Notes from Underground – Dostoevsky the philosopher presents himself

In 1849 Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) was sentenced to death. He was member of a society which were considered dangerous for their liberal ideas. As the execution was about to set off, he was reprieved and instead sent to prison camp, and afterwards sent off for military service. Notes from Underground (written 1864) is one of his first major works after this period, and it clearly marked a turn in his writing career. Before he had affiliated himself with the ideals of the enlightment and romanticism, rationality, the beautiful and the sublime, but in Notes from Underground these ideals are to large extent ridiculed and instead more doubt, cynism and existential delving arises. The new tone in the narrative is also evident in the later works of Dostoevsky such as Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868), and The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880) and because of this Notes from Underground has been called a prologue to these works.

Here I’ll try to present some of the characteristics which marks this turn in Dostoevsky’s writing. I’ll argue that in Notes from Underground it is Dostoevsky the philosopher who presents himself. The emphasis in the narration alters from a literary depiction to the presentation of ideas. However, Dostoevsky’s philosophising is not characterized by an inclination for argumentation, but rather the ability to create images and incorporate feelings – or as Nikolay Strakhov put it, Dostoevsky “felt thought with unusual liveliness”. Another characteristic is that Dostoevsky gets personal and starts to use more of himself in the narration and dares to be self-critical and radically honest. This honesty is both evident in description of narcissistic day-dreaming, fantasies of how he (the main character of the book) donates millions to humanity and how everyone falls in love with him and kisses his feet, and on the other hand descriptions of radical self-blame, for example when he yells to a girl “I hated you already for all the lies I had told you”.

Read full text as PDF notes from underground – dostoevsky the philosopher presents himself

Posted in Literature and art | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Slow-thinking and the absolute need for time (With Pierre Bourdieu)

In an earlier blog post I contrasted the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, with the public figure and autodidact Alexander Bard. The main topic in that post concerned the ”Internet Revolution” and changes in the new society, but an important side-topic concerned slow-thinking versus fast-thinking, and the latter mentioned is something I intend say some more words about here.

Bourdieu once got to hold a speech in television and then he used his time to speak about the dangers of television. He especially warned of fast-thinkers. Bourdieu claimed that ”television rewards a certain number of fast-thinkers who offer cultural ‘fast food’–predigested and prethought culture–”. Pierre Bourdieu – On Television

The criticism of fast-thinking, and it’s comparison to the ”predigested” and ”fast food” is something I’m intending to look deeper into in this post.

Can there really be anything good about ”slow-thinking”?

Perhaps the most important thing, I mean, is to actually recognize that it exists such a thing as slow-thinking. It may sound strange, but in a sense, I think that most people are not prone to recognize any value in it, if they recognize its existence at all. I’m quite sure that most people rather would think of the term ”slow thinking” as an insult, and its opposite ”fast thinking” as a compliment. Often people will get accused of being stupid, thinking poorly, not making sense etc, but the accusation that someone thinks ”too fast”?

When the sociologist Steve Fuller, was asked about Bourdieu’s warning for fast-thinking in television, Fuller replied in a clearly dismissive manner:

”Bourdieu’s anti-television bias simply betrays his age, as someone who came to adulthood before television became ubiquitous. In fact, intellectual life has always placed a positive value on fast-talking. It’s called wit, a term that really came into its own during the Enlightenment. […]” Ref from interview: ”What does it mean to be an intellectual today?”

The notion that it exists anything such as slow-thinking and that it would have any value, is here disregarded. Fuller’s point here seems to be that Bourdieu did not know what he was talking about, and that ”fast-thinking” is really a good thing.

The notion of slow-thinking as something positive

We need to look closer at what Bourdieu really meant by slow-thinking.*** The issue is certainly not only about television, as Fuller referred to, but something that pervades Bourdieu’s thinking in general. Bourdieu’s defense for slow-thinking is lot about trying to keep an intellectual field undamaged. For example, this quote may give a hint on where Bourdieu’s getting at:

‘[T]hose who frequent the borderland between scholarly and ordinary knowledge — essayists, journalists, academic journalists and journalistic academics — have a vital stake in blurring the frontier and denying or eliminating what separates scientific analysis from partial objectifications, […] They can if they so desire indulge even here in a reading guided by idle curiosity, interpreting examples and individual cases in a perspective of snobbish gossip or critical infighting, if they wish to reduce the systematic and relational mode of explanation which is characteristic of science to the most ordinary procedure of polemical reduction, to ad hoc explanation using ad hominem arguments.’

Nicholas Brown and Imre Szeman, tries to explain in their work ”Pierre Bourdieu: Fieldwork in Culture”:
‘”Slow thinking” produces something “fast thinking” cannot, and it is the autonomy of the field that permits slow thinking to occur and enables it to be properly consecrated when its end-product is finally achieved.’

***(note) Actually, I’m not sure if Bourdieu ever used the term slow-thinking himself. It is something I derive from his use of the term fast-thinker. If there are fast-thinkers, it comes naturally that there also are slow-thinkers. And considering Bourdieu’s critique of fast-thinking one can note an implicit approval of slow-thinking.

The absolute need for time

Bourdieu, paraphrasing Plato, states that when you are in a hurry, you cannot think. I find something peculiar in this notion.

One may perhaps associate Bourideu’s notion of slow-thing to wisdom. However, say for example you make a search for ”words of wisdom”, then most likely you’ll find a long list of one-sentence-quotes. An important difference is that the concept of slow-thinking stresses the absolute need for time. It cannot just be one-sentence-punchlines.

(I heard from a professor who had the honor to work with Bourdieu, that Bourdieu tried to persuade sociology researchers to refuse to present result of their studies, if they weren’t allowed to do their presentation for at least half an hour without interruption.)

Comparing fast-thinking and fast-food

Bourdieu makes a simile between fast-thinking and fast-food. He says that fast-thinkers offer cultural fast food, and predigested culture. The comparisons to food I find interesting, and I want to ask the question, how far can we draw these comparisons?

Fast food is easier to access, and it may taste better, but there is a wide consensus of that it is not as healthy. Somebody may prefer to eat fast food, but they also know that it is not as healthy for them. Consider fast-thinking on the other hand, according to Bourdieu it’s a kind of thinking that is easier to access, and it may be more enjoyable, but it is not as qualitative in a certain sense. But if then fast thinking is not as healthy, is it something that is recognized? Here I suppose the answer to be ”no”. I don’t think that there is any wide consensus of that fast-thinking is anything bad, and that it lacks something essential. The fast-thinkers in television, whom Bourdieu accuses, are presented as experts. If we follow this comparison then, these fast-thinkers are like fast food that is presented as recommended and healthy food.

