Epistemological Tensions in Bourdieu's Conception of Social Science


The main purpose of this paper is to explore Pierre Bourdieu’s conception of social science. To this end, the paper sheds light on the main epistemological presuppositions that undergird Bourdieu’s defence of reflexive sociology as a scientific endeavour. The predominant view in the literature is that, in most of his writings,Bourdieu has a tendency to embrace a positivist conception of social science. When examining Bourdieu’s conception of social science in more detail, however, it becomes clear that the assumption that he remains trapped in a positivist paradigm does not do justice to the complexity of his multifaceted account of social science. In order to illustrate the complexity of Bourdieu’s conception of social science, the following analysis scrutinises ten epistemological tensions which can be found in Bourdieu’s writings on the nature of knowledge production. In view of these epistemological tensions, a more fine-grained picture emerges which demonstrates that Bourdieu invites,and indeed compels, us to reflect upon the complexity of the various tension-laden tasks posed by the pursuit of a critical social science.

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Simon Susen
City University London


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