The agency of habitus: Bourdieu and language at the conjunction of Marxism, phenomenology and structuralism

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The prolific and varied body of work produced by Pierre Bourdieu is coming once again to be appreciated by linguists and other scholars after two decades of an “ebb tide” that typically follows the attainment of a world reputation in the social and behavioural sciences. In Bourdieu’s case the ebb has been increased by resentments and misunderstandings that can be traced to the historical and political context in which he conducted his research and analysis: a context dominated by a doctrinaire Marxism which Bourdieu, who refused to take the easy route to scholarly acceptance, contested. This led to readings of his work that are seriously out of line with what he actually wrote, and contemporary scholars continue in large part to accept these unsustainable characterisations of his views based on second-hand information and selective reading rather than on a thorough understanding of his work. Bourdieu’s unparalleled contribution to solving, or at least dealing with, the perennial paradox of agency versus social determinism, is possibly more relevant now than it was during the years in which he was active, yet to make use of it requires a thorough, unprejudiced examination of his key concepts – habitus, field, and symbolic capital, power and violence – within the context of struggle amongst proponents of Marxism, phenomenology and structuralism in which they were produced.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-122
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage and Communication
Early online date7 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Bourdieu
  • Marxism
  • Phenomenology
  • structuralism
  • habitus
  • sociolinguistics

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