Even if this fast-thinking sounds better and smarter (like fast-food tastes good), and the slow-thinking sounds wrong or painful (like the broccoli which many agree doesn’t taste so good), still the slow-thinking holds certain value which fast-thinking lacks. (I’m sure that there is some legitimacy in this comparison. One tricky thing though, is that there is also a lot of bad slow-thinking. A piece of wood takes long time to digest, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.)

The simile to food correlates to the idea of the absolute need for time. The predigested is food that instantly gets into your blood system. The food that is not predigested though, requires time, requires work, requires processing.

On a side-note, Daniel Kahneman and Jungian Typology

Someone who indeed makes use of the term ”slow-thinking” and puts it in contrast to ”fast-thinking” is Daniel Kahneman winner of the Nobel Prize in Economy in 2002 and writer of the best seller book Thinking, Fast and Slow in 2011. The reader who is oriented in Jungian typology will recognize that Kahneman’s ideas of slow-thinking and fast-thinking can be identified in different Jungian personality types (see earlier post Jung’s Typology and Philosophy). The slow thinker is for example represented in the introverted thinking type. I think it’s important to not confuse Kahneman’s notion of slow-thinking with Bourdieu’s notion of slow-thinking though.

Reference and further reading

Pierre Bourdieu – On Television (free full text)

Internal links

Internet Revolution, attentionalism and slow-thinking, with Alexander Bard and Pierre Bourdieu

Posted in Society, critical theory etc | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One year with Recollecting Philosophy

About a year ago (August 2012) I started publishing posts at this site. Things have certainly not turned out as expected, nor as hoped, but it hasn’t only been for the worse. On the up side can be said I’ve steadily been getting an increased amount of visitors, I’ve developed my writing skills and I’ve learned a lot about the blogging world. On the down side can be said I’m not getting consistent readers and I’m not getting much interaction or engagement.

The philosophy blog that didn’t turn out to be a philosophy blog

This was intended to be a philosophy blog, but it hasn’t quite turned out to be one, at least not the way I intended it to. One reason, I would say, is that I couldn’t find any target group for that purpose. I tried to attract people within the field of philosophy but I didn’t get any response from them.
I would say that there are two texts that could be called philosophical investigations on this blog (one is Game analysis pt 2 – Analysing simple and complex games and the other is Meaning and truth in communication which I’ve only published as a PDF), the rest of the posts is mostly about presenting certain thinkers, and applying their ideas in various contexts. For whatever this latter genre is best called I don’t know, but it was not quite what I had in mind when I chose to name the blog Recollecting Philosophy.

As I wanted this blog to be within a philosophical context I tried to focus on names within academical philosophy that I thought was reasonable, mainly Wittgenstein, Rorty and Habermas. But when I noticed that there seemed to be no academical philosophers that took interest in what I wrote on anyway I changed strategy. To large extent I left out Rorty and Habermas and instead focused more on Bourdieu and Jung, who both are more known within other contexts.

In terms of getting more attention and getting more visitors this was a successful move. However, bringing together Wittgenstein, Bourdieu and Jung also has its problems. You may find scholars who are into either Wittgenstein, Bourdieu or Jung, but you will have to look hard in order to find a scholar who has special interest in two or three of these thinkers. These thinkers are, so to say, out of different contexts. Especially when it comes to the institutionalized academic world. But on this blog I focus on all of these thinkers, and I try to put them in an uniform context. I guess many readers have a hard time making sense out of this, as they usually only know at maximum one of these thinkers well, and are at most oriented in a context where one of these thinkers exist.

Writing strategy

At the upstart I prioritized quantity over quality. Instead of keeping things for myself I wanted to share as much as possible as quick as possible. I did not want to do any polishing work, I hoped that it could be done by the readers. I expected readers to reply on what I wrote, and then I thought that in dialogue we could come to a clearer view together. But I was wrong in that aspect. After a while I would get readers to my blog, but that they actually would care to take a closer look at my texts and engage in discussion with me, I was wrong about. It is still so that a vast majority of the visitors to this blog only visit one page before they go, and they leave no trace after themselves.

The difficulty has not been to get visitors, the difficulty has been to get visitors to actually pay attention. Realizing this, I changed strategy. Instead of focusing on writing many articles and quick publishing, I started publishing less often but I worked harder on the texts I did publish. I put more effort in the writing. I can’t say that this has resulted in that more visitors take contact and engage in discussion with me, but I’ve noticed that some actually do pay more attention.

The most recent thing I’ve done is that I’ve published a PDF archive, where I’ve posted a compilation of selected posts from Recollecting Philosophy and also I link to PDF files of longer blog posts.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged | 6 Comments

Internet Revolution, attentionalism and slow-thinking, with Alexander Bard and Pierre Bourdieu

[Read as PDF]


Alexander Bard (1961 – ), ”Internet sociologist”, speaks of the Internet as one of the greatest revolutions of mankind. The capitalist system is being replaced by a netocracy. Bard embraces this new world order and exclaims ‘We ought to make revolution and hang all politicians who haven’t got any twitter account’. As opposed to this stands Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002), one of the most prominent public intellectuals of 20th century, who on one hand dreamed of a society with interaction and participatory information which the Internet is providing, but on the other hand warned of and fought against the superficiality and simplifications which he saw emerging in the new society. Bard represents a liberal let-go-mentality, while Bourdieu clearly stated ”I don’t believe in laissez-faire”.

No doubt, our society is rapidly changing and one has to adapt. However I want to point out that there are different ways to adapt. I sympathize with Bourdieu’s desire for more “slow-thinking”, and I find his attempts to find collective intellectual solutions appealing.

A world-changing Internet revolution? Alexander Bard’s prophesy of the new netocracy

”Alexander Bard’s provocative keynote speech at Next Berlin 2012 challenges the way history is taught, with industrialization presented as the climax of human history. He believes we need to contextualize history not in terms of the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Industrial Age, but rather in terms of information, such as spoken information, written information, printed information, broadcasted information and finally the Internet as participatory information.” (ref: examined life blog)

In the book Netocracy: The new power elite and life after capitalism (first published 2000), written by Alexander Bard together with Jan Söderqvist, they speak of a new world order emerging – The netocracy:
”This society is by definition post-capitalist, because the requirements needed to achieve status under capitalism – money, fame, titles, and so on – no longer have any value for entrance applications to any of the higher and more powerful networks. The netocratic status which is now in demand requires entirely different characteristics: knowledge, contacts, overview, vision. In other words: qualities which contribute to increasing the network’s status and making it even more powerful.”

Bourdieu’s dream of an international network of intellectuals and his criticism of the superficiality of the new emerging society

Bourdieu never really saw the Internet coming, his career ended before the Internet boom. We can thus only speculate what he would’ve thought of Facebook, Google, Twitter etc. I think we can be quite sure though, that he would have had both positive and negative things to say about it.

