Pierre Bourdieu, Entwurf einer Theorie der Praxis. Auf der ethnologischen Grundlage der kabylischen Gesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main 1976 (French original 1972)
Review with respect to Digital Humanities
Preliminary remarks: I have tried in previous posts, to outline the framework and parameters for the Digital Humanities: the delegitimization of great stories, the decentration in the epistemes, the question of the place (lieux) and of the time (presence), the media (book, documents, and other archival sources), authorship and the conditions of production (Charles Leadbeater). I have also presented some examples for Digital History (Wolfgang Schmale, Kiran Klaus Patel, Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences, Google applications) and, finally, a comment from a specialist of a leading platform of the Digital Humanities to these questions.
It seems now time to think about the theory of practice in the Digital Humanities. And who would be better suited as an inspiration to do this than Pierre Bourdieu.
x x x
The study of the formation of categories in the social sciences helped Pierre Bourdieu to his breakthrough as a well known social scientist. He had tried to describe a Berber tribe in Algeria with the help of scientific opposition chains, thus creating a cultural totality in the sense of structuralism – as he had learned it from Claude Lévy-Strauss.
But the 1,500 punch cards that he made, describing cultural and social traits of this group, gave not a logical whole, in any combination whatsoever. The structuralist theory found no model-based, consistent explanation for the empirical findings. Therefore, the practice must have its own logic and follow certain strategies. So, Bourdieu questioned the relationship of a theoretical model to practical sense in relation to the actors. He found that the rules of the model (the standard) are not simply followed, but interpreted according to the situation.
Based on his theory of practice, Bourdieu created a sociology, which has become famous for its concept of Habitus. The dispositions described in the Habitus structure the actions of the people involved. They adapt to the social field in which they come into play. They are the basis for continuity in our lives. What matters is that we grow into such a practice field. If we want to be successful, we need to invest, to acquire social and/or cultural capital. And when we want to invest, we must believe, be convinced that there is no other important field of action, as the one chosen. Its value must not be questioned. For the social success it is vital that the players do not know – deliberately? – what the logic in their field of practice is.
Bourdieu radically thinks relations. There are no ready-mades, but relationships that make up the things. This applies also for speaking and, one might add, writing. Both are performative, focused on social actions and contexts. Language is socially determined.
x x x
Reading Bourdieu means, almost, to acquire a guide to action (in science). For Bourdieu, the practice is crucial. Thus, if you want to run Digital Humanities, just do it and be convinced of it. Already existing platforms for the Digital History and/or Digital Humanities like infoclio.ch or OpenEdition show how this could work. It will be interesting to see whether the rules for this scientific field of practice tend to derive from the digital technologies rather than from the standards of the Humanities or the standards of the social sciences in the long term. Wherein: if we talk about the logic for the basic lines of this field, it seems that the dice have already fallen: Here the Humanities have clearly adapted to the Technologies. Actually, it is primarily about a new practice field of the human and social sciences. But, until now, the digital resources and logic seem to dominate the definition of this field of practice. In any case, the Digital Humanities seem to be much more than just an extension of the media used by the human and social sciences. The previous posts have shown that very clear (see my preliminary remarks to this).
Print This Post