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A. Pierre Bourdieu: Existentialism and Structuralism

             Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was a French sociologist who initially started out as a philosopher. He was one of the last modern theorists whose work was path breaking. Hailing from Algeria, his work was somehow closely related to his place of origin. Bourdieu pioneered investigative frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, the role of practice, and the concepts of habitus, field or location, and symbolic violence to reveal the dynamics of power relations in social life. Bourdieu's methodological concerns centered on the debate between structure and agency – whether as agents we have any freedom or are we bound by structures? He questioned the basis on which sociology practiced itself i.e. objectivity. His main aim was to go beyond the dichotomy of objectivism and subjectivism.
             While questioning how social facts as "things" came into being, Bourdieu says that they come into being through practices of the agents themselves. The issue then is no of studying objectively but the question of how these objective structures are produced and reproduced by the agents themselves. The idea of practice is hence emphasized upon by Bourdieu. .
             Bourdieu associated himself with the works of two major thinkers – Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialism and Claude Levi-Strauss' structuralism. In existentialism, emphasis was put on human freedom and intentionality and how as human agent we can show our intentionality through interactions. These interactions according to Bourdieu were a combination of history and culture. He rejected the idea of the intellectual "prophet," or the "total intellectual," as embodied by Jean-Paul Sartre. There is a dualism in existentialism which treats the subject as someone who is not determined by material possession. In structuralism, Bourdieu says that Levi-Strauss does not talk of human freedom at all and opposes individual agency while favoring structures.

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