When Bourdieu spoke on television, he expressed the wish that TV should become more interactive. This kind of interactivity is now very much offered on the Internet. Bourdieu did also say that he dreamed of ”an international network where scientists and journalists can fight the simplifications and provide truly sharp analysis” (ref (only Swedish)). To help accomplish this he suggested that one could establish a telephone exchange system where intellectuals could keep in touch and contact each other when needed. If only he would’ve known about the Internet he would’ve realized that the Internet would work much better for this purpose. In other words, Internet does to a large extent provide the means which Bourdieu demanded.
On the other hand, Bourdieu was a fierce critic of the superficiality and simplifications in the new society which he saw emerging. And this kind of superficiality and simplifications, I think it’s fair to say has only increased with the Internet. While Bard to large extent seems to embrace a let-go-mentality to the Internet, I’m quite sure Bourdieu would’ve taken a different stand, as for example indicated in this quote:

“Regarding culture, my beliefs are the same as those I hold for everything else: I don’t believe in laissez-faire. What I hope to show […] is that all too often, [in International exchanges,] the logic of laissez-faire favours the circulation of the very worst ideas at the expense of the very best.” (ref)

Bard’s imaginative 17-year-olds vs Bourdieu’s intellectual hard-workers

When Bard speaks of an ideal for his vision he mentions 17-year-olds. The 17-year-olds have dreams and see a world full of possibilities. The 17-year-olds often believes that they can change the world, and also have the will to do so. Bard said ”my experience is that the absolutely best ones to ask if one want to find out things about the society is 17-year-olds” (ref (only Swedish)), and another quote ”What Korean schoolgirls do today, the rest of humanity will do five years from now. Always remember that sentence.” (ref) When Bourdieu speaks of an ideal, he mentions hard-working intellectuals who are ready to sacrifice attention and fame for rigorous high-quality work. Bourdieu maintains he has a deep respect for ”true journalists”, those who take their job seriously and don’t let themselves be manipulated by media’s ”urgency, cliches and commercial logic” ((ref (only Swedish)).

I think this can help us understand the difference in political approach between Bard and Bourdieu. Bard’s political enemies include the ones of old systems who don’t adapt to new systems, while Bourdieu’s political enemies include the ”fast-thinkers” who only offer cultural fast-food and perhaps adapt too easily in new systems. Bard’s political stance is a kind of laissez-faire, he has for example blamed the liberal party for not being liberal enough, while Bourdieu was against laissez-faire and he has been said to blame the political left for not being left enough (for whatever that is suppose to mean, I’m not quite sure).

The Netocracy’s informationalism and attentionalism vs Bourdieu’s need for reflection and ”slow thinking”

Bard and Söderqvist describes a society where you must always be on the go, always be ready to act quick and without hesitation. It is a society of ”informationalism” and ”attentionalism”. And their message is clear, either you join this or you’ll get ruled over. Here are some quotes from their book:

”The rules will change, but the constant underlying message of the curators [a kind of master netocrats] to their net-citizens will be simple and unambiguous: you can never network well enough, you can never be good enough at communicating, you can never let yourself rest, you must constantly be ready to jump, constantly ready to learn new things. Thus a new set of masters will seize power and the language of power with which to control informational society.”

”The decisive factor governing where in the hierarchy an individual ends up is [—] his or her attentionality: their access to and capacity to absorb, sort, overview, generate the necessary attention for, and share valuable information. [—] Attention is the only hard currency in the virtual world. The strategy and logic of the netocracy are therefore attentionalist rather than capitalist.”

”Anyone trying to resist developments and persist with political agitation in the old way would not survive in the society ruled by the netocracy. He or she would look like a despicable information-tyrant. The new conditions of the informational media landscape mean that the plurarchic public is turning its back on the old political stage.”

If we look at Bourdieu’s writings the approach is quite different. He doesn’t spend so much time predicting what will happen. He rather speaks from a critic’s perspective, and focuses on what kind of change is desired. According to Bourdieu it is the very duty of an intellectual to be a critic, to criticize, give suggestions and provide genuinely sharp analysis. One of his central contributions was a talk he held in television about television. There Bourdieu focused on the need for reflection and slow-thinking, as for example indicated in this quote:

“Sometimes I want to go back over every word the television newspeople use, often without thinking and with no idea of the difficulty and the seriousness of the subjects they are talking about or the responsibilities they assume by talking about them in front of the thousands of people who watch the news without understanding what they see and without understanding that they don’t understand.”

Theresa Benér describes in an interview with Bourdieu that according to Bourdieu TV ‘loves to summon ”fast-thinkers”, the kind of semi-intellectual famous people, for some quick, nicely packaged pseudo-thinkings which people take for profoundities of topical problems. Bourdieu argues that these media “fast-thinkers” are really harmful types. They destroy both the serious journalism and the true intellectual production of knowledge.’ (for more clarification of this issue I recommend this blog post Pierre Bourideu, philosophy and empirics)

One of Bourdieu’s main problems with television was the lack of time. He concludes, paraphrasing Plato, that when you are in a hurry you cannot think. Bourdieu would occasionally refuse to appear on television with the motivation that the time he was offered was so short that he wouldn’t be able to say anything at all (however he also claimed that under certain circumstances it was intellectuals duty to appear on TV). With the short time, all you can do is think in “cliches”, and “banal, conventional, common ideas that are received generally”.
We cannot know what Bourdieu would’ve thought of the microblog Twitter where you are only allowed to write messages with a maximum of 140 characters, but I think it’s fair to guess that he wouldn’t have been all too positive about it. He probably would not have subscribed to Bard’s:
“We ought to make revolution and hang all politicians who haven’t got any twitter account” (ref (only Swedish))

End discussion

For certain, the times they are a-changing. And when a big change occurs, the worst thing one can do is probably to just ignore, go on as if nothing has happened. The main part of Bard’s critique seems to be against these people. He says that the politicians “lack of interest for the newly emerging society is directly indecent” (ref (only Swedish)). However, I think this criticism doesn’t really target someone like Bourdieu. Bourdieu didn’t show a lack of interest for the newly emerging society, he just was strongly critical of many aspects of it. Both Bard and Bourdieu take interest in the new society, but while Bard seems more inclined to ”go with the flow” Bourdieu raises a more critical voice. Bourdieu’s approach is much about looking for collective intellectual solutions which is something I find appealing.

