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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: August 2018

13 - Social Science as Participant Objectification

from Part III - Inquiry With An Emancipatory Interest

Bourdieu's theory of practice is a systematic attempt to move beyond a series of oppositions and antinomies which have plagued the social sciences since their inception. For anyone involved in the social sciences today, these oppositions have a familiar ring: the individual versus society, action versus structure, freedom versus necessity, etc. Bourdieu's theoretical approach is intended to bypass or dissolve a plethora of such oppositions.

Thompson, 1991, p. 11

A second perspective on the kind of investigation that attends to the “objective framework” in which people live can be found in the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002). For Bourdieu, we are always “playing a game” but are necessarily unaware of its arbitrary character. Everyday activity is the product of an interaction between what he called “habitus” and “social field,” a situated encounter between agents who are endowed with socially structured resources and competencies, and it is frequently the occasion for “symbolic violence” that critical inquiry must expose.

Bourdieu emphasized that the presuppositions that Habermas insists we must examine are not matters of individual tacit knowledge. Like Kuhn, Bourdieu argues that the presuppositions are embedded in social practices and embodied in bodily habitus. Reflection will not expose them. We need to study material practices, and because scientific practices themselves are techniques of “objectification,” we need to objectify these techniques, turning them on themselves as instruments of reflexivity. Critical inquiry needs to be reflexive rather than reflective, and it achieves this by “objectifying objectification.” Reflexivity is also a matter of turning our instruments of objectification on ourselves. This means studying one's own habitus together with the field in which one acquired it (where one grew up) and the field in which one applies it (the academy).

By being reflexive, critical inquiry can avoid objectivism, the error of claiming that one's system of categorization and classification is neutral and uniquely appropriate. It also can avoid subjectivism, the error of merely cataloging the diverse perspectives among the players of a game. The result is a viewpoint that “transcends” the “partial and partisan” point of view of a player but is not the gaze of a “divine spectator.” It becomes possible to describe the field of play so as to show how the players have different perspectives because they occupy different positions.

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The Science of Qualitative Research
  • Online ISBN: 9781108264907
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