What Makes a Social Class?
On The Theoretical and Practical
Existence Of Groups*
By Pierre BoQrdieu
It would be easy and tempting to deride the topic of this symposium and to uncover the presuppositions it conceals under its apparent neutrality. But if you will allow me just one criticism of the way it formulates the question of social class, it is that it misleads one to believe that this problem can be reduced to a simple choice and resolved by a few common-sense arguments.
In fact, behind the proposed alternative-is class an analytical construct or a folk category?-hides one of the most difficult of all theoretical problems, namely, the problem of knowledge, but in the very special form it assumes when the object of this knowledge is made both of and by knowing subjects.
One of the main obstacles to scientific $0Ciology is the use we make of common oppositions, paired concepts, or what Bachelard calls "epistemological couples:" constructed by social reality, these are unthinkingly used to construct social reality. One of these fundamental antinomies is the opposition between objectivism and subjectivism or, in more current parlance, between structuralism and constructivism, which can be roughly characterized as follows. From the objectivist point of view, social agents can be "treated as things," as in the old Durkheimian precept, that is, classified like objects: access to the objective classification presupposes here a break with naive subjective classifications, which are. seen as "prenotions" or "ideologies." From the subjectivist point of view, as represented by phenomenology, ethnomethodology and constructivist sociology, agents construct social reality, which is itself understood as the product C;>f the aggregation of these individual acts of construction. For this sort of sociological marginalism, there is no need to break with primary social experience, for the task of sociology is to give "an
* This is the text of a lecture delivered as keynote address to the Dean's Symposium on "Gender, Age, Ethnicity an assert the existence of...
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