Reference and further reading

Follow-up posts to this article
Slow-thinking and the absolute need for time (With Pierre Bourdieu)
Internet Revolution pt.3: How the non-attentionalistic can prevail over the attentionalistic (with Bard and Bourdieu)

External links
Alexander Bard & Jan Söderqvist – Netocracy: The new power elite and life after capitalism @
Pierre Bourdieu – On Television (free full text)
Alexander Bard’s blog – I quite enjoyed this blog, as I think it shows another side of Bard. Here I think he shows more humbleness and thoughtfulness than on twitter and in his public appearances. For example here and here. I like his concept of publishing mail conversations on the blog.
Criticism of Netocracy by Slavoj Zizek
Alexander Bard @ campus party – Public lecture by Bard
Sociology is a martial art – TV documentary on Bourdieu
Universal Corporatism: The Role of Intellectuals in the Modern World by Pierre Bourdieu (jstor article)
Intervju med Bourdieu av Theresa Bener (Swedish)
Bourdieu – fortfarande inflytelserik eller på väg ut? (Swedish radio)

Other internal links
A philosopher’s guide to Pierre Bourdieu
Sartre’s “total intellectual” vs. Bourdieu’s “collective intellectual”, and the philosophers role
Pierre Bourideu, philosophy and empirics

Posted in Critical theory etc, Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What justifies our meta-analysis?

You will say that it is vulgar and contemptible to drag all this into public after all the tears and transports which I have myself confessed. But why is it contemptible? Can you imagine that I am ashamed of it all, and that it was stupider than anything in your life, gentlemen? And I can assure you that some of these fancies were by no means badly composed […] And yet you are right — it really is vulgar and contemptible. And most contemptible of all it is that now I am attempting to justify myself to you. And even more contemptible than that is my making this remark now. But that’s enough, or there will be no end to it; each step will be more contemptible than the last….
– Fyodor Dostoevsky in Notes from Underground

Anyone who has been involved in forums on the Internet probably recognize the issue with off-topic posting. Posts that don’t concern the original topic of the thread. And perhaps you noticed too the posts that complain about that other posts are off-topic, and further on the remarks that the one who complains about off-topic posts are in fact also off-topic. What we tend to get is a kind of meta-analysis syndrome. People meta-analyse, meta-meta-analyse, meta-meta-meta-analyse etc.

To make an off-topic complaint about off-topic posts in a thread, one may claim is an example of something that defeats its own purpose. If one is against off-topic posting and wants people to stop off-topic posting, then one shouldn’t off-topic post oneself (as one automatically is doing when one complains about off-topic posting of others).
(One may get away from this by either sending a private message to the user one think is writing off-topic, or by posting it in another thread like for example in the section entitled “feedback” where it is considered acceptable to speak about the issue of off-topic posting. But sometimes such alternatives don’t exist.)

Let’s for a while consider another story:

Some time ago I read a newspaper where a political columnist had written a column concerning recent party congresses in Sweden. In the column she pointed out that instead of focusing on the political decisions made at the congresses, almost all attention these congresses get in media concern certain scandals, and she argued that this was a serious problem.
Her point in the column certainly appeared reasonable, something which most readers probably would be inclined to agree to. But if we stop for a while, and regard this article from another perspective. What did her own column concern – the politics of the congresses, or the scandals of the congresses? Then one may note that she explicitly mentioned the so called scandals of the congresses, (especially the turns around Omar Mustafa), but nothing were mentioned about substantial political matters. – To sum it up, the columnist complained about media talking too much about scandals, while her own article concerned the scandals and nothing about substantial political matters.

This may also appear like what could be called defeating of it’s own purpose. But really, is this something that truly defeats its own purpose?

One way to go would be to question what is the actual purpose. One alternative then would be to make a “cynical turn”. We could for example imagine that the interest of the author is to please her employer in order so that she may get a higher wage. Her employer gets pleased when many people buy the paper. And then, what do people want to read about – substantial political matters or the scandals? The scandals, of course! The employer is thus likely to encourage the columnist to write about the scandals as the scandals are what really interests the readers. From this perspective there is no self-contradiction, no defeating of its own purpose to write this kind of meta-analysis about the scandals. By writing about the scandals she pleases her employer, she pleases the readers, and with the negative attitude towards the talking about scandals she may perhaps keep up a feeling of self-respect (as if almost she isn’t really talking about the scandals herself).

It would be foolish to believe that this “cynical turn” is all of the truth, but it would also be foolish to believe that there is no truth at all in it, I believe. The typical cynical dismissive reading is usually far from the truth, but so is usually also the naive always justifying reading.

In the quote above from Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky, the narrator repeatedly gives different explanations of why he is writing what he is writing. At one point he claims that the reason he is writing is merely to argue against some political/philosophical idea, at one point he claims he only writes for himself as a therapy, at one point he let us know he wants it to be a work of fine art etc. My view on this is not that we should see him as a liar. In fact each reason he presents as the purpose of his narration may appear plausible in itself as the one true purpose. One could claim that he is being undecided about the actual purpose of his writing, that he is being ambivalent – but really that would only add as one more layer of explanation, not above but rather parallel to the other explanations. Ultimately what I want to say is that actual purposes is a transcendental issue, something that may be more or less sensed, more or less known, but cannot completely be spoken about.

In order to get away from poor judgements, I believe that it’s often important to see things from a wider perspective. It’s easy to be dismissive, when you are poorly oriented in the context, and you look at things stripped out from its original context. The less you know a person, the less likely are you to understand what that person is trying to mediate. The less likely are you also to understand whether the meta-analysis is being taken too far.

I’ve been involved quite a lot on forums on the Internet. The person who might have influenced and taught me most at these forums, was an impulsive and artistic minded person. He would always give quick and spontaneous replies, which sometimes could result in that he made off-topic posts complaining about the off-topic posting of others. This was in line with his own principles and I wouldn’t blame him for it. As for the columnist mentioned, now I happen to know that she also is a known and well respected politician (Maria Wetterstrand, former leader of the Green party in Sweden). Considering a larger perspective, it would be hard to blame her for not focusing on substantial political matters, as after all that is what she has been doing for most of her career. When she says that media should focus less on the scandals, maybe people in media actually will listen and take her by the word (I’m skeptical about this myself though – partly due to the fact that I have heard so many people before making same claims as she did in the column).

I remember reading about Georg H. von Wright‘s first encounter with Wittgenstein. Wright went to England in order to follow some talks held by Wittgenstein. But Wittgenstein wouldn’t want to let him in, with the explanation that he demanded all his students to follow the meetings from the very beginning – otherwise they would get a skewed understanding of it all (in one sense it may not sound so remarkable that a teacher demands his pupils to join the course from the beginning – but Wittgenstein’s typical philosophizing is different, it doesn’t have beginning or end, it’s just continuous activity). So he asked Wright to come back the next term instead (Eventually Wright managed to make Wittgenstein change his mind though). Such requirements would be difficult to have in today’s society. Here on this blog, I’ve noticed that most visitors only come and view one page before they leave. At first I thought this was very surprising, but then I’ve come to realize that is probably what one can expect. Yet, I do still have hard to understand this, and I can’t help but think that those who visit only one page, without viewing any external links, would be just as well off if they hadn’t come at all.

