Bourdieu, Language-based Ethnographies and Reflexivity (Routledge 2019) – Sample Chapter

This is the final chapter of the book: Bourdieu, Language-based Ethnographies and Reflexivity published by Routledge 2019.

It begins with comments on previous chapters in the book but then develops what reflexivity meant for Bourdieu. I look at phenomenology, and language and aesthetics/ meaning with respect to knowing and experience. I also set out ‘levels’ of working with Bourdieu and what characterises each of them






Chapter 9


Bourdieu, Language-Based Ethnographies and Reflexivity: In Theory and Practice.


Michael Grenfell



In this chapter, I want to move towards a summary position if not actually a concluding one per se; this because the discussion around language, ethnography and reflexivity, and the extent to which Bourdieu furnishes us with new perspectives and practices, is necessarily unfolding and contingent. Nevertheless, in the light of the previous chapters, I think we can say something new and distinct about a position we can occupy in going forward in terms of our research theory and practice around language-based ethnographies and the way that reflexivity may operate within them. I shall begin by revisiting the main themes from part 1 of the book in the light of the part 2 chapters and the consideration given to the latter in the previous chapter. I shall formally connect aspects of reflexivity emerging in our practical research examples with the kind of practices and insights recommended to us by Bourdieu in his own writing on reflexivity in research activity. However, I then want to probe deeper to tease out what we might understand to be going on in terms of the relationship between language, social science research, and ourselves, both individually and as a group in constituting a new form enquiry, the kind of knowledge it gives rise to and how it might be represented equally in the mind of the writer and reader of resultant narrative accounts.


Language, Ethnography and Reflexivity

Part 1 of our book began by setting out its main themes; in particular, we are interested in language-based ethnographies and the extent to which reflexivity can be said to play a part in their construction and, assuming that its does, what form(s) that might take. Our focus on the work of Pierre Bourdieu arises from our belief that his form of social philosophy offers a particularly original approach both to research practice and what we understand as a reflexive methodology in situ. As chapter 1 made clear, both language and ethnography are distinct academic disciplines with their own provenance and social histories prior to their hybridisation at a particular period of time. Knowing this, first, and considering their distinct histories is, of course, one form of reflexivity as it allows us to set our own endeavours within a chronology of scientific development. It further provides us with the opportunity to realise that these terms – language and ethnography – and the study practices they adopt, are hardly unproblematic, and there is a welter of (theoretical and practical) issues surrounding each of them distinctively before they are employed in tandem. At the core of such are mundane issues of project plan, research questions, data collection and analysis, interpretation and conclusions.


No such activity can take place without a good deal of reflection; indeed, we can hardly get out of bed without calling into being a whole set of cognitive processes in orientating our present moments in relation to the past and the future – what phenomenologists sometimes more grandly refer to as ‘protension’. Actualised in research practice, such reflexivity raises issues of the nature of theory and its relationship to reality and ‘the truth’; in other words, degrees of confidence over the authenticity of representation, and the means we have to articulate it. We saw the tension in realising that any extraction from reality risks becoming partial truth, at its extreme, no more than reproducing the original relationship that the researcher holds with their object of research, either and/ or empirically. But, we also saw that this danger poses a still greater risk: that, in recognising it, we risk descending into an extreme form of relativism and, understanding that language is by its very nature arbitrary, commit ourselves to a form of ethnography that offers its outcomes as merely the ‘poetics and politics’ of the researcher themselves. Here, the researcher becomes the focus more than the researched. It was partly to offset this danger that we turned to Bourdieu, simply because he developed his own ‘reflexive method’ in opposition to being pulled into such extremes. Features of our account of Bourdieu stressed the way, as is often the case with ethnographers, his own research grew out of personal experience and concerns, and was indeed shaped by them. This realisation again immediately challenges the notion of the ‘objective researcher’ and their privileged ‘eye’. It consequently brings to the fore the whole relationship between the ethnographer and research object, as we have seen in the part II chapters; both in terms of the biases this can introduce and indeed the insights it might provide. How to discern one from the other? In chapter 3, we argued that the sort of conceptual tools developed by Bourdieu offered a certain analytic rigor for two principal reasons: firstly, they were logically necessitated by his own readings of the empirical practical data in which he submerged himself; and second, these acts themselves could be articulated and understood in terms of grounding philosophies identifiable in the neo-Kantian philosophical tradition. Central to that tradition is the whole relationship between subject and object, implying questions of both epistemology and ontology, again as is ably demonstrated by the part II chapters. Such themes coalesce around the issue of ‘participant observation’; a term used to describe the common practice of (and thus relationship to) entering ethnographic fields as both participant and observer to see and describe what is occurring there. Unsurprisingly, Bourdieu see ‘participant observation’as a contradiction in terms and in its place posits ‘participant objectivation’where there is an ‘objectification of the knowing subject’, as the researcher turns their tools of analysis on themselves and, in so doing disarms themselves in order to at least partly escape from the epistemological traps inherent in the act of research. But, what is ‘participant objectivation’ in practice, and does it not actually preserve to subject/ object dichotomy the whole enterprise was meant to avoid? It certainly sounds, on the one hand, very close to ‘objectivity’ and ‘objectification’. At the same time, does this acknowledgement of the subjective relativity of the research not return us to the issue of the ‘impossibility’ of interpretation and representation? Can there be a third position somewhat beyond these two: a kind of ‘reflexivity objectivity’, that is neither objective Popperian ‘knowledge without a knowing subject’, nor relative interpretative subjectivity, the sort of nihilistic black hole of differ-ance (sic.) from which all sense loses its meaning. The rest of this chapter explores and responds to these issues and questions. I do this, first by returning to issues of scholastic biases and what we might do about these, offering exemplary consideration of the case of linguistic ethnography referred to earlier in chapter 2, and then further in terms of the whole philosophical relation between reflexivity, knowledge and the language we use to represents them, and what it implies for both our relationship to language ethnographic practice and our own empirical selves.


The Research Object, Participant Objectivation and Scholastic Reason

Clearly, there are ways of thinking about any research object – in language-based ethnographies – and this thinking amounts to a construction; by consequence, a reflexive approach is both able to objectify the principles underpinning such a construction and the justification for their deployment. This is why Bourdieu refers to ‘the construction of the research object’ as the ‘summum of the art’ of social science research (1989c: 51). Moreover, it is not something that is operationalized once and for all out the outset of undertaking research, through ‘a sort of inaugural theoretical act’. Rather:


…it is a protracted and exacting task that is accomplished little by little through a whole series of rectifications and amendments…that is, by a set of practical principles that orients choices at once minute and decisive….



We can see this process occurring in the practical reflections in Part II.

