Reading bourdieu with Adorno: the limits of critical theory and reflexive sociology
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Structure and agency
Scholarly activity presupposes a certain distance from the concerns of everyday life, which has both liberating and crippling effects. Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology hopes to undo these crippling effects by making the scholar aware of the limits of his/her ‘liberation’. Through his emphasis on the practical content of social life, Bourdieu provides a powerful alternative to theoretical critiques of contemporary society advanced by sociologists such as Adorno. At the same time, read against the background of Adorno’s ‘critical theory’, this reflexive move itself appears as a limitation. Due to its emphasis on the conditions of sociological knowledge, reflexive sociology tends to subordinate ‘theory’ to ‘epistemology’ and, therefore, hinders the sociologist from imagining a different society. Read together, Bourdieu’s and Adorno’s works provide important insights about two potential dangers that remain on the path of the sociologist. Adorno’s critique of ‘scientism’ implies that adhering to an epistemological principle may not be enough to escape the ‘ fallacious’ representations of social reality, while Bourdieu’s critique of ‘theoreticism’ implies that one cannot grasp social reality without ‘touching’ it.