Bourdieu's ball



Commentary on the book “O baile dos celibatários”, by Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was already ill and perhaps decided to “clean out the drawers” ​​before leaving – or, at least, try to leave as few unpublished items as possible. He, as is known, liked to exhaustively revise and rework his texts, rewriting several of them.

Died two months before The Bachelor's Ball to be published, having written an introduction in July 2021, mapping the content of the work, explaining that the works refer to the same problem on three occasions, however, in each case, with “a more powerful theoretical instrument because it is more general and, even so, , closer to experience”. Therefore, they may be of interest to those who want to follow an investigation according to the logic of its development and convince them that “the more the theoretical analysis deepens, the closer it comes to the observed facts”.

Pierre Bourdieu, when examining the crisis of peasant society in Béarn, his homeland, a rural region in southwestern France, close to the Pyrenees, in three articles, presented them as “a kind of Bildungsroman intellectual".

The first text, “Celibacy and the peasant condition” was published in rural studies (1962), “Matrimonial strategies in the system of reproduction strategies” in Annals (1972), while “Prohibited reproduction. The symbolic dimension of economic domination” in rural studies (1989). There is also an afterword, “An object class”, originally published in Acts of research in Social Sciences (1977)

His analysis is nuanced from a fundamental question: how is it possible that, in a society traditionally based on the right of firstborns, it is precisely these who remain single? In the opening article, he elaborates what he calls “a Tristes Trópicos in reverse” – unlike Lévi-Strauss, who left France to become an ethnologist in Brazil, he experiences, in the words of Heloísa Pontes, “the power of ethnology in his land native” –, interviewing old singles of his generation and that of his father, who accompanied him in most of them, speaking Bearnese and helping him, “with his presence and his discreet interventions, to arouse trust and confidence”. He adds that the objectivist containment of his purpose is due, in part, “to the fact that I feel like I am committing something like a betrayal – which has led me to refuse, until the present moment, any and all reprints of texts whose publication in academic journals of restricted circulation protected it from malicious or voyeuristic readings”.

“Matrimonial strategies in the system of reproduction strategies” manifestly marks the rupture with the structuralist paradigm through the passage from rule to strategy, from structure to habitus and from the system to the socialized agent, “himself inhabited or haunted by the structure of social relations of which he is a product”. Posted in Annals, a history magazine, “to better mark the distance in relation to structuralist synchronism”.

“Reproduction prohibited. The symbolic dimension of economic domination” makes it possible to clearly understand the unification of the market for symbolic goods on a national scale, condemning to “a sudden and brutal devaluation of those who were linked to the protected market of ancient matrimonial exchanges controlled by families”. The search for a partner will therefore depend directly on the initiative of the interested party – see, regarding this initial set of research by Bourdieu, the entry “Béarn”, authored by Denis Baranger, in the aforementioned Bourdieu vocabulary (pp. 52-55).

Pierre Bourdieu shows the exodus of young women who no longer want to work in peasant trades and speaks of the exclusion from the market of marriage exchanges of a large number of unmarried firstborns or those in their 30s. At the ball, which represents a true clash of civilizations, they stand around the floor but do not dance, a privilege reserved for the youngest. Through the dance, the world of the city penetrates the life of the countryside, revealing its cultural models, its music, its corporal techniques. The changes in customs imposed by modern life have made traditional practices obsolete, making this book an intimate and beautiful work and, what is more relevant, a first-class ethnographic work.

Worth mentioning in this careful edition is the presentation by Carolina Pulici (“The symbolic overthrow of the homeland”) and the note on the back cover by Graziela Perosa, both professors at Unifesp, as well as the ears, authored by professor Heloísa Pontes, from Unicamp.

*Afrânio 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 of UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus.



Pierre Bourdieu. The celibates' ball: crisis of peasant society in Béarn. Translation: Carolina Pulici. São Paulo, Editora Unifesp, 2021, 264 pages.


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