If this is a kind of pre-reflexive, and on-going, reflexivity, one of the essential features of it is the pre-given; in other words, how the object of research is normally represented within the academic field or discipline, and here there are issues about language and the assumptions that are made there on the basis of the terms used. As Bourdieu writes, we need to ‘beware of words’ because they present themselves as if they are value-neutral, whilst in effect they are socio-historical constructions, taken-for-granted as expressions of ‘common sense’, but with specialist assumptions about their meanings and imbued with logically practical implications of such meanings. In practice, words are susceptible to a kind of ‘double historicisation’: firstly, a word is used to represent a certain phenomenon at a particular point in time – one which is often constructed and presented in a way which renders as transparent the social and historical aspects of its construction; secondly, by not recognising words as such, that de-historicised form is then subject to further historicisation, as the original form is taken as the basis of fact from which further work and elaboration is operationalised. In this way, the most innocent word can carry within it a whole set of un-objectified assumptions, interests, and meanings, which confuse the reality of representation with the representation of reality. In other words, at base are un-objectified personal relations and field conventions, which go unchallenged as such because of the interests they bolster. In effect, this is to confuse ‘substantialist’ and ‘relational’ thinking: indeed, it is so easy to (miss)take constructs as things in themselves rather than as sets of relations. To do one rather than the other – without knowing about it, still less acknowledging it – is to accept a whole epistemological matrix which has direct consequences for the way that an object of research is thought about, with the implications this error entails for the methodologies employed to collect and analyse data, and for the conclusions drawn as a consequence. Without a reflexive reconstruction, research therefore risks expressing an unacknowledged pre-existing scholastic orthodoxy (for itself) rather than the thing (in itself) in praxeological terms.


These issues lay behind the three biases mentioned by Bourdieu and referred to in chapter 3: the conceptual orthodoxy of their field; their own background and position within it; and the very non-empirical relation that the researcher takes up – skholè – vis-à-vis the object of investigation (Bourdieu, 2000b: 10). There seem to be two prime ways of doing this. Firstly, there is the need to think conceptually of oneself, both empirically and as researcher, in terms of habitus, fieldand capital, the very use of which would seem to purge the undertaking of any transcendent, substantialistobjectivist science (control) in favour of a genuine relationalone (emancipatory). Secondly, the need to place oneself in the field of knowledge in terms of connections with the field of power, connections and relations to the field, and one’s individual personal relationships in terms ofhabitusand its position and proximity to others. Many elements of these areas of relationship and bias are identifiable in the chapters in part although, as is often the case with Bourdieu, not expressed systematically. To sum up these can be expressed as:


Source of Bias

  1. Position in Social Space (Habitus/Cognitive Structures)
  2. Orthodoxy of the Field Site (language)
  3. Skholè – Scholastic Fantasy (Relations to the world – Substantialist/Relational)


Reflexive View

  1. Fields in relation to the field of power – my connection/connecting.
  2. My relationship to the doxa in the field; held in institution. What am I connected to? Doxa of the discipline – Aims. Position in field.
  3. My habitusand that of other people in the site context;

Their habitusand mine; personal relationships/networks. My position and proximity.


This Reflexive View thus adopts a similar schema to the 3-level method that Bourdieu offers for fieldanalysis (see Grenfell, 2012a: chapter 13), which really covers a range of enquiries set between the individual and society as a whole: the fieldand the fieldof power, the fielditself, and the subjective (dis)positions, habitus, of those within the field– however, this time deployed in terms of the fieldof the research discipline and the individual researcher rather than the fieldof the research object itself. What might this begin to look like in practice? I want to return to the case of LinguisticEthnographydiscussed in chapter 2, so that we can contrast a Bourdieusian approach to reflexivity with that expounded by some of its exponents.


The Case of Linguistic Ethnography

Although, I have chosen to use the example of Linguistic Ethnography in order to exemplify issues of reflexivity and participant objectivation, a similar exercise could be undertaken by any other sub-field of applied linguistics and language-based ethnography itself. What I believe is at stake is the scientific necessity and integrity of this approach to the study of language in terms of its modus operandi. In other words, what does a Bourdieusian approach offer that others do not? What are the extent and the limits of its ‘science’?


In chapter 2, we referred to Rampton’s argument (2007a) in setting out this ‘new’ field of academic study as an ‘arena’, or ‘site of encounter’ for the study of language in society. He writes on behalf of its constituency that it is an academic hybrid of the disciplines of ‘ethnography’ and ‘language/ linguistics’, and so is highly pertinent to the themes of this book. As noted above, neither discipline in themselves have existed in isolation and other disciplinary approaches have also developed out of concerns with language within a socio-cultural context: for example, Conversation Analysis, New Literacy Studies, and Critical Discourse Analysis. Of course, such a range of approaches relates very closely to the issues discussed above in terms of ‘the construction of the research object’, and there would certainly be value in examining the way socio-cultural issues of language have been approached in the various forms of ethnography – ethnology, anthropology, and sociology – raising just the sort of questions about culture and structure addressed previously. How does Linguistic Ethnography shape up within this disciplinary space? Ethnography is intended, Rampton argues, to ‘open up’ linguistics, whilst linguistics ‘ties down’ ethnography (p. 8); and so offer broader socio-cultural, context features, but with more precise, empirical techniques used in data analysis. By ‘opening up’, linguistic ethnographers intend developing cultural sensitivity, reflexivity, and contextual understanding; by ‘tying down’, they intend technical descriptions, systematic analysis, and de-limitable processes.


Linguistic Ethnography is, clearly, a ‘young’ academic sub-field, and one primary inaugurated within a UK-based academic community. It is therefore not possible to comment on the realization of its agenda up to now: indeed, a special addition of the Journal of Sociolinguistics in 2007 was preoccupied almost entirely with issues of definition, with virtually no empirical exemplification. More actual empirical studies have been published since then (for example, Copland, 2015; Creese, 2015).  However, what might we say about it in terms of its fieldposition and those involved in it – as a reflexive exercise? In Bourdieusian terms, for example, we might see such processes of definition as involving attempts at establishing legitimationin the academic space – to be ‘recognised’ in the fieldof linguistics; and consecration– to be acknowledged. This is one strategy to claim objectivity: that is, create one’s own critical community. Unsurprising, therefore, that such a field is led and thus dominated by those who created it. But, what justification is there for this? What I want to do in the context of these issues is to draw further on Rampton’s defining article, to reflect further on this sub-field as it is constituted, and thus make a contribution to the construction of Linguistic Ethnography as a research object itself. In a very Bourdieusian way, this turns linguistic ethnography into an objectof analysis rather than an unquestioned instrumentof analysis.


