Sociology is a combat sport

Pierre Bourdieu. Frame from the documentary "La sociologie est un sport de combat"/ Disclosure


Commentary on Pierre Carles' film about French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Carles' film (1962) follows, in its 140 minutes, part of the trajectory of Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002), especially his activities as a sociologist engaged in some social movements of his time. The title, emblematic, refers to a consideration he made at the beginning, when he stated that “sociology serves as a combat sport and, as such, it is used to defend oneself, it should not be used to attack”.

But, defend who, from what? Defend those individuals who find themselves in situations of real or imminent social danger in the face of the powers that oppress them – right-wing and/or left-wing governments, which in practice operate in a similar way; the media, by creating a discourse that illuminates certain social dimensions and obscures others; trilateral international credit and development associations; employer bodies, etc.

Sociology can help to better explain the situation they experience, the social causes that led their destinies to this unfavorable condition. However, explaining, describing, showing is not a solution or transformation – hence, in Pierre Bourdieu's view, the need for organized social movements.

The tape is full of interviews given by Pierre Bourdieu to researchers, radio and television programs, in addition to recording several of his participations in public debates in academic institutions and cultural associations linked to other civil society entities. Working meetings with your research team and administrative assistants are not excluded; classes and exhibitions that integrate its activity teacher and fast flashes that show it in moments of tension and relaxation.

Pierre Carles does not seem so concerned about the film's length, as everything he considered relevant in Pierre Bourdieu's wanderings ended up preserving in the editing: the sociologist's long explanation of his notion of cultural capital; considerations about their social origins and academic training: conversations with other intellectuals in which they outline their working method, the “research kitchen” and forms of intellectual craftsmanship; his interpretation of male domination, the role of the State and neoliberal reforms, based on the dissociation of the economic and the social; the fight against the anti-intellectualist tendency, which sets the tone in many social movements, and their pride in reaffirming a “agitprop” that caused so much horror to intellectuals linked to the French socialist government in the early 2000s.

Also, do not lose sight of the extensive debate session in an auditorium of a banlieue Parisian, in which Pierre Bourdieu goes through bad times, receiving criticism and reacting, when one of the participants comes to his defense: “C'est Bourdieu, pas Dieu!”. And he adds with good humor that in their hard daily lives they also “try to be sociologists, but they are mongrels”.

Reaffirming that the only way to face such an adverse situation would be to organize social movements with well-defined objectives, he defends the need for sociologists to carry out their own sociology, to carry out self-socioanalysis. “It is by socio-analyzing your own experience that you can serve yourself sociologically. In fact, the research work itself is socioanalysis […] You learn a lot about yourself […] A teacher learns more about his unconscious by studying the school system than by studying Freud’s work.”

*Afranio Catani He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ (Duque de Caxias campus).

Originally published in Afrânio Mendes Catani; Maria Alice Nogueira; Ana Paula Hey; Cristina CC Medeiros (orgs.). Bourdieu vocabulary. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2017, p. 145-146.


La sociologie is a combat sport
France, 2001, documentary, 146 minutes
Directed by: Pierre Carles
Production: Véronique Frégosi and Annie González
Editing: Virginie Charif, Youssef Charifi, Claire Painchault and Bernard Sasia
Participation by: Pierre Bourdieu, Loïc Wacquant. Serge Halimi, Maria Andréa Loyola, Daniel Mermet, Rémi Lenoir, Patrick Champagne, Edward Saïd, Günter Grass.

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