Anthony Giddens’ Theory versus Pierre Bourdieu Theory


Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist who approached power within the context of societal (Elliott 68). His work applies to the analysis of power in development and social change processes. According to him, power is created by symbols and culture and continuously re-legitimizes via the interplay of structure and agency. Apparently, this happens because it is through socialized or habitual tendencies and norms that guide thinking and behavior. The way society becomes deposited in a person is called habitus. A habitus is a lasting form of structures or trained capacities which acts in determined ways (Elliott 68). Creation of habitus is through a social process rather than individual process. It leads to enduring patterns which are transferable from one context to the other. Additionally, this transfer could shift relations to the specific context and over a period.

According to Pierre Bourdieu, habitus is not permanent or fixed, but instead has the potential of changing in the instances of unexpected satiation or over an extended period historically. Habitus is not determined by structures nor as a result of free will, but it is made from a form of interplay between the two over time. Ideally, this means that structures and past events shape disposition. In addition to shaping structure and current practices, habitus is reproduced and created unconsciously, without any deliberation of coherent pursuit. Apparently, this means that habitus is formed without any conscious concentration.

Bourdieu introduced another concept which he named it capital. Capital has the potential to extend beyond material asset, a notion of capital which could be symbolic, social or cultural (Elliott 70-71). This kind of capital is in most cases equal and could accumulate and be transferred from one arena to the next. Cultural capital and how it is moved or created has a vital role concerning societal power. Forms of hierarchy and dominions are classes which distinguishes themselves via taste. To some extent, what causes inequality is hidden by the shift from a symbolic way of capital and material culture (Waterfield 153).

The study done by Bourdieu regarding the field of society elaborates his ideas. His ideologies explain in a social order which is inscribed in the mind of people progressively. They include language, values, judgment, cultural products which are education system, daily activity, and classification methods. These ideas result in hierarchies and unconscious acceptance of social differences to a person’s sense of action and self-exclusion behavior. Another concept utilized in Bourdieu is a field which refers to the institution and social arena used by people to express and reproduce their disposition including their competition for distribution of various forms of capital. As noted by Waterfield (153), fields could apply to structure, network, sets of relationship which could be cultural, religious, intellectual, education. One could experience power differently depending on the field where one is part of. It means that environment and its context are influential to habitus. In his theory, ‘Bourdieu explains the contradiction and tension which comes as a result of people being a challenge and encountering different contexts. Regarding this context, the deduction relates to why people resist dominion and power in one field and expresses complicity in another area.  This phenomenon of the field is useful in explaining the difference in power. For example, a woman could show authority while being in public but when she reaches home to her husband, she expresses submission. This issue has attracted more extensive observation from researcher and feminist activists. This means that men and woman are socialized in the intimate, private and public arena of power.

The other concept elaborated by Bourdieu’s relates to the understanding of power which is doxa (Gutenberg and Fiordo 79). The concept of doxa combines both heterodox and orthodox beliefs which are either taken for granted, unstated, common sense and assumption behind distinction made by people. When people forget their limit, doxa happens.  The happening of doxa gives rise to the unequal division within the society. Besides, it adheres to order relations which are accepted as self-evidence since they are inseparable structures in both thought and the real world.

Another term used by Bourdieu is ‘misrecognition which relate to the idea of false consciousness. It works on an in-depth level transcending any intention of conscious manipulation by any group or individual. Misconception idea is an ideological phenomenon than cultural since it entails working together on sets of material possession which are active. The social belongings rest on assumption taken for granted into crucial social life realms entrenched in the middle of a culture. A form of power existing in the society requires legitimacy where culture forms the battleground for disputing conformity and eventually materializing in the involved parties. It results in the creation of inequality in structures and social differences.

Assumptions of Bourdieu theory

As noted by Waterfield, (153) Bourdieu assumes that the society cannot view habitus in isolation, but must be seen while relating to several fields or contexts in which they function. Socialization or past conditions have the possibility of reproducing habits. He further assumes that habitus is long-lasting across time and space. Also, it could change in the instances where a person is confronted with contexts challenging preconceived notions. Additionally, he assumes that social reality entails sets of forces which impose themselves on people irrespective of their will and consciousness. Further social fact is the total sum of immeasurable action of interpretation whereby agents construct only meaningful interaction and responses.

Compare and contrast Anthony Giddens’ Theory and Pierre Bourdieu Theory

The real issue which British sociologist Anthony Giddens and French psychologist Pierre Bourdieu analyzed is the difference in the relationship between social structure and agent being the capacity of human beings in engaging in social action. The similarity of both theorists is that they view social structure as changing form, meanings, classification system, distribution patterns and material resources (Berger 19). In both researchers, social structure entails Lévi-Straussian and Marxian/Durkheimian phrases of sense. They have similar insight concerning social structures which have no reality apart from being installed via actions and practice of specific human beings. The steps of human nature in aggregation reproduce and create a structure which embodies actions.

The two theorists have some distinct differences in how they assess the importance of conscious intention in reproducing the social structure. In Bourdieu, he uses habitus as a critical element in understanding relationship between structures and actions. Habitus comprise of transposable dispositions, a secure system, structures which are predisposed to function as structuring arrangements. The practice of quotidians such as leisure and work of space use and design applies in communicating basic assumptions regarding social categories such as age gender and social hierarchy. Socialization of actors (people) is through practice and embodied in a particular disposition regarded as habitus. Habitus doesn’t influence specific actions, but instead, they form the base for orientation of actors to a particular strategy and goal. Habitus acts on intention contingency and improvises practices of social actors. Therefore, they tend to reproduce material ordering, symbolic of the social world. Regardless of the intention of actors, practice tends to reinforce claims and the power. The critical element of societal order is neutralized in the body discipline which is beyond social order and could be taken for granted.