In an informal survey of institutional affiliations of members of the UK-based Linguistic Ethnography Forum (LEF) in 2006, 54 were aligned with education, 53 with language, 17 with culture and area studies, 6 with anthropology, and 10 with disciplines such as computing, psychology, medicine and geography. This statistic highlights the disciplinary dispositionsof those within the Linguistic Ethnographic grouping: predominantly language and education. The latter are characterised by their multidisciplinary nature. Their position within the academic field is therefore often ambiguous, as is the cultural capital(symbolic value) that mediates their functions, since they appeal to a multitude of ‘home’ disciplines, all whilst needing to respond to the expectations set them by the fieldof power (basically, politicians control over curriculum and training). This positioning creates enormous tensions between education and language practitioners in terms of theory and research, and what is valued in terms of each. Such tensions extend to issues of national and international constitution and status. In terms of its hybridity, Rampton points out that the institutional links between linguistics and anthropology have traditionally been weaker in the UK than in the US, which might indeed explain why Linguistic Ethnography began primarily as a UK-based discipline; in other words, there is an academic space that has not been colonised hitherto. UK researchers in education and linguistics have also tended to be older, as entrance into these disciplines generally occurs after individuals have undertaken some years work as a teachers or language specialists – therapists, for example. They consequently emphasize the practical in contrast to the focus on scholarship in the US. Such backgrounds also often result in a more personal investment in the research; indeed, their own experience is frequently a central motivation for research (our part II chapters attest to the personal involvement and attachment that linguistic ethnographers can hold with the object of their research). This has methodological implications: moving from ‘inside-outwards’, in trying to get analytical distance on what is close-by. So, traditionally, language specialists and teachers begin research by examining their own practical and immediate context in this way. Rampton argues (op. cit.: 5) that this characteristic implies a totally different relation to the object of research when compared to ‘professional researchers’ (in the US) who, by moving ‘outside-inwards’, are attempting to become familiar with the strange. In the academic field, knowledge helps the researcher feel empowered as a professional. The quickest way to acquire it may, therefore, be to address immediate practical interests. Here, there are again issues of theory and practice and the traditional tension between scholarship and practical relevance, which are also at the core of ‘linguistic ethnography’ and Bourdieu’s own ‘theory of practice’. These aspects of Linguistic Ethnography demonstrate the importance of the habitusof researchers in shaping their methodological approach and preoccupations, as well as the significance of the social conditions that surround them; in this case, the structure of the academic space, its logic of practice and the capitalthat is valued there.


Personal dispositions are therefore tied up with the nature of the academic fielditself, and the research activity that takes place there. Rampton further points out that academics are generally more fragmented in the UK than in North America – another feature of the national field. ‘Cross-disciplinary’ dialogues are therefore easier to establish and maintain in the UK than in the US. This issue involves the strength, or permeability, of discipline boundaries between the countries; it might simply be easier ‘to hybridise’ in the UK than USA. US linguistic anthropologists are also younger, and are therefore less likely to have practical experiences in their respective fields compared to their UK counterparts. Consequently, they are more motivated by theoretical interests than personal experience. Orientations are also distinct: American anthropologists, for example, tend to see cultural differences in classrooms whilst the British sociologists of education come from a tradition that sees class-based social structures in pedagogic systems. These issues go to the heart of the way an individual academic researcher might sense their whole being within the social space– as certainty or uncertainty – and the resultant confidence it gives them in terms of how to act and what to think. It follows that Linguistic Ethnography might be seen as a haven for researchers who sense themselves least secure in the academic space where disciplinary purity is often an asset in terms of cultural capital. In a way, it is a support and a protection, but it also declares – by its very existence – an inherent disciplinary insecurity; that is, by implicitly declaring that it is for those with interests that do not ‘fit’ in elsewhere. The key point here is that if those involved in Linguistic Ethnography undertook a process of reflexivity – as part of a process of participant objectivation – some of these issues may emerge in a way which might bring to light issues of contingency about their practice: a contingency with epistemological and methodological implications beyond those expressed in the ‘reflexive accounts’ of their research practice.


However, academic habitus’are not simply constituted by personal background and institutional space. Academic sub-fields are also framed by professional associations. For example, the relationship between the Linguistic Ethnography Forum (LEF) – the main British body for Linguistic Ethnography – and other academic associations is a significant one. Two associations have played important roles in developing LEF: The Sociolinguistics Symposia (SS) and the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL) in the UK. Each has a distinct formative influence. Whilst BAAL is a learned society with large financial resources – Cambridge University Press (CUP) co-sponsors 3-4 specialist seminars each year – the SS take place only every two years and are free-standing events, unsupported by the type of on-going administrative infra-structure provided by BAAL. These relationships themselves need to be understood in Bourdieusian terms as the relations between the commercial world of publishing (CUP) and the academic world of scholarship (SS) (and the tension, therefore, between what Bourdieu terms Scientific and Temporal Power – see Bourdieu 1996a). Such relationships will have an impact on the form that Linguistic Ethnography takes and the direction of scientific knowledge it produces; for example, in terms of what is deemed as marketable and saleable within an (academic) international market. The explosion in the number of academic journals published is evidence of their lucrative nature: a way in which scholarship is sold to commercial publishers for their profit in return for academic capitalin terms of ‘internationally peer reviewed’ publications – the standard currency for academic promotion. There is therefore an implicit collusion between researchers and publishers; indeed, a new academic area can thus be seen as just another ‘market opportunity’, which benefits both. This may be one reason why, as Rampton argues, the academic constitution of Linguistic Ethnography in the UK by its very nature itself does not provide ideal conditions for the processes of cumulative generalization of findings – it is just too fragmented: and why there is a lack of unified theory in Linguistic Ethnographic research; although a certain amount of conceptual theoretical language has emerged at a micro-linguistics level: performance, indexicality, entextualisation, metadiscursive framing, etc. It is hard not to see this as partly an outcome of the state of the academic fielditself set within the fieldof power as a dominated entity within the dominant.


Applied linguistics is, of course, a much larger and broader constituency under which a number of other language-study traditions have grouped, and language-based ethnographies might be seen as one of these, involving academic constituencies outside of both. And, as noted, each particular grouping has adopted particular models of language and linguistics, together with the relevant and methodological procedures. Are these traditions compatible and consistent with respect to the issues of theory and practice raised by Bourdieu’s approach? In fact, it is impossible not to see these traditions as in some ways competing with each other for what Bourdieu called a ‘monopoly of truth’; that is, struggling for dominant fieldpositions. We are reminded of Bourdieu’s view of the fieldof artistic production as a series of generational shifts (1996b/92: 159) in which, ‘to impose a new producer, a new product or a new system at any given moment on the market, is to relegate to the past a whole group of producers, products and systems of taste (or academic perspective), all hierarchised in relation to their own degree of legitimacy’ (ibid. my words in italics). In this respect, the academic fieldbehaves just like any other knowledge fieldwith generations of activists both displacing and being displaced in a general dynamic for consecration – connaissanceand reconnaissance(what is ‘known/ acknowledged’ and what is ‘recognised’) – within the field; all this is played out in terms of the relative logics of practice and capitalconfigurations at stake there, and with the resultant rewards and penalties (see Grenfell, 1999). Participant Objectivation is intended to raise such issues towards a clearly definition of science and truth.


