Bourdieu and the data

The session that brought us together on July 1 was entitled “Bourdieu and Data. I chose this title because I wanted to evoke the idea of a research program. In my opinion, like others (I am thinking of Jérôme Bourdieu, Johan Heilbron, Louis Pinto, Gérard Mauger, etc.), our speakers of the day -Johs Hjellbrekke, Pernelle Issenhuth and Julien Duval- are key contributors to such a program, which can only be undertaken collectively.

But we cannot approach this program without first returning to the revolution accomplished by Bourdieu through his work in access to knowledge and which means, to use Thomas Kuhn’s definition, a radical transformation of our vision of the world[1].

I would summarize this scientific revolution in the following way, namely as the elaboration of a response in acts of research to all forms of ethnocentrism, class,  scholarly, gender, etc., which weigh on the researcher’s relationship to his or her object. The first of these acts of research is the one that Bourdieu has named the auto-socio-analysis. It consists in including in any scientific approach a work on a double level:

– individual, aiming at objectifying as much as possible one’s own social trajectory ;

– collective, where it is a question of mobilizing the contributions of the history of disciplines and of the sociology of science and intellectuals.

In addition to self-analysis, Bourdieu has made available other socio-reflexes that are just as innovative in order to guard against the ethnocentric biases that threaten the researcher at every moment when he or she is in action. Among these socio-reflexes, I would highlight three.

First of all, Bourdieu never ceased to establish a continuity between the sciences and the humanities on the basis of an epistemologically interested relationship. I remember this slightly provocative sentence in his book Réponses, which places him in the tradition of the Austrian writer Robert Musil: “I am constantly at work with philosophers and I am constantly putting philosophers at work. But the difference, for me, is that philosophical tools – this is probably a bit desecrating – are on exactly the same level as mathematical tools: I do not see an ontological difference between a concept of Kant or Plato and a factorial analysis…”[2].

Then, we also find in Bourdieu the recourse to strategies of sociologically controlled rupture with academic propriety, whose powerful effects of denaturalization he liked to recall through the borderline cases for the sociologist that artists such as Manet, Flaubert or Kraus constitute.

Finally, another decisive gesture taught by Bourdieu to concretely allow science to break with various forms of prescience was to reintroduce the place and the role of the body in the scholarly point of view by revealing that the latter constitutes one of the main blind spots. The look at the body in order to grasp the basis of practices is then constantly supported by borrowing examples from sports, starting with tennis, rugby and combat sports.

However, this is obviously only a personal and absolutely non-exhaustive selection of all the reflexive resources offered by Bourdieu’s work.

I would now like to turn to the previously mentioned program of Bourdieu’s scientific revolution on data and propose here two lines of investigation which, I would like to say, have already been widely explored by Julien Duval and Pernelle Issenhuth in their book Pierre Bourdieu et l’art de l’invention scientifique. Investigating at the Center for European Sociology (1959-1969).

The first point is more akin to a remark associated with the epistemological context underlying Bourdieu’s revolution in the scholarly relationship to data. Indeed, one may wonder whether sociology was not the only discipline through which such a revolution could be accomplished, insofar as the data of the social are those where scholarly legitimacy has always been and will undoubtedly remain the most difficult to conquer. It is not by chance that the founding fathers of the discipline have always insisted on this point. Durkheim emphasized the major difficulty of falling prey to the illusion that one has an infused social science. As for Weber, he said of sociology that it is a science condemned to remain eternally young. In choosing sociology, Bourdieu therefore had to take up the major scientific challenge of apprehending the least obvious of data, that of the social and, in other words, the most difficult to denaturalize.

The second track aims at better understanding from where Bourdieu’s concepts derive their operative and transposable character by being the product of data to produce data. This double conceptual quality could then be examined from the point of view of the uses he made of qualitative and quantitative data.

With regard to the former, it would be a matter of identifying, in the phases of collecting and processing the material, how Bourdieu elaborated the concrete process of research and, in other words, his back-and-forth between theory and empiricism, the strategies that he engaged in to circumvent the obstacles posed by the situations of inquiry, the intuitions that were his before, after and during the fieldwork, etc.

With regard to quantitative data, we could repeat the same explorations as for qualitative data. In this respect, it would be necessary to focus on the statistical toolbox that he has built up over time (flat and cross tabulations, equations, factor analysis, hierarchical ascending classification), in order to shed light on how he has managed to avoid the numerous pitfalls raised by their application to sociological objects (representativeness of the samples which is not that of the statistical laws, missing values with which it is necessary to contend, unsuitable levels of aggregation, the search for empirically based recodings, etc.).

[1] Thomas Kuhn, La structure des révolutions scientifiques, Paris, Flammarion, 1983 [1962].

[2] Bourdieu P. (1992) Réponses. Pour une anthropologie reflexive. Paris : Le Seuil.

Boris Attencourt (Université Paris Cité, DGDBM – CESSP)

To cite this article: Boris Attencourt, “Bourdieu and Data”, Hypotheses notebook “Science in the test of data”, published on July 16, 2022,

Indicative bibliography for the session:

– Pierre Bourdieu, Jean-Claude Chamboredon et Jean-Claude Passeron, Le métier de sociologue, Paris, Editions de l’EHESS, 2021 [1968] (

– Pierre Bourdieu, Retour sur la réflexivité, Paris, EHESS, 2022, introd. Jérôme Bourdieu et Johan Heilbron (

– Julien Duval, Johan Heilbron, Pernelle Issenhuth (dir.), Pierre Bourdieu et l’art de l’invention scientifique. Enquêter au Centre de sociologie européenne (1959-1969), Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2022 (

– Julien Duval, « L’analyse des correspondances et la construction des champs », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, vol. 200, n° 5, 2013, p. 110-123 (

– Julien Duval, « 13 – Analyser un espace social » in Serge Paugam éd., L’enquête sociologique, Presses Universitaires de France, 2012, p. 267-290 (–9782130608738-page-267.htm).

– Johs Hjellbrekke, “On the reception of Bourdieu’s sociology in the world’s most equal societies”. The Oxford Handbook of Pierre Bourdieu. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 68-87. (Medvetz, T. & Sallaz, J. eds.) (Med Prieur, Annick) (

– Johs Hjellbrekke, Multiple Correspondence Analysis for the Social Sciences, London: Routledge, 2018 (

– Johs Hjellbrekke et Olav Korsnes, « Héritiers et outsiders : sur la noblesse d’État norvégienne », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, vol. 200, n°5, 2013, p. 86-105 (

– Frédéric Lebaron et Brigitte Le Roux, La méthodologie de Pierre Bourdieu en action. Espace culturel, espace social et analyse des données, Paris, Dunod, 2015 (–9782100703845.htm).

– Brigitte Le Roux & Henry Rouanet (2010), Multiple correspondence analysis,  SAGE publications, 2010, Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences (QASS), Vicki Knight (

– Brigitte Le Roux & Henry Rouanet, Geometric Data Analysis: from Correspondence Analysis to Structured Data Analysis, Dordrecht, Kluwer, 2004 (

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