Related posts
“Reading literature and doing philosophy” by Dawn M Wilson
Rorty and the game of philosophy
A philosopher’s guide to Pierre Bourdieu (especially the part concerning contextual orientation)
“Games Critics Play” by Carter Kaplan

Posted in Literature and art, Society, critical theory etc | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

MBTI:ers, Jungians and Scientists

[Read as PDF]


Critics of Carl Gustav Jung’s Typology and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) often argues that it lacks scientific evidence and is therefore of no use, while those who approve of it tend to take no interest in whatever scientific investigations say and presuppose that the typology works anyway, relying on their own subjective validation (and relying on the opinion of others). I’m inclined to think of both of these views as unsatisfying.

In the ”meta-debate” about the value of MBTI I’ve noticed some different standpoints which somewhat simplified could be divided into three camps which I will be calling the Jungians, the MBTI:ers and the Scientists. I think all these three camps bring some important contribution, but each camp also tends to fail to recognize the value of the other camps. An aim of this article is to help these camps get better understanding of each other.

MBTI:ers, Jungians and Scientists

When speaking of MBTI:ers I mainly refer to the MBTI community on the Internet. There are several forums dedicated to the MBTI with people subscribing themselves and others to MBTI types signified by a 4-letter code. By Jungians I speak of Carl Jung himself and his followers. The Jungians have read original texts by Jung and generally don’t speak of MBTI types, and don’t approve of the specific MBTI theory. The Scientists I choose to call people who in general are skeptic of the MBTI. I could also have called this group the ”skeptics” or the ”critics”, but the general argument against MBTI is its lack of scientific evidence – and I wanted ”science” to be mentioned in the title as it will be central issue for the text.

An attempt to outline some tendencies of the groups


MBTI and Carl Jung

MBTI aiming to be an extension, but not an opposing theory to Jung

The MBTI is based on the work by Carl Jung. I think that it is important to stress that it is not developed opposed to Jung, but rather it is aiming to be an extension to the work of Jung. For example, Jung describes 8 different types, and Myers-Briggs adds for each type two subtypes making it a total of 16 types. Jung describes three different dichotomies, while Myers-Briggs adds to this a fourth dichotomy. According to Jung, if the first function (dominant) is introverted then the fourth (inferior) function is extraverted, but he doesn’t explicitly say anything about direction of second and third function, Myers-Briggs however adds that the third function is in line with first function and the second function is opposite of the first function. Jung vaguely spoke of his typology as a tool to be used (with a lot of caution) in psychotherapy, while Myers-Briggs had wide ideas of how to use the typology for career counseling.

Compare the work of Jung to a drawing, then Myers-Briggs can be seen as one who continues to draw on the same piece, filling holes which seems to be missing, adding more details etc.

The fixed vs. the unfixed

While Jung was interested in complicating … our world and the people in it, Myers seemed determined to tidy it up, make it neat. – Annie Murphy Paul, author of the book The Cult of Personality Testing (ref)

The MBTI describes 16 different types, each with a fixed set of abilities. Say the ESTP person for example, s/he is supposed to have the four functions Extraverted Thinking (Te), Introverted Sensing (Si), Extraverted Intuition (Ne), and Introverted Feeling (Fi). This is far from anything that Jung himself would ever claim. Compare with this quote by Jung:

I came to the conclusion that there must be as many different ways of viewing the world [as there are psychological types]. The aspect of the world is not one, it is many–at least 16, and you can just as well say 360. You can increase the number of principles, but I found the most simple way is the way I told you, the division by four, the simple and natural division of a circle. I didn’t know the symbolism then of this particular classification. Only when I studied the archetypes did I become aware that this is a very important archetypal pattern that plays an enormous role. (ref)

What you see is much more vagueness in the quote by Jung, compared to the MBTI. It may further be noted that when Jung speaks of personality types, he adds that every person is an exception against the rule.

There is both a strength and a weakness in the fixed. The strength is that it becomes more user-friendly. The vagueness of Jung will likely confuse people, while the fixation of MBTI appears more appealing. The weakness is that the fixation makes it less accurate, and is likely to mislead people. Imagine the work of Jung to a painting program on the computer where you can use some different tools to draw figures on the screen (like Microsoft Paint), then I’d say the MBTI is rather like a picture program where you have to choose from a given set of figures when creating a character. Say you want to add a pair of eyes to a character, then you get to choose one of many sets of eyes, but you may not choose, for example, to have the left eye blue and the right eye brown. The Jungian painting program has more potential, but on the other side it is more difficult to use – and so most people will find more value in the MBTI picture program. (I beg readers regard this comparison with caution as it is quite far-fetched)

To label or not to label people, that is the question

MBTI:ers often gets criticized for labeling people. Jungians stress that it is against the intentions of Jung. Jung often said that his typology is not at all intended to label people. For example this quote:

The classification of individuals means nothing, nothing at all. It is only the instrumentarium for the practical psychologist…

However, it is quite difficult to understand what Jung really meant by this. We may note that Jung himself quite frequently spoke of types of real people. For example this quote:

we might take Darwin as an example of the normal extraverted thinking type [and] the normal introverted thinking type could be represented by Kant

Or, when asked about his own “type”:

I most certainly was characterized by Thinking … and I had a great deal of Intuition, too. And I had a definite difficulty with Feeling. And my relation to reality was not particularly brilliant. … I was often at variance with the reality of things.

If Jung was categorically against the typing of people, he himself did not seem to live according to his word – and thus it will be hard to take him seriously on that point.

However, one may note that Jung’s typing is different to the way MBTI:ers usually type. Jung’s typing tends to be more vague. For example, he doesn’t explicitly say Kant was an introverted thinking type, but he says Kant represents introverted thinking. It is quite a difference to say for example that Kant represents introverted thinking in his philosophical work, compared to say that the essence of Kant’s personality is introverted thinking. And when speaking of himself, I think it’s no coincidence that he speaks in past tense (“was” rather than “is”) and from an outsiders perspective (“was characterized”), also may be noted that it’s not on his own initiative he speaks of his own functions, it is to answer somebody else’s question. These small nuance shifts may be very important to note in order to understand the difference between Jung’s typing and more usual MBTI-typing.

We may further on consider this quote by Jung:

Classification does not explain the individual psyche. Nevertheless, an understanding of psychological types opens the way to a better understanding of human psychology in general.

This indicates that the interest of the typology is not so much to understand individuals, but rather to understand human psychology in general. However, I think it’s much of a two-way relationship: getting closer understanding of human psychology in general makes it easier for you to understand individual psyches, just as getting better understanding of individual psyches help you get better understanding of human psychology in general.