As I have noted, it is common for researchers to claim ‘awareness’ of what they are doing and why. However, reflexivity for Bourdieu – Participant Objectivation – is more than this, because it involves an ‘objectification of objectification’ itself through an ‘objectivation of the knowing subject’. I have argued that to bring this about, such ‘objectivation’ requires the application of terms such as habitus, field, and capital– and the epistemology underlying them – to both the particular fieldof academic discourse and to those involved active within it – the researcher and researched. However, it is both an individual and (essentially) a collective undertaking. The products of any language and linguistic analyses need to be understood in terms of their characteristic position within a particular academic space, itself understood in terms of the socio-historical structure of the academic fieldat a particular time. This is what I am encouraging linguistic ethnography to do. This enhanced reflexive awareness permeates Bourdieu’s work and makes up the ‘realist third way’ (2004: 200) which he is advocating. Such is logically predicated from the very instant of his epistemological vision, even if it only gained prominence in the last decade of his career. It has to be because his epistemology of practice is too comprehensive to leave the researcher on the outside of it. Indeed, not to include the researcher in it is an act of intellectual bad faith, even if it requires them to vacate the position they have acquired in undertaking the research and disarmingthemselves of the intellectual weapons they have employed to gain it. Why? Because ‘the truth is that truth is at stake’ (Bourdieu, 1990d: 195). Moreover, such is not accomplished without a cost. Indeed, ‘one must choose to pay a higher price for truth while accepting a lower profit of distinction’ (1991a: 34). This can be read as a warning for all of us who adopt a Bourdieusian approach simply because of its own symbolic capital– that is, what it can confer in terms of implied distinction within the academic field. Ultimately, therefore, this philosophy is corrosive: both professionally and personally – if taken to its logical conclusion. However, it does put into sharp relief the relationship between the researcher and their research practice and the status of the resultant knowledge, which surely implies issues of integrity and objectivity when set against the danger of subjective bias. We have called it ‘praxeological’ knowledge; although this still raises questions of its nature and the way it might and can be expressed. This questions and issues are uncovered utilising the three biases listed above and what might be done in response to them. However, this is only a beginning, and a reflexive stance can involve a much more rigorous interrogation of the very nature of the subject-object relationship and the language used to express it. Indeed, language per se continues to haunts the discussion since language is very often the basis of thought and, in terms of language-based ethnographies, we are often employing language to refer to language referring to language in distinct socio-cultural contexts. The next section explores these issues of language in a little more depth.


Language, Reflexivity and Knowledge

Throughout this book, we have featured issues of language in conducting language-based ethnographies; in other words, the way that language manifests itself and in turn shapes socio-cultural communities. This focus has led us to enquiry into methodological issues involving the relationships between theory and practice. Moreover, however, we have put the dimension of reflexivity at the centre of our concerns. Here, the questions are: what is it? How far is it possible? Why do it? How to do it? What results? Clearly, reflexivity can be an implicit, unconscious aspect of research practice. But, we have seen that more can be said about it in a very explicit way. Such objectivemanifestations of reflexivity itself necessary involve language, and we have argued that Bourdieu’s conceptual terms have a useful role to play here. However, this still raises further questions about the link, indeed overlap, between reflexivity and the language in which it is expressed. What are the limits of reflexivity as expressed in thought and the language, which conveys it? These sections explore these crucial concerns.


Above, I have already noted that, besides his critique of language study, Bourdieu was wary of ‘words’, and indeed warned researchers to ‘beware of words’ (1989c: 54). He then makes the point that sometimes the language of research can become more realthan the object it aims to represent; this is why there is a need to focus on the language of representation in the constructing of the research object, as it is here that historical misrecognitionsare hidden. Similarly, the language of reflexivity sometimes risks reproducing another scholastic fantasy – the empirical relationship that the researcher holds with the research object – and the researcher seems to become almost ‘captured’ by their own prosaic. Indeed, language can almost create what it refers to, or might refer to; that is both the form and the content of social phenomena. Bourdieu draws attention to this way that language shapes experience in terms of the phenomenology of the affective life – the topic of a Masters thesis he apparently never completed:


There is a wisdom that is recorded over millennia, of symptoms which are translated into language (stomach knots, makes me feel sick) …..or is it that language has produced the symptoms?’. It was interesting because (in my work in Algeria) there was no language of emotions to do a comparative sociology of affective lives, which would employ language as a means of structuring perceptions and also bodily experiences.

(Bourdieu: 2008b: 352)


Here, language actually structures perception, a little like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This feature somewhat leads us to questions of language, the philosophy of language, and ultimately post-modernist issues about the relationship between language in representing the world and/or explaining it.


The play-off between language (conceptual terms) and perceived experience – in research itself – must therefore go to the heart of our epistemological concerns. It is tantamount to saying our thoughts not only shape what we see but in fact almost produce (and indeed limit) what we can seeand think. So, on what are they based? This is not just a question of linguistic relativity with respect to the signified but of actual exegesis and what is claimed in its name. In the same way that, in contemporary physics, if scientists look at electrons as discrete entities, they are discrete entities, and if they look at them as a wave, they (somewhat mysteriously) become a wave, maybe our enquiry into the empirical world requires us to understand the nature of our own consciousviewpoint (cognitive relationship) itself and the language we use to express it, in order for us to appreciate the way it shapes what we (can) see.


I believe these perspectives are very close to Bourdieu’s view of social space and phenomena as emergent processes. They certainly raise questions about how we conceptualise the social world and ourselves in it – empirically and as science researchers. We do, therefore, need a reflexive understanding of the epistemological status of the concepts we have – habitus, field andcapital, etc. – beneath the language used to express them; what they allow us to see – and not see.


The most direct response to this ambition is set out in the Theory of Practiceitself, and the characteristics of the knowledge outcome intended is made at the beginning of the Outline of aTheory of Practice (1977b) where Bourdieu writes of a series of ‘epistemological breaks’: firstly, from empirical knowledge – the naïve state; secondly, phenomenological subjective/ senseknowledge; and thirdly, from structuralistobjectivist knowledge. There is then, significantly, a final break with theoretical knowledge itself – a theory of theory – which is the true characteristic of the practical rationality and thus reflexive objectivityto which Bourdieu aspires. It is this final element that enshrines principles of reflexivity, which were not fully articulated until later in Bourdieu’s intellectual trajectory (see Bourdieu, 1998 ch. 6, 2000b, 2003, 2004). This place, Bourdieu argues, is achieved by constructing the generative principlesof research practice; in this case, in their momentof its accomplishment. This science of practices is this predicated on creatingthe conditions of possibilityof its realisation. So, what is this epistemological generative principle? And what are its conditions of possibility? And, how do we create them? Such questions imply a need to understand the relationship between the individual, the world, knowledge arising from it and the language used to express this knowledge. Once again, the language we use – the concepts – is clearly crucial in communicating our answers such questions. Habermas’ view on such matters offers a useful point of departure in responding:


…individuals, when they act communicatively, go through the natural (empirical) language, make use of interpretations that are culturally transmitted and make reference to something in the objective world, in the social world, which they share and make, and each one makes reference to something in its own subjective world simultaneously.

(Habermas, 1987a: 499-500)


This points to an inherent transhistorical rationality that is embedded in the very stuff of language for Habermas. Language is humanely communicative and modernist in essence. The task then, Habermas argues, is to abolish systemic ‘distortions’ to communication. The ‘cooperative principle’ of Grice takes a similar line (1975). However, for Bourdieu, such a communicative convergence can never arise from ordinary, empirical language; and there is a danger in Habermas of a transcendentalist illusion in embedding scientific rationalism in the structures of language and consciousness themselves, since conflating them dehistoricises the production of language and the interests is carries. In opposition to Habermas, Bourdieu hence argues that his own concepts are generated out of empirical practical exegesis(not theory). Concepts are therefore ‘logically necessitated’ by the observable relationships inherent in the data. This gives them an existential authenticity and offers a ‘double historicity’ of mental structures instantiated in social practice – as phylogenesis (previous fieldstructures) and ontogenesis (schemes of perception); all homologous as structuring andstructured structures. As such, concepts like habitus,fieldand capitalcan be seen as providing the foundations for a kind of Bourdieusian ‘communicative competence’ – a ‘language of association’ (linking subjects, the subject and the object, and the objects themselves) for those working from this perspective. Here, and through these concepts, the individual is seen as being somewhat ‘at one’ with the collectivity as they all share the same worldview. The ‘social’ world then becomes ‘objective’ – that is, communicable – and thus pertaining to a reality beyond the self (both previously empirical and scientific), although the latter can be accessed through it. At such points, the self and the collectivity become one and the same thing through this practical science; not simply empirically, but in some more ‘heightened’, emancipated realm beyond everyday subjective identification. It follows that the power of such language – the way it is used and the valued outcome of its deployment – carries with it the potential to both change relations to the empirical world and how we act as a result. Epistemological principles underlying these relations are hence critical in ascertaining certain forms of scientific knowledge and their effects.


Returning to Habermas’ epistemology, three epistemological modesare presented by him – nomothetic,hermeneutic, and critical– pertaining to substantive interests (see Grenfell, 2014: 151-168 for a Bourdieusian interpretation of such): law-giving, interpretive, and emancipatory (Habermas, 1987b). Given the above, however, such modes do not simply represent discrete, implicit epistemological interests – ways of knowing – but also need to be defined and expressed in terms of whole social relations to the world, which have practical, ultimately political, consequences. Bourdieusian science, therefore, implies a different form of relationship to the world and thus with a different interest. Such again can be understood in terms of praxeological knowledge, which might be seen as a fusion of the three Habermasian modes and sharing each of their corresponding interests– interpretative, law-bound (structural) and emancipatory. This is why Bourdieu insists on maintaining epistemological vigilance. Keeping these interests discrete can never amount to Habermasian communicative actionor competencefor him, since each imply a particular scholastic rather than practical understanding of (and thus relation to) the social world. This distinction needs to be objectified in presenting scientific knowledge as part of a reflexive undertaking in its very constitution. Indeed, reflexivity then becomes a principal pre-requisite condition of the possibility of Bourdieusian science as it sets the boundaries between the research subject and the object of research.


The Limits of the Subject-Object Divide

It is gain important to stress that Bourdieu’s theory of practicebegins in practice and ends in practice – the first empirical, the second scientific – its generative principle is therefore practice, as are its conditions of possibility. So, how do we achieve this reflexive practical gazeof practice inpractice expressed practically? The short answer is by not simply employing these concepts in research but going beyond them and turning them on the research product and researcher as well; and not as some posthocadjunct but as a central part of the entire research process.


Bourdieu clearly saw empirical data through his own (developing) habitusto the objective conditions of their own creation: both needing to be considered as the subject and the object of science. This is partly why he argues that researchers must not feignobjectivity as some sort of ‘disinterested other’, and would do better to rely on their own subjective experience in understanding ‘the objective’ (Bourdieu, 2000c). But not, it must be stressed, subjectivity as the empirical – non-reflexive – self, but ‘scientifically’, by thinking in terms of structural relations and developing an ‘ec-static’ language to express a dynamic process. This way of acting is more an ontology than epistemology as noted in Part II, as it acts both on the object of research and the objectifying subject. Acting from a Bourdieusian perspective, in terms of structural relations instead of positing a disinterested, Archimedean, substantialist viewpoint, therefore needs to be understood as having a causal efficacy on the research object, not simply in terms of a “gaze” (crudely often expressed as ‘lens’), since it implies practical consequences (and interests) both in terms of its construction and the consequences of analysis. Basically, we already construct the world by what we see and do not see (and why this is the case). There is then a clear distinction between the empirical and scientific habitusfor Bourdieu – their respective ontologies and epistemologies.  The fact that this theory of practiceis embodied in the concepts – habitus, fieldandcapital– means that these then need to be regarded as active epistemological matrices capable of affecting ontology and consequent understanding in terms of the phenomenological relationship to the social world – ultimately, both scientifically andempirically. Bourdieusian language (concepts) is then epistemologically charged and can provide the possibility of understanding of(empirical) practice aspractice inpractice, finally to be lived in (emancipatory) practice. To paraphrase Bourdieu: the science of this mode of knowledge finds its foundation in a theory of practice as practice, meaning an activity founded in cognitive operations, which mobilize a mode of knowing, which is not that of theory and concept… (but) asort of ineffable participation in an object known (in practice) (see Bourdieu, 1992: 433 my translation). Language is then both social and personal, and carries meaning from one to the other. The language of his key concepts (carrying an underlying epistemological theory of practice) are partly intended to lay bare the nature of that relationship and, in so doing, change it.


In a very Wittgensteinian sense, Bourdieu argues that language only has meaning in terms of the situationswithin which it is immersed at any one time and place – literally, a game!For him, the schemes of perception which individuals hold, and the language which carries them, are each homologously linked to social structures, which act as both their provenance and social destiny. Just as social agents exist in network relations, therefore, words also exist in networks of semantic relationsto each other – and partly acquire their meaning in terms of difference and similarity with respect to each other in specific time and place. Sense and meaning, then, are always determined in the interplay between individual meaning and the social context in which language is being expressed. Such contexts are set within social space– often as fields – that is bounded areas of activity: for example, education, culture, politics, etc. Words form a part of such social spaceand fieldsand are ultimately used to represent their particular way of thinking. By entering a field (implying a semantic network), a word thus takes on meaning from thatfield and defines meaning; which itself differs according to its position within the overall fieldand thus semantic space. The attribution of meaning is therefore also a kind of imposition (originating from the fieldcontext) – what Bourdieu terms a kind of transformation and transubstantiationwhere meaning is changed from one context to another: ‘the substance signified is the signifying form which is realized’ (1991b: 143) in practice. In other words, what is signified and signifying is socially co-terminus for Bourdieu; the meaning necessary to a fieldcontext is realised in the particular lexical/semantic form. So, words can have one meaning in one context and another elsewhere.  It is an imposition because any specific meaning can be projected onto a word – signifying signifier – prior to it being signified as a sign (word).


So, we need to see habitusand fieldas outside of this, to a certain extent; that is, not relative to social actualisation but somehow ‘scientific’ – i.e. implying stability of sense and meaning.


