criticism regarding the findings of Pierre Bourdieu and how he failed to establish a proper structure for his studies. They further argue that the theory of Habitus is failing to associate with the aspects of objectivism as well as subjectivism. They believe that the theory is incapable of being proven coherent with the findings of practical research. Bourdieu was also criticized on observing interactions which were in a confined space, hence the inability to look through for other aspects of the same problem over a wider area of research. The relations of the individuals with which the social interactions were taking place weren’t looked by taking into account the intersubjective interactions between these individuals.

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Kartik is studying BA in International Relations at Amity and Dropped out of engineering from NIT Hamirpur and he lived in over 5 different countries.