Inconvenience between MBTI:ers and Jungians

The description above can help us understand the peculiar relationship between the MBTI:ers and the Jungians. It is natural for the MBTI:ers to maintain a positive attitude towards the Jungians, as they don’t want to reject Jung’s theory but instead add more and add further application for it (such as career counseling). The MBTI:ers naturally seeks friendship with the Jungians, while the Jungians naturally rejects the MBTI:ers.

MBTI, Jung’s Typology and Science

Jung’s typology, MBTI and scientific investigations

At first must be noted that Jung’s typology is not scientifically validated. Jung based his typology on his personal experiences, as a private person and as a professional psychiatrist, but he didn’t conduct any scientific investigations such as controlled studies to validate his theory. He mentioned he probably would have done statistical studies if he had the means, but he didn’t have the means. Nor did Myers-Briggs conduct any controlled scientific studies.

However other people have made some studies with the intention to investigate validity and reliability of the MBTI, and their results have been negative. I’ve been trying to find in-detail information and nuanced analysis about these studies, but it has been surprisingly hard. When people have been trying to explain the lack of scientific evidence for the MBTI, I haven’t found their explanations very impressive. These people tend to spend more time and energy in musing in the assumed stupidity of MBTI the MBTI:ers, rather than providing a nuanced in-depth analysis of actual scientific studies. Most common article referred to, when speaking of lack of evidence for MBTI, seems to be this one by psychology professor David Pittenger: Measuring the MBTI…And Coming Up Short

Some points being made here:
*According to MBTI, people are either introvert or extravert, and there are few people in the grey-zone in between. This would show a bimodal distribution on a statistic test. However, at tests conducted, no such results are shown, there is no bimodal distribution – thus the MBTI is not reliable.
*According to MBTI, people don’t change type. Studies however show that there is a low ”test – retest reliability”. People who do the test multiple times tend to get different results over time, which contradicts the MBTI theory that people do not change.

These results however, don’t say much to me. Mainly because I don’t think most MBTI-tests, are reliable in detecting actual functions of people. I know for myself, I’ve taken several of these MBTI-tests, and I tend to get different result every time, but I don’t think it’s because I’m changing type – rather I think it is the tests that are unreliable. And I know a relative of mine who had a professional MBTI-test and according to that test he had a preference for intuition, but out from my experience, knowing him for many years, he strikes me as a quite clear example of person with sensing preference. So then it doesn’t surprise me at all that there is no “bimodal distribution” or “test – retest reliability”, because the test was never accurate in the first place.

Subjective validation vs. objective validation

An example of a representative for the Scientists can be “The Skeptics Dictionary”. Here is an article which deals with both Jung’s typology and the MBTI at that site. It has some strong arguments, pointing out potential weaknesses of MBTI. There are several ways one can get mislead when one doesn’t use scientific investigation to validate ones theory. Some issues are brought up in Skeptics Dictionary’s article on Subjective validation. Associated problems when using subjective validation, which both Jungians and MBTI:ers do, include:

The forer effect, Self-deception, Confirmation bias, Selective thinking, Wishful thinking

MBTI:ers and Jungians are indeed likely to fall into traps listed above, but I’m inclined to say that so are also all other people. Looking at the Scientists criticism of MBTI for example, I think it’s fair to say that they themselves are drawn towards selective thinking, confirmation bias etc. Subjectivity is not something one gets away from so easily, and one may question if it’s all desirable to get away from subjectivity. Rather than dismiss subjectivity, one sometimes has to learn how to deal with it.

The articles above help to show the dangers of subjective validation. However, even if there are many problems with subjective validation, sometimes one will find that subjectivity is far superior to objectivity anyway. The Skeptics Dictionary may be good in highlighting problems of subjectivity, but it is also rather one-sided as it doesn’t seem to recognize that there are also many strengths of subjectivity. Objective validation has it’s problems and limits too, and sometimes subjective validation is to be preferred.

Some outlines for better scientific investigations

I want to claim, that in order to scientifically investigate the validity or usefulness of Jung’s typology and the MBTI, you need to confront yourself with extreme methodological difficulties. It will be very difficult both to set up a plan for a study, implement the study, and then interpret and mediate the results. When one is dealing with methodological difficulties, it can be reason to turn to philosophers rather than scientists for advice. Consider for example this quote by Ludwig Wittgenstein:

One of the most important tasks is to express all false thought processes so characteristically that the reader says, “Yes, that’s exactly the way I meant it”. To make a tracing of the physiognomy of every error. Indeed we can only convict someone else of a mistake if he acknowledges that this really is the expression of his feeling.

or this quote by Soren Kierkegaard:

If we wish to succeed in helping someone to reach a particular goal we must first find out where he is now and start from there.

Here Scientists seems to be coming short, they do not care to find out where their target really is at – and so when they think they are attacking MBTI:ers and Jungians they are in fact attacking something which the MBTI:ers and Jungians tend to not quite recognize. The quote below by John B. Lloyd may serve as an example of where many MBTI:ers/Jungians considers themselves to be, and why they often consider themselves invulnerable to the Scientists attacks:

The Myers-Briggs understanding of personality type can be seen as a hierarchy of two levels, the first of these theory-free, the second theory-laden. Stripped of its theoretical framework, Myers-Briggs typology becomes a simple taxonomy, with 16 types identified only by their observed characteristics. Parallels with 18th-century botany and zoology and with (the 20th century) Colour Me Beautiful illustrate that taxonomies can exist robustly without a supporting theoretical framework. Furthermore, Myers-Briggs typology retains much of its practical value when reduced to a theory-free taxonomy. The two levels of Myers-Briggs typology differ in their epistemic status. Myers-Briggs typology as a theory free taxonomy cannot be falsified and indeed does not need to claim that it is the only possible classification. By contrast, Myers-Briggs theory postulates the existence and singular importance of a number of entities (e.g., the four pairs of polarities) and the determinative nature of the dynamic interaction between the four components of a personality type. All of this is open to question and, in theory if not yet in practice, to testing and therefore conceivably to falsification. (ref)

I do not think Lloyd’s reasoning is unproblematic here (I’m inclined to think that his presupposition that something can have a practical value and yet cannot be falsified is contradictory) but I do think he has some good points and it helps to bring another perspective.

When you’ve appropriately set up a plan for a scientific study, most likely you will find that it cannot really be an interesting question ”if” there is scientific support for Jungian typology and MBTI, but rather ”in what sense” and ”to what extent” there is scientific support.

Summing up

Reading this article one may think I favor the Jungians in front of the MBTI:ers. In a sense I am, but I think that the Jungians fails in one important aspect in which the MBTI:ers succeed. A problem with the Jungians is that they don’t manage to reach out to many people. Myers-Briggs succeeds in doing something which few others have succeeded with, that is mediating something profound (which I do believe the Jungian typology is) to a broad audience.