As noted by Berger, Anthony Giddens, the theory employs the term action to practice where the key terms are structuralisms (10). According to Giddens, social structure is as a result of action, which is a stream of contemplated or actual interactions of the corporeal beings progressive element in the world (Elliott 57-59).  Actors who are agents have the capabilities to act and acts differently in a given situation create structures. Nevertheless, their agency is useful when constructed as a specific subject position in a particular social structure. Structuralism gives the recursive of an essential part of the social process. In this regard, the structure is produced by agents which in a real sense are not more than the objectifying of the agent’s past action (Waterfield 153).

The accounts of Gidden and Bourdieu are different since each gives the essential factors in conscious intentions of social factors. According to Giddens, actors are reflexive, which means that they have potential to reflect their identities and actions according to their purposes. The actors (people) refection is, in fact, an element in social activity which is a part of structuralism (Broger 10). According to the work of Bourdieu, a reflection of consciousness in a person’s habitus is not the actual part of the social process (Waterfield 153). In the practice and research of Giddens reflexivity is critical and has the potential for the transformation of the social process.

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Why Pierre Bourdieu theory is better than Anthony Giddens theory

The reason for preferring Pierre Bourdieu theory is that it explains concepts which are practical in the contemporary culture. He has an in-depth analysis of cultural capital and the association of social inequality and their reproduction in many fields, especially education. The theory is crucial in explaining the function played by cultural capital in the determination of educational outcomes. For instance, when a person talks about people in the lower middle class or aristocratic asceticism of teachers, they describe these groups using one or several elements of their properties. Also, naming the principle generates the judgment of their characteristics .the habitus in necessity converted or initialized into disposition give essential practice and perception (Waterfield 153).

The concepts of cultural capital, according to Bourdieu’ is a collection of stylistic elements such as clothing, material belonging, taste, posture, skills, credentials and much more. These elements are acquired by a person being a part of a certain social class. People who share some kinds of social capital such as a degree from the same learning institution, the similar taste of fashion creates a sense of collection which identifies the group’s position. He argues that cultural capital could lead to social inequality which is not highlighted by the other theorist. Through his theory, one identifies a certain kind of cultural capital which is more valuable than others and could hinder or assist a person’s social mobility. They include wealth or income and may more. This theory is informed on issues surrounding the contemporary world such as social inequality.

As noted by Waterfield (153), one of the Bourdieu’s most influential concepts and ambiguous is habitus. The idea describes a physical embodiment of cultural being deeply entrenced in skills, habits, and descriptions that are possessed by people due to their life experiences. He uses metaphor when describing habitus calling its feeling for the game.  The example deduced from this trope could be just like the way a footballer knows the art of kicking a ball without conscious thinking. He says that each person has a feeling tied or embodied in a specific social situation. When one is in the particular condition, habitus assists him in navigating the social environment. For instance, if a person grew in an area surrounded by crime and hardships, he ought to be street-smart to survive a violent confrontation. Additionally, the person should be smart enough to hustle for money or a job when raised neighborhood with low employment rates. On the other hand, a person who grew in a region where everyone makes to college, he does not need to be street smart skills to survive in that community.

Habitus even takes the dimension of taste for cultural objects like clothing and food. He argues that culturally ingrained habitus shapes the aesthetic sensibilities. For instance, an individual from upper class could have an experience of excellent art subject to their early age training on appreciation. Habitus is mostly confused with feeling for the game as natural instead of being developed culturally. Habitus could justify social inequality since it is commonly mistaken. Some people believe they are naturally disposed to having a better thing than others which form the basis of social inequality.

The understanding of Bourdieu is that the social world is divided into several different fields or arena of practice such as laws, education, art, religion and many more. The fields consist of unique knowledge, set of rules and forms of capital. While some field could overlap for instance, religion and education, the view of Bourdieu is that each field has autonomy. This means that each field consists of its practice and positions. Additionally, the field struggles for positions since people mobilize their capital to remain in a particular social domain (Waterfield 153). For instance, in an area like fashion, each generation tries to overturn a position established by people who were before them. They then receive criticisms from the following generation on how they sought power and positions. This is similar to some fields such as footballs or baseballs where individuals play to win and struggle for positions.

In conclusion, Bourdieu theory recognizes a person’s assumptions, beliefs, and biases in the act of making sense. Self-knowledge is close the source of power and gives the reason behind hierarchies and social asymmetric which are a dominant element in enhancing social emancipation. His research is prolific and documented empirically. After analyzing the social phenomena carefully, one could notice the power relations which have been rendered invisible by misrecognition and habitus. Terminologies and methods used by Bourdieu are different and more detailed in the analysis of power relations. Understanding powerlessness and power via analysis and learning process exposes invisible power which is in itself an empowering process. Antony Giddens developed a highly influential theory which tries to bring reconciliation in the social theory of structure and agency. He argued that people need to view events holistically and understand both their sides. According to him, social action depends on the individual organization.  People ought to focus on social practice such as punishment, childbearing, eating, voting and much more which revolve around the individual and are shared by social structures.

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  1. Broger, Daniel. Structuration theory and organization research. Na, 2011.
  2. Elliott, Anthony. Routledge Handbook of Social and Cultural Theory. Routledge, 2013.
  3. Gutenberg, Norbert, and Richard Fiordo. Rhetoric in Europe: Philosophical Issues. Frank & Timme GmbH, 2017.
  4. Waterfield, Jon. “Using Bourdieu’s Theoretical Framework to Examine How the Pharmacy Educator Views Pharmacy Knowledge.” American journal of pharmaceutical education, vol. 79, no. 10, 2015, pp. 153.
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