Bourdieu's inaugural lecture at the Collège de France



Comments on the book “Lições da Aula”, by Pierre Bourdieu.


Soon the France secondary school will complete 500 years.[1] Having been created in 1530 by King Francisco I, it has undergone several transformations over the centuries. At the moment, it brings together 57 professors working with other researchers, assistants, technicians and administrative staff. Organized into chairs covering a wide range of disciplines, the Middle School it has listeners, not students: people who attend classes and courses do not undergo attendance control or tests and exams.

Classes function as conferences, with no questions and also no dialogue between listeners and teachers. Professors are masters of their choices within their chairs, having, however, a single and rigorous obligation: to deal with a new theme each year. In 2013, Sérgio Haroche, president of the Collège Teachers' Assembly, details that the institution has a unique characteristic: the teachers present “the knowledge being elaborated in all domains, letters, sciences, arts”. For this purpose, each professor receives a lifetime research grant and, annually, reports on his/her activities by teaching 12 classes.

the chairs of Middle School can be changed by the Assembly of Teachers each time one of them is vacant, being redefined for the new holder in a two-stage voting process. In the first phase, the Assembly defines the title of the chair that should replace it. Then, with the recreation of the chair and the declaration of the vacancy, the Assembly elects the holder. In practice, “the chair is already created for a specific candidate, with the second phase functioning as a mere formality”. It should be remembered that candidates are not required to have a university degree, being evaluated based on the importance and originality of their work (Catani, 2017 a, p. 124-125).

I concluded the article being cited by emphasizing that this public institution of higher education enjoys full freedom to carry out its scientific research, “constituting itself as the highest instance of valuing autonomy and intellectual work”. He also recalled, by way of illustration, that Lucien Febvre, Marcel Mauss, Maurice Halbwachs, Émile Benveniste, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Veyne, Georges Duby, Georges Dumézil, Fernand Braudel, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Pierre Boulez, Raymond Aron, Jerzy Grotowski, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Pierre Bourdieu, Roger Chartier, Pierre Rosanvallon, Antoine Compagnon (Catani, 2017a, p. 125).


Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was elected in 1981 to the Chair of Sociology at the France secondary school and on Friday, April 23, 1982, he delivered his inaugural lecture, completing the process of his election and appointment to that institution (Catani, 2017 b, p. 249). Class Lessons constitutes the text read at the time. Drawing on various thinkers from the fields of philosophy, letters, psychoanalysis, social sciences and mathematics, in addition to classical literature in several of these domains, “he begins his exposition by considering that the lesson about the lesson becomes a 'discourse that reflects itself. even in the act of discourse', remembering the basic property of sociology as he conceives it: all the propositions that sociology announces can and must apply to the subject who makes science. Practicing the sociology of sociology, it analyzes the sociological discourse from the social position occupied in the structure of the social field by the sociologist who produces it, because 'epistemological criticism does not happen without social criticism'” (Catani, 2017 b, p. 245 ).

According to him, within each social field there is a constant movement of social agents seeking to fight to maintain or improve their position within the field. It is in the relationship between “the game and the meaning of the game” that the motives of competition are engendered and values ​​are constituted that, “even if they do not exist outside this relationship, impose themselves within it, with an absolute necessity and evidence . This original form of fetishism is at the beginning of all action”.

For him, investments are understood as “well-founded illusions”, which “surpass the explicitly targeted profits (salary, price, reward, trophy, title, function)” and make each agent leave his anonymity and affirm himself as “active , involved in the game, busy (…) and endowed with a social mission” (Bourdieu, 1982, p. 30-31). It is only society that assigns, in different degrees, “the justifications and reasons for existing”. Thus, “without going so far as to say, like Durkheim, that 'society is God', I would say: God is nothing more than society.

What is expected from God is never obtained except from society, which has a monopoly on the power to consecrate, to subtract from vanity, contingency, and the absurd; but – and this is undoubtedly the fundamental antinomy – only in a differential, distinctive way: everything sacred has its profane complement, every distinction produces its vulgarity, and the competition for known and recognized social existence, which subtracts from insignificance, is a struggle of death for life and symbolic death. 'To quote, say the Kabylas, is to resurrect'. The judgment of others is the final judgment; and social exclusion is the concrete form of hell and damnation. It is also because man is a God for man that man is a wolf for man” (Bourdieu, 19822, p.33).

On the day of the reading of his class, Bourdieu experienced a terrible discomfort, since he questioned the rite of institution in the rite itself, generating great embarrassment, given the violence of the situation, as he questioned the belief and put it “in danger exactly at the moment and in the place where it would be appropriate to celebrate and reinforce it” (Bourdieu, 2005, p. 131). He has difficulty completing the reading, his voice almost disappears, he notices that several colleagues are astonished. “Afterwards, I feel terrible discomfort, linked to the feeling of the gaffe, more than the transgression” (Bourdieu, 2005, p. 132) – see also Catani (2017 b, p. 249).

Such a stance reinforces, in my view, the full exercise of the author's intellectual commitment, not to “preach to the converted”; perhaps that was the meaning, for him, of the “class of an inaugural sociology class dedicated to the sociology of the inaugural class” (Bourdieu, 1982, p. 34).

Carrying out the passionate defense of a critical sociology, Bourdieu intends, with his intellectual work, to study and explain the prevailing mechanisms of domination in a given social order. Knowing such mechanisms, there is always the possibility of subverting them. This is why sociology is feared: “If those who have anything to do with the established order, whatever it may be, do not like sociology at all, it is because it introduces a freedom from adherence. that makes conformity itself assume an air of heresy or irony” (Bourdieu, 1988, p. 60).

* Afranio Catani is a retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF.

This essay is a completely modified version of the review published in the extinct “Caderno de Sabado” of the Jornal da Tarde in 28 / 1 / 1989.


Pierre Bourdieu. Class Lessons: inaugural class at the Collège de France. Translation: Egon de Oliveira Rangel. Sao Paulo, Attica.


BOURDIEU, Pierre. Outline of self-analysis. (trans.: Sérgio Miceli). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2005.

BOURDIEU, Pierre. Lesson sur la leçon. Paris: Minuit, 1982.

CATANI, Afranio Mendes. College de France. In; CATANI, AM; NOGUEIRA, MA; HEY, AP; MEDEIROS, CCC of (Orgs.). Bourdieu vocabulary. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2017 a, p. 124-125.

CATANI, Afranio Mendes. Class Lessons. In; CATANI, AM; NOGUEIRA, MA; HEY, AP; MEDEIROS, CCC of (Orgs.). Bourdieu vocabulary. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2017 b, p. 249-250.

CATANI, Afrânio Medes; MARTINEZ, Paulo H. (Orgs.). Seven essays on the Collège de France. São Paulo: Cortez, 1999.


[1] About the France secondary school, see Catani (2017a) and Catani and Martinez (1999).

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