The Scientists help to show some of the problems with the MBTI, but they are being one-sided and ignorant when they end up seeing no value at all in the typology. The MBTI:ers tend to underrate the value and usefulness of objective validation, while Scientists tend to underrate the value and usefulness of subjectivity. Subjective validation is sometimes needed, it cannot always be replaced by objective validation, but one needs to recognize the dangers with subjective validation.

Meanwhile working on this article, I’ve come to realize that I myself have been simplifying in articles I’ve written on Jungian typology. For example, in some articles I’ve written about introverted intuition, without having accurate understanding of what it really is.

References and further reading

Texts that exemplify the Jungian approach
Psychological Types by Carl Jung
Personality Types: Jung’s Model of Typology by Daryl Sharp
Tracking the Elusive Human – Part I: C.G. Jung’s Psychological Types by James and Tyra Arraj – This text gives a good biographical background to Jung’s work Psychological Types, and also deals with the question of why Jung wasn’t pleased with how others used his typology. In my opinion one of the better texts written on the topic.

Texts that exemplify the MBTI approach
Typology Central – One of many MBTI/typology forums – One of many pages where you can read about the different MBTI types

Texts that exemplify the “Scientist”/skeptic approach
infj or estp idgaf the mbti and beyond
myers briggs test unscientific
Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless

Other links
Free Jung Typology/MBTI test
The Battle of the Giants: Big Five versus MBTI @ staffanspersonalityblog – A well-written, nuanced analysis, comparing MBTI and Big Five personality classification
My journey into (and out of) MBTI.
Jung and the post-Jungians – An article mapping different fractions of Jungians/Post-Jungians, also placing in the MBTI/Type Society.

Internal links
What is so special about Jungian Typology?
Jung’s Typology and Philosophy
Alan Watts on Science, Buddhism, Jung and Wittgenstein
Wittgenstein MBTI, Why he was Introverted iNtuitive (INxJ)
The task of philosophy is to use ”introverted intuition”?

Posted in Jungian Typology, Logic and science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A philosopher’s guide to Pierre Bourdieu

Some would perhaps call Pierre Bourdieu more of an anti-philosopher than a philosopher. I want to claim that Bourdieu was a philosopher, and stress Bourdieu’s role within philosophy. It is true that Bourdieu strongly criticized academic philosophy, but Bourdieu also associated himself with and found inspiration from canonized philosophers of both older and newer times, such as Pascal, Leibniz, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Foucault. And as pointed out by Staf Callewaert, “Bourdieu insists he has nothing against philosophy as a discipline”. I think, that instead of being regarded as an outsider and enemy of philosophy, Bourdieu could be regarded as an insider, as a bridge-builder between different branches of philosophy, and as someone who can help bring philosophy to a better reputation.

Selected quotes and commentary of Pierre Bourdieu

Bourdieu and (academical) philosophy
Bourdieu on language
Bourdieu on self-reflexivity
Bourdieu on contextual orientation
Presentation of some of Bourdieu’s key concepts

References and further reading

Bourdieu and (academical) philosophy

Philosophers ask the hardest questions there is to ask but…

“Bourdieu says that philosophers ask the hardest questions there is to ask about the social world but if you want to start thinking seriously about the questions the philosophers ask you should do social science. That philosophers are not good really at dealing with the questions that they ask because they don’t engage in empirical research.” – Ghassan Hage lecture on Pierre Bourdieu (ref)

(I think this quote mainly concerns the problems of “practical philosophy”)

The philosophers’ illusio

“Every participant who wants to succeed within the field of philosophy must be prepared to engage or invest in the game in some way. Illusio is Bourdieu’s term for the tendency of participants to engage in the game and believe in its significance, that is, believe in that the benefits promised by the field are desirable. […] Whatever the combatants on the ground may battle over, no one questions whether the battles in question are meaningful. The considerable investments in the game guarantee its continued existence. Illusio is thus never questioned.” – Henrik Lundberg & Göran Heidegren (ref)

The problem of questioning philosophy without questioning the philosophical institution

“Every attempt to bring philosophy into question which is not bound up with a questioning of the philosophical institution itself still plays the institution’s game by merely playing with fire, by rubbing up against the limits of the sacred circle, while still carefully refraining from moving outside it.” – Pierre Bourdieu (ref)

Nothing against philosophy as a discipline

“[Bourdieu] insists that he has nothing against philosophy as a discipline. He notices that he has tried to contribute to a ‘sociology of philosophy’ in order to liberate the discipline from the constraints imposed by a ‘philosophy of philosophy’ that only reproduces the dominant philosophical doxa.” – Staf Callewaert (ref)

(Bourdieu surely was very critic of academical philosophy, but it seems to me this easily gets misunderstood and exaggerated. I’d argue he wasn’t all that dismissive about it. For example in this post I point out his deep respect for Wittgenstein, one of the front figures within academical philosophy)

Back to top

Bourdieu on language

Developing central line of inquiry projected by Austin and Wittgenstein

“Bourdieu develops the central line of inquiry projected by Austin and Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language … [but] Bourdieu goes much further than either Austin or Wittgenstein in providing the theoretical tools and empirical methods for a systematic analysis of the social forces, structures, and contexts that actually shape linguistic meaning” – Richard Shusterman, Bourdieu A Critical Reader (ref)

Criticizing Austin and Habermas for their use of ‘illocutionary force’

“concepts such as `illocutionary force’, […] tends to locate the power of words in words themselves rather than in the institutional conditions of their use” – Bourdieu (ref)

“The limits (and the interest) of Austin’s attempt to define performative utterances lie in the fact that he does not exactly do what he thinks he is doing, and this prevents him from following it through to the end. Believing that he was contributing to the philosophy of language, he was in fact working out a theory of a particular class of symbolic expressions, of which the discourse of authority is only the paradigmatic form” – Bourdieu (ref)

The evolution of a legitimate language

“the legitimate language is the result of a complex historical process, sometimes involving extensive conflicts (especially in colonial contexts) between a particular language, which emerges as the dominant one, and other languages or dialects, which are eliminated or subordinated to it.” (ref)

Question of “practical competence” more central than question of “grammatical competence”

“Lack of competence of the legitimate language entails exclusion from the mainstream society or silence. By lack of competence Bourdieu means not so much lack of linguistic or grammatical competence as lack of ‘practical competence’.
This is not the Chomskyan competence, that is the capacity to generate an unlimited sequence of grammatically well formed sentences, but rather a capacity to produce expressions which are appropriate for particular situations, that is, a capacity to produce expressions à propos. This is the capacity to make oneself heard, believed, obeyed, and so on. It is the recognition of the right and authority to speak.” – (ref)

Back to top

Bourdieu and self-reflexivity

“If there is a single feature that makes Bourdieu stand out in the landscape of contemporary social theory, it is his signature obsession with reflexivity.” – Loic Wacquant

