Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bourdieu and Passeron 3: Critically Thinking About Culture is Already Cultured

This week I will be blogging on Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron's Reproduction in Education, Culture, and Society, which we are studying in my macrosociological theory class.

"The man who deliberates on his culture is already a cultivated individual."

Bourdieu and Passeron argue that schools pick some aspects of the culture to teach, which establishes the core of cultivated taste. The content of what schools teach tends to reinforce the dominance of the dominant class. The schools create a "habitus" of seeking to be cultivated, of seeking to better know and understand the official culture.

Part of the official culture, though, is critical thinking about the official culture. This is more true of higher education than lower, and more true of elite education than mass education.

A good education embeds one more fully in the dominant culture. A good education includes the ability to reflect on that dominant culture. More importantly, a good education inculcates the desire to reflect on that dominant culture. When we reflect critically on the pedagogic work of education itself, we see, say Bourdieu and Passeron, that its content bolsters the domination of the dominant class.

Reflecting on your culture makes you cultivated. Critical thinking about cultivation is itself a cultivated taste, and doing it makes you more cultivated still. Reading Reproduction in Education, Culture, and Society as part of a school class is both an act of subversion of the dominant culture, and a deeper participation in the kind of cultivation that the dominant class cherishes the most and has the most opportunity to engage in.


randy said...

so...ok...yeah. good, brief precis of what probably took THEM about 300 pages of ultra-dense, turgid, quote and reference laced academe-speak to express. am i right? i mean, i'm just geussing...

this is the Left Academy at it's recursive, barely comprehensible worst. fortunately, this sort of stuff is WHOLLY CONTAINED on campus. it has zero relevance or impact to any other aspect of society far as i can tell, anyway.

Gruntled said...

It is ironic that they have a whole section on how the language of the academy has the function of weeding out the lower classes - written in language that is barely intelligible to even the best educated and to-the-academic-manner-born.

We did talk about how to apply this idea. One student, who is planning to be a teacher in a poor kids' school, said that reading this book makes her more conscious of the way that schools give up on poor kids who don't get the language - which she is determined to overcome. So it does have some positive effect.

Black Sea said...

I'm reminded of my entirely lackadaisical study of deconstructionism in the 1980s. People writing entire books in suppport of the argument that words have no inherent meaning. And you know what, they were right. Words have only agreed upon meanings, and those agreed upon meanings are multiplicitous, and shift and change from one mind to another, one context to another. And so what? Does this mean that linguistic communication is so internally riven with complexities and self-contradictions as to be impossible, and if so, why then write a book about it?

In other words, deconstructionism started from an intellectually valid -- indeed, nearly inarguable premise -- and proceeded to an inflated and absurd body of conclusions. But hey, for 20 years or so, it was a ticket to tenure.

Similarly, the observations which you cite from Bourdieu and Passeron's work seem to me to be valid in some measure, but only in some measure, and not nearly to the extent toward which they appear to be striving (and straining). Then again, I haven't read their work itself. Of course, based on what you're citing here, I doubt that I ever will.

Gruntled said...

Agreed. In fact, I picked out this particular sentence because I think it is a rare hopeful and not class-obsessed point that they offer. Anyone can think critically about your culture. Some people are trained more in the skill. The solution to that disparity is to train more people to reflect on their own culture. And not just teaching in school.