We know the world is relational and that language is also relational. The question then becomes what is the relationship between the two; and, in particular, the empirical and scientific world? If they both conform to the same logic, it might therefore be argued that the language of Bourdieu’s theory of practice is just as relative as any other. Absolute relativity is, of course, at the base of Post-modern philosophy and draws attention to a certain ‘nothing’ behind words – or, at best, extreme relativity. Derrida is a key proponent of this view and criticises any prescribing of meaning by breaking the link between linguistic signifierand signified. For him meaning is always differed – elsewhere (actually nowhere!!). Similarly, it follows that for him the concept is nothing more than a metaphor – an image to convey what lies beneath reality – with no representational truth. Pushed to an extreme, this argument claims that to do otherwise amounts to nothing more than the philosophical intention to dominate the world through metaphor. Indeed, Bourdieusian concepts are often taken and used in this metaphorical way; with a common view that it is possible to regard data through a Bourdieusian lens. Such a metaphoric deployment of these concepts is then an attempt to rationalise a data set, to make it contingent and mastered by rationality. Such is completely conducive with Derridean post-modernist philosophy and the arguments he makes for the non-representational deployment of language. Indeed, he argues that nothing surpasses metaphor that is not itself also metaphoric. Metaphor is itself hence dominated by this metaphoric process, and would seem to capture Bourdieu’s concepts in its turn. However, this is a recipe for again ensnaring thought and language (theory and practice) within a sort of self-referential nihilistic spiral of deflection. All language for Derrida is prone to this, even poetic language (and here we might recall the predilections of such as Marcus and Fischer for employing ‘poetics’ in place of analytic narratives in their ethnographies). But, Derrida argues, such poetics still set out to be both descriptive and objective, that is equally metaphoric and scientific, rational and rigorous – so, hence, solve nothing (all are metaphoric for him). In other words, metaphor cannot master language, thus cannot master a reality beyond words. In sum, language – and the concept – cannot master language – and the concept.


We might as well argue that what is needed is a concept of language which is not language itself, or indeed, a concept of practice which is not itself a practice in understanding practice. Philosophy, as theory of metaphor, will have been first a metaphor of theory. It follows that theory itself can be seen as a metaphor – as an act of seeing. This is why it is so easy to simply metaphorisedata with descriptive concepts in a Bourdieusian way. If one is to go beyond this, then a rigorous understanding/ application of reflexivity both in the actual formation and deployment of concepts at an exegetic level is critical; i.e., in its very act of becoming. How to do this?


Kant and a Theory of Knowledge

I believe that at this point it is worth revisiting Kant on knowledge and understanding as he is a philosopher who attempted to account for experience and how we make sense of it in terms of conceptual thinking.


Kant’s philosophy sets out to move away from earlier relativist views of knowledge about the external world, as dependent on sense perceptions and/or beliefs. His attempt to found an ‘objective knowledge’ out of metaphysics was aimed at giving scientific status to what otherwise might be considered individual subjective interpretation (Bourdieu’s empirical knowledge). For him, the knowable could only be grasped through the faculties of the mind,which made it essentially empiricist (practical by any other word for Bourdieu). These faculties included desire and feeling, but it is the cognitive which is particularly important in this case as it includes imagination, understandingand reason. He argues that Imaginationrepresents a sense object to the mind andUnderstandingclassifies and orders the data. Reasonis then the attempt to understand it in terms of these faculties and is unconditional; ideas of reason exist in and through understanding itself. For Kant, data are then ‘sensed’ by the imagination; but a priori knowledgeis needed for this; for example, concepts of space and time as conditions of existence. Understandinghas the power to form concepts about this experience through a priori knowledge: it is in this way that understanding ‘knows’ – that is, through such categories (concepts) as substance, relation, position, etc. Such categories are also shared – they pertain to common assent. What if we add habitus,field, and capital to this list of categories so that we take understanding as represented in the mind through such concepts; formed a priori, not as a part of human discourse but as a result of an application of Bourdieusian theory of practice. For Kant, a priori categories and the relationship between imagination, knowledge, sense data and understanding amount in essence to what he describes as the ‘transcendental aesthetic’ – literally, sense experience experienced in terms of a priori knowledge. Objects of thought may come as things themselves or representational objects, or indeed the conditions of representation. In fact, I am arguing that these conditions of representation can in fact be understood as Bourdieu’s conditions of possibilityas referred to earlier.In this way, the ‘knowing subject’, for Kant, is replaced by the functioning of consciousnessand defines the relation between subject and object. By giving a Bourdieusian twist on the same line of argument, I am suggesting that his conceptual tools can offer a quality of knowledge and understanding that is socially constructed and contingent whilst escaping extreme forms of post-modernist relativity; thus, redefining what we mean by subjectivity and objectivity.


Of course, Bourdieu wrote that the divide between objectivity and subjectivity was the most ‘ruinous’ in the social sciences, and also claimed that his intent was to make ‘a science of the dialectical relations between objective structures…and the subjective dispositions, within which these structures are actualised, and which tend to reproduce them’ (1977b: 3).  And, as we have seen, such structures need to be understood as gradations along a continuum between the ideational and the material. Concepts such as habitusand fieldare hence critically important for Bourdieu as a way of mediating the relationship between subject, object and context. Again, this enquiry deserves being pursued so we can understand the nature of the relationship between them; again, in particular, in terms of the individual and the social.


The subject-object relation itself rests at the base of phenomenology, the view of structure of which Bourdieu so evidently shares. In the Phenomenology of Perception, for example, Merleau-Ponty writes:


This subject-object dialogue, this drawing together, by the subject, of the meaning diffused through the object, and, by the object, of the subject’s intentions – a process which is physiognomic perception – arranges round the subject a world which speaks to him of himself, and gives his own thoughts their place in the world.

                                                                                                (1963: 132)


In this way, for Merleau-Ponty, the world as constituting sense is immanent and speaks to us of ourselves; it is also an ‘embodiment’ – what Bourdieu would refer to as hexis – not simply based in mental activity. In a strange way, ‘I understand the world and it understands’ me’ (pp. 408) – an echo of Pascal, quoted by Bourdieu. This is a clearly a very subtle point: Merleau-Ponty does not intend that the world is sentient, as human. It is subject consciousness that ‘sees’ the world; but this world still ‘calls’ on the subject to know what it already knows, to be conscious of what it is already conscious of.


Such leads us to a consideration of the nature of consciousness itself as an expression of this relation. To this extent, subject-object exists as a single ‘flesh’; they are intimately connected, and one only leaves off where another begins and vice versa. This is not to say that the visible blends into us, or we to it; rather, ‘the seer and the visible reciprocate one another and we no longer know which sees and which is seen’ (1968: 139). The flesh then appears as an element – like water, air, fire and earth – rather than an actual thing: spiritual/ material, mind/ matter, idea of thing.


To return to Kant, when sense data as an object is intuited by imagination, there is a point of intuitive resonance that lies beyond the individual judgement – of right and wrong, for example – and represents the power to form judgments itself: that is, a sense of understanding that is literally beyond knowing, an empathy or identification but of universal assent. How does this come about? (Kant, 1956/ 1788, 1961/1781, 1987/ 1790 – see Grenfell and Hardy, 2007: 36-39 for a summary).


If we take artistic aesthetics as an example, the distinction between sensationand the beautifulis useful here, where the faculty of feeling replaces structure derived from concepts. The beautiful – a sub-set of sense data – is again presented to understanding (in time and space) by imagination, but is not converted via conceptual categorisations because non-cognitive feeling accompanies intuition: in other words, non-cognitive feelings replace concepts. Since there is no conceptual categorisation to provide form, what is presented is the power to form concepts itself. A consciousness without anything to be conscious of – it is ‘disinterested’ – that is contemplative rather than cognitive (conceptual/ theoretical). In Kant’s philosophy of art, this is transcendental aestheticsthe disinterested pure gaze– that lies beyond sensation. However, the key point here, for Bourdieu, is that this is not a universal of pure aesthetics, but the reflection of a certain – bourgeois – relationship to the world (see 1984a): superior, detached, masterful, but empty – a kind of absence because it reflects its own position in the social world (neither one thing or another) – a kind of nothingness.


The ambition for ‘objective knowledge’ in science might be seen as also sharing the same sense of ‘disinterestedness’: ‘what Bourdieu would call the aspiration of ‘knowledge without a knowing subject’– Popperian World 3. In this case, it is less that data are presented by imagination to understanding without concepts, but that pre-existing – a priori – concepts provide the power to form. But, here, it is ‘concepts’ with a particular social provenance and relation to the world, and thus interest – positivist. In effect, it is the cognitive effect of the aesthetic side of the bourgeois power to transcend – but, this time through objective knowledge – by asserting not so much the truthbut a certain truthwhich carries with it its own undisclosed interest and thus legitimacy and consecration; this time legitimated in the name of reason.We might even say that knowledge without a knowing subjectis akin to the pure aesthetic gaze in its claim to a transcendent objectivity, when it is nothing other than the transcendental sense of the bourgeois intellingentia, and its relative structural position in society: what Bourdieu once described as ‘thoughtless power and powerless thought’. The outcome is an – un-reflexive – interest in asserting this knowing and misrecognising its inherent relative relationship to the world.


Bourdieu wants to replace such objective knowledgewith reflexive objectivitypractical rationalityand praxeological knowledge. Terms like habitus, field and capital therefore need to be embodied and actualised as intense epistemological matrices. Another way of expressing the same argument would be in terms of ‘semantic density’ (see Maton, 2014); in other words, they are not just conceptual terms or descriptive metaphors but contain a kind of epistemological ‘genome’ through which sense data are apprehended and understood. In a sense, the ultimate source behind such concepts is not the bourgeois nothingness alluded to above with respect to that certain relationship to society but emancipatory (critical) knowledge, which again represents a different relationship to society and its knowledge structure. Here, habitus, fieldand capitalmight even be seen as acting as a kind of epistemological mordantbetween subject and object (the empirical and scientific subject): an a prioriepistemological understanding which conveys the principle of practice instantiated in the present – as they speak tous and ofus: to see oneself as habitus, field and capitalat the point of seeing and of what is seen. These terms hence carry the notion of contingent understanding, but not one of tentativeness or conjecture. Rather, they lead to a form of radical doubt (Bourdieu, 1992: 235) on the part of the researcher; a kind of Rortyan final vocabulary (Rorty, 1980) as a pragmatic expression of the best we can do at any one particular time. They further stabilise knowledge in a way, which shares many of the features of Popperian theory – predictability, generalizability, open to articulation, useful, and simple. Such amounts to an ambition to form a theory of practice that aims to be distinct from both objectivist abstraction, and the intoxicating familiarity of common sense interpretation apprehended in its everyday obviousness.


The difficulty is when the subject makes for themselves an objectin their own image – and thus with all the implied assumptions of view. This is inevitable to a certain extent. However, if that making is carried out in terms of Bourdieusian concepts – praxeologically validated – then, as I have argued, terms such as habitus, fieldand capital, etc. can mediate between subject and object in a way that constitutes a different interest: an interest with a different ethical, value-based generative principle. Basically, this offers, and indeed allows, a different – emancipatory – view of the world. Consequently, instead of a subject objectifiying an object as an object, the subject sees itself literally in it: but not as a subjective mirror of individual empirical identity but at an epistemological moment grounded in the same generative principles as their scientific practice. In this way, as Bourdieu states it in The Weight of the World (1999a: 609), it is less about seeing oneself in another than as being ‘able to take up all possible points of view’, recognising that, faced with the same conditions, one would likely beand dothe same. This is not to be every man/woman, and for everyone to be the same, but to see the structural relations and principles in exegesis – immanent – which manifest themselves in this way at this particular time and place and individual, knowing that given the same conditions we may well act and be the same. One acknowledges and sees oneself in others and others in oneself as the outcome of particular formative conditions; not as a separate object-other. Bourdieu calls this knowledge a ‘spiritual exercise’ (ibid.: 612) and a sort of ‘intellectual love’ (ibid. possibly borrowed from Spinoza) –  a ‘non-violent’ method since it offers no imposition of meaning, no symbolic violence. There is here no authority, nor the faculty to ‘think things independently’.


It is also a kind of love because it is based on mutual recognition and regard; a high form of attention. It is the product of Being reflecting on Being in a state of collective social identity. At this point, Bourdieu’s epistemology does indeed become an ontology. We might call this Objective Subjectivity or Subjective Objectivity, which amount to and are the same. To articulate this level of understanding and knowledge is alwaysa posteriori. But, mostly, in reality it is realised at a point of instantiation. It is also a case of the past and the future literally beingin the present, which is, really, the only place they can exist. This is a consciousness or reflexive refraction through Bourdieusian theory of practice and concepts such as habitus, field, and capital. The empirical habitusis scientific and the scientific habitusis empirical. The transcendental sense beyond the power to form concepts then becomes less the bourgeois sense of nothingness – the pure objective or aesthetic gaze – but the logical essence of practice itself, which is nothing other than the past (a sociological history) instantiating itself in the present (a historical sociology) – a kind of sociological karma. This power to bepresent – this process – is ‘grasped’ at the point ofand inbecoming rather than in the thing itself formed.


We might conclude that reflexivity is less concerned with ‘how to do it’ than ‘how to beit’. The researcher is implicated in his theorising; the gaze is necessarily ‘personal’ but with the potential for praxeological science. It might be seen as a theory that is a gaze and a gaze that is expressed in theoretical terms, but one that also furnishes us with a theory that can generate the gaze in practice – if understood in terms beyond the concepts to their generation – in and through practice. The gaze is then subject to the gaze which is subject to the gaze which is subject to the gaze as an kind of internal recurrence, but is not eternally recurrent in a nihilistic post-modernist way as it is bounded by reflexive concepts of practice in practice. Basically, we always return to the same principles of practice. Time is the deciding factor here.