To turn one’s weapons against oneself

“…as I wrote on skholé and all these other things, I could not fail to feel the ricochet of my own words. I had never before felt with such intensity the strangeness of my project, a kind of negative philosophy that was liable to appear self-destructive.” – Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations

To humble oneself and take interest in the ordinary, Bourdieu more of a Pascalian than affiliated with Marx

“For a long time I had adopted the habit, when asked the (generally ill-intentioned) question of my relations with Marx, of replying that, all in all, if I really had to affiliate myself, I would say I was more of a Pascalian. I was thinking in particular of everything that concerns symbolic power, the aspect through which the affinity appears most clearly, and other, less often observed, facets of his work, such as the refusal of the ambition of foundation. But, above all, I had always been grateful to Pascal, as I understood him, for his concern, devoid of all populist naivety, for ‘ordinary people’ and the ‘sound opinions of the people’; and also for his determination, inseparable from that concern, always to seek the ‘reason of effects’, the raison d’étre of the seemingly most illogical or derisory human behaviours — such as ‘spending a whole day in chasing a hare’ — rather than condemning or mocking them, like the ‘half-learned’ who are always ready to ‘play the philosopher’ and to seek to astonish with their uncommon astonishments at the futility of common-sense opinions.” – Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations

Back to top

Bourdieu on Contextual Orientation

The importance of contextual orientation

(If you read English translations of Bourdieu’s books, you will often find a preface by Bourdieu especially dedicated for the translated version where he discusses the problems of moving texts from one context to another – I think this can be seen as an indicator of how important contextual orientation is for Bourdieu)

“Many misunderstandings in international communication are a result of the fact that texts do not bring their context with them” – Bourdieu, The international circulation of ideas in Bourdieu : Critical reader (all of this essay deals with the question of contextual orientation)

“In the international (and also the intergenerational) circulation of ideas […] texts are transmitted without the context of their production and use, and count on receiving a so-called ‘internal’ reading which universalizes and eternalizes them while derealizing them by constantly relating them to the sole context of their reception.” – Bourdieu, Homo Academicus

The advantage and the disadvantage of the outsider

“It is understandable that a book aiming to account for this sort of initiatory itinerary orientated towards that reappropriation of the self which, paradoxically, is only accessible through objectification of the familiar world, is bound to be read differently by readers who are part of this world as opposed to those who are outsiders. […] It could be supposed that, contrary to the native reader who understands only too well in one sense, but who may be inclined to resist objectification, the foreign reader, because (at least at first sight) he has no direct stake in the game which is described, will be less inclined to offer resistance to the analysis. All the more so since, as it happens in the theater that one may laugh unwittingly at the portrait of one’s own foibles, the foreign reader can always elude the challenges implicit in situations or relations which he does find familiar, by isolating only the most blatantly exotic, but perhaps also the least significant, characteristics of academic traditions thus dismissed as archaisms, thereby managing all the better to keep his distance.” – Bourdieu, Homo Academicus

Back to top

Presentation of some of Bourdieu’s concepts

Habitus – A set of dispositions which incline agents to act and react in certain ways. The dispositions generate practices, perceptions and attitudes which are regular without being consciously co-ordinated or governed by any rule. […] Its conception is primarily dynamic and operational, as opposed to static and ontological. […] not, strictly speaking, the cause of behaviours […] “To do something ‘regular’ but in a spontaneous way”
Illusio – “is Bourdieu’s term for the tendency of participants to engage in the game and believe in its significance, that is, believe in that the benefits promised by the field are desirable.” (ref)
Doxa – “Common belief” or “popular opinion”. “The power of doxa is in its hidden nature which claims that what it claims to be ‘reality’ is the one and only ‘truth’ about the nature of existence” (ref)
The scholastic point of view – (term borrowed from J.L. Austin) “the particular use of language where, instead of grasping and mobilizing the meaning of a word that is immediately compatible with the situation, we mobilize and examine all the possible meanings of that word, outside of any reference to the situation.” … “The scholastic view is a very peculiar point of view on the social world, on language, on any possible object of thought that is made possible by the situation of skhole, of leisure, of which the school – a word which also derives from skhole – is a particular form, as an institutionalized situation of studious leisure.”
(I believe that Wittgenstein’s famous quote “philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday“, in other words could be described as “philosophical problems arise when one views things from a scholastic point of view“)

Back to top

References and further reading

Works by Pierre Bourdieu
Pascalian Mediations -One of Bourdieu’s (meta-)philosophical works. In this book Bourdieu deals with the problems of academical philosophy and scholastic reason, and he explains his own method and some of his key concepts. If you ask me, this book could well fit in as a reading in a course on philosophy/history of philosophy.
Language and symbolic power – Another of the most “philosophical” works of Bourdieu. Speaks with J.L. Austin, Wittgenstein, Habermas, Saussure, Chomsky and others.
Homo Academicus – A sociology of the intellectuals
Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste – One of Bourdieu’s most famous works. Here Bourdieu develops the correspondence analysis which led to construction of his famous maps of fields/”social rooms” (an example of this kind of map shown here)

Secondary literature on Bourdieu
Key concepts in Language and Symbolic Power – Powerpoint presentation of key concepts in Bourdieu’s work Language and Symbolic Power
Bourdieu A Critical Reader editor Richard Shusterman. I’d especially recommend first two chapters Introduction: Bourdieu as Philosopher and Bourdieu and Anglo-American Philosophy both written by Richard Shusterman, and also last chapter The Social Conditions of the International Circulation of Ideas by Bourdieu himself.
“Back to the rough Grounds of Praxis – :
Exploring Theological Method With Pierre Bourdieu”
by Daniel Franklin Pilario – This book connects Bourdieu and Wittgenstein in a peculiar way as the title ‘back to the rough ground’ refers to famous quote by Wittgenstein
Bourdieu, Critic of Foucault” by Staf Callewaert
Towards a Sociology of Philosophy by Henrik Lundberg & Göran Heidegren
An invitation to Reflexive Sociology with Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant
Lecture on Bourdieu by Ghassan Hage – First part of the lecture he discusses Bourdieu’s relationship to philosophy, and then he goes on explaining some of Bourdieu’s key concepts. Ghassan Hage is a good lecturer, enthusiastic and pedagogical.
Sociology is a martial art – Video documentary on Bourdieu

Internal links
Sartre’s “total intellectual” vs. Bourdieu’s “collective intellectual”, and the philosophers role
Pierre Bourideu, philosophy and empirics
Internet Revolution, attentionalism and slow-thinking, with Alexander Bard and Pierre Bourdieu
Bourdieu and academical philosophy
Bourdieu vs. “The Total Intellectual”

Back to top

Posted in Critical theory etc, Language and communication, Metaphilosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments