Althusser’s 1963 Presentation of Bourdieu and Passeron – translated and introduced in Theory, Culture & Society

tcsa_36_7-8.cover.pngOn 6 December 1963 Pierre Bourdieu and Passeron gave a seminar at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. They were introduced by Louis Althusser, and his introduction, translated by Rachel Gomme, along with a commentary by Charlotte Branchu and Derek Robbins has been published in Theory, Culture & Society (requires subscription).

The two abstracts follow:

This text derives from a recording, and transcripts, of the introduction which Althusser gave on 6 December 1963, to a seminar for students in the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, offered at his invitation by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron. Althusser takes the opportunity to raise questions about the status of social science and suggests that Bourdieu and Passeron represent slightly different strands of contemporary research practice, partly as a result of their different formation and practice since themselves leaving the École. Althusser first considers the relation between the human sciences and the traditionally instituted Faculty of Letters or Humanities. What is the origin of the compulsion to constitute a science of human relations? Given that the social sciences have established themselves, Althusser then tries to define their nature. He suggests that they have three forms: as abstract and general theory, as ethnology, and as empirical sociology. He discusses the pros and cons of each in some detail. Althusser then asks what are the features which constitute sciences and concludes that they must always possess discrete theoretical perspectives corresponding with discrete components of reality but must also possess an element of self-referentiality or, as he puts it, must be objects to themselves. Althusser suggests that his contemporary social sciences are not philosophically adequate by the criteria which he advances. He proceeds to introduce Bourdieu and Passeron in such a way as to invite consideration of whether their practices meet his criteria.

The commentary provides contextual information about the seminar which Bourdieu and Passeron gave in the École Normale Supérieure on 6 December 1963. It appears that the intended series of seminars was curtailed, perhaps because the initial seminar of 6 December exposed the extent to which Althusser was formally managing the intentions of his guest speakers and resisting the implications of their ongoing research on students and their studies. The commentary argues that the conflict between Althusser and Bourdieu/Passeron was inter-generational in that Althusser’s attitudes had been shaped by his experience as a victim of Nazi oppression whereas those of Bourdieu/Passeron were defined, instead, by their unwilling participation in the French colonial oppression of indigenous Algerians. Althusser was intent on examining philosophically the validity of various contemporary versions of social science whereas Bourdieu and Passeron were engaged in educational research which was scrutinizing sociologically the validity of precisely this supposedly detached philosophical perspective. In short, the commentary is aligned with the Bourdieu/Passeron position in that it seeks to offer an historical sociology of the encounter of December 1963.

The issue contains a range of other great pieces, including essays on the Anthropocene, Deleuze, Sloterdijk, and interviews or dialogues with Bruno Latour, Vicki Kirby, Marc Lafrance and Etienne Balibar. Full table of contents here.
This entry was posted in Etienne Balibar, Gilles Deleuze, Louis Althusser, Peter Sloterdijk, Pierre Bourdieu, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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