The Reflexive Self

It might seem that reflexivity is not explicitly apparent in the early and mid-period Bourdieu’s work. And, some even find the personal ‘revelations’ – summed up as ‘le Rosebud de Pierre Bourdieu’ in Le Nouvel Observateurat the time of his death – or his final lecture at the Collège de France, published later in the Sketch for a Self-Analysis(2007/2004) to be a somewhat post hocformulation of how ‘he would wish to be read’ (for example, see Lamont, 2012). They do not see the empirical studies carried out in the Béarn, or Algeria and indeed in Education, as necessarily reflexive. Even Homo Academicuscan only be read as Bourdieu reflecting on his own professional field in retrospect. At the same time, reflexivity was clearly an inherent part of Bourdieu’s initial research endeavours in the way he brought his own habitus– both professional and personal – to the objects of his studies. Moreover, as noted, the original French version of Outlinehad a chapter on ‘the observer observed’ (pp. 225-234) and, from the leçonsgiven in Paris from the mid-1980s, we see an explicit awareness of the need for a ‘sociology of sociology’ as a way of breaking out of the box in which contemporary sociologists have shut themselves (Bourdieu, 2016a: 1116). By the last decade of his career, of course, reflexivity was clearly central to Bourdieu’s concerns (see Bourdieu, 1990d, 1992 and 2007). Finally, he extended the reflexive element of his work as an attempt to objectify the social forces that acted upon him(Bourdieu, 2007/2004; see also Eakin, 2001); offering the method as of use equally to a general and academic public (for example, Bourdieu, 2000c). At base of such reflexivity is an epistemological epiphany described above. The outcome of this vision can itself be expressed as the ontological separationhe made between his own empirical subjectand scientific subject:


The scientific habitus can be independent in relation to the habitus. Basically, there are two subjects. There is the empirical subject. Myself, when I go to a meeting, I am like everyone. I am nervous. I am angry. I say, ‘this guy is an idiot, why does he say that? I agree with the other one’. Like everyone. When I analyse that, it is not the same subject. It is a subject that objectifies that, who understands why Bourdieu is angry. It is another subject, which is very difficult to maintain in life. In everyday life, one becomes an empirical subject once again…but it is possible to create a kind of torn out subject…and the more it is collective and reflexive, the more it is separate from the empirical subject…I have learnt with age and experience that the knowing subject can change the naïve subject a little. There are things that one understands better and suffers from less.

(1995, op. Cit.: 38-39)


However, a reflexive approach cannot ultimately be only an individual enterprise but necessitates a collective commitment; others have pointed out the necessity of a collective response (see Deer, 2008/ 2014), what Shirato and Webb (2003) refer to as a field ‘meta-literacy’. There is a paradox because Bourdieu was so scathing about other forms of reflexivity – with their illusion of being able to ‘transcend thought by the power of thought itself’. Rather, for him, it is a question of transcending both empirical and conventional scholastic thinking by the power of his theory of practice and the epistemological vision it makes available. No wonder he referred to it as a metanoia.


At the end of Arthur Miller’s biography Time Bends(1987/95) he writes about looking out at the field behind his house from the writing desk on which he had created so much work. He comments that he looked at the trees, the ones he had seen through so many seasons. And, at one point, a sort of chiasmic reversal takes place as he realises that it is the trees that are looking at him.


The notion, therefore, of developing an individual reflexive attention is one way of developing the strength of reflexive objectivity in our work as language ethnographers. Indeed, all that is really objective depends on the quality and the extent of our attention to reflexivity in the way here described. So, this is necessary on an individual researcher level. In one sense, it is a division of attention: partly within, partly without and partly among those working in this way. This is not just an individual condition, but one developed within, for and by the associated collectivity of researchers working in this way.  Developing such a reflexive practice more fully collectively is even qualitatively something more. Something like: rather than us holding the collective epistemology in the presence of our individual reflexivity, the collective holding us. The cultivation of this two-way reflexive relationship is critical: in other words, collective reflexivity, while simultaneously practicing individual reflexive capacity. This condition can be understood as a singular reflexive attention, but a singular on quite a different collective level.


This collective-singular condition that lies at the heart of Bourdieu’s reflexivity: a singular subjectivity that does not make of itself an object; a subject that instead sees itself in the object, and the object as an expression of the subject – but this time not empirical and un-reflexive but as a ‘scientific’ presence within a self-acknowledged collectivity. In this way, Bourdieu calls on all of us to see ourselves in society but also society in ourselves; not as two separated events but as co-terminus – thus, the individual and the community. God and Man: he reminds us at the end of Pascalian Meditationsthat ‘society is God’ (2000b: 245), meaning that such is not simply an academic or intellectual activity, but an expression of truth – a consciousness/attention that is a higher form of love – identification of sameness and difference as one and the same thing. We then see the social forces of what is potential, impossible and necessary – even what is good and evil in the world – since it allows a view which is able to observe the very point where the empirical self enters between subject and object to allow misrecognition in terms of judgement and the expression of self/ group interests, turning away from and at the expense of a potential liberatorial reflexive scientific view.  To grasp this ethical dimension of Bourdieu, if only for an instant, is certainly beyond the words we use but can guide what we do as a result.



In is clear from the discussion in this chapter that in order to understand reflexivity, and work reflexively, we need to tease out not only the relationship between the subject and object, but also how it is articulated and the language used to express it. Heidegger once referred to language as the ‘house of being’ and we have seen the extent to which epistemology and ontology are collapsed within a Bourdieusian paradigm. So much so that out theory and practice, our method and analysis, our narrative accounts are all part of one reflexive epistemological vision: however, it is not a ‘transcendent vision’, but a practically lived one. We have a theory of practice from Bourdieu, which furnishes us not only with a language of association, but an association in itself. To this extent, it is not fanciful to think of individual researchers working in this way as a ‘community of practice’. If such requires a reflexive attitude on the part of those active in the researcher field, it also asks for a reflexive reading of the emergent texts on the part of their audience. It is a disservice to the ambitions being attempted in this project if accounts of research conducted in this way are treated ‘outside of the method field’, as just another research tract liable to be ‘fair game’. In this way, Bourdieu is indeed challenging not only our everyday understandings of the world but our academic ones as well.


In dealing with ‘language-based ethnographies’, it seems that we have spent a lot of time attempting to get ‘beyond words’ themselves, or at least using them from a praxeologicalattitudeto lead us to the nature and use of reflexivity within them. Finally, as with Bourdieu, it is worth stressing that this is an unfolding journey – both practically and philosophically. Indeed, we might even see using Bourdieu as characteristic of certain ‘levels’ of understanding and application:


  • Level 1: Use of Key Concepts – for example, habitus, field, capital– to animate a narrative;
  • Level 2: Planning a Research Project systematically from a Bourdieusian theory of practice. A common focus here begins with the biographical and qualitative analysis (habitus) and works up.
  • Level 3: More Critical Approach to Research Object Construction – a sustained attempt to map the fieldand fieldswithin fields, with greater use of quantitative methods. The focus here often begins with the fieldand its relationship within fieldsand works down to habitus.
  • Level 4: A greater consolidation of the 3 phases and the 3 levels described earlier in this chapter with a more sustained reflexive relationship – participant objectivation – to the research.
  • Level 5: Developing a fully formed praxeological attitude – metanoia – to all aspects of research activity.
  • Level 6: Internalising the theory of practice at an indivdual subjective level: the epsistemology becomes an individual ontology. The empirical habitusis increasingly superceded by the scientific habitus: at this point, the carriers of the epsietomology – the key concepts – begin to fade.
  • Level 7: Emergence of Reflexive Objectivity as a singular and group consciousness.
  • Level 8: …….


It goes without saying that these should not be read as linear or hierarchical but as potentia– and can be realised temporarally at any one instant in conducting research.