On the Self-Mystification of Intellectuals

pierre-bourdieuThis is part of a collection of posts of quotations from The Sociologist and the Historian, (first published in French in 2010 and in English in 2015), a short collection of transcripts from a series of late 1987/early 1988 radio interviews between Roger Chartier and the late social theorist, Pierre Bourdieu.

As far as populism is concerned, I do not believe that I’ve left the least room for ambiguity. Here again, I could use a Socratic metaphor: Socrates questions, but he does not take the answers he is given as legal tender. And the sociologist knows very well that people who give answers in perfectly good faith do not necessarily speak the truth. His whole work consists in constructing the conditions for elaborating truth on the basis of observed behaviors, of discourses, writings, etc. Even if there are always a few imbeciles who believe that the common people speak more truly than others. In fact, one aspect of people being particularly dominated is that they are particularly dominated by the symbolic mechanisms of domination. For example, anyone who thinks (this was the fashion at the time the left was in power) that putting a microphone in front of the mouth of a miner will gather the truth about miners; in fact, what you get are the trade union discourses of the last thirty years; and when you do the same with a farmer, you get the discourses of schoolteachers — transformed. So the idea that you could find a kind of place of original insight in the social world, whether this is the intellectuals, or the proletariat, or some other group, is one of those mystiques that have enabled intellectuals to give themselves a boost, but on the basis of a dramatic self-mystification. The sociologist listens, questions, has people speak, but he also gives himself the means of subjecting every discourse to criticism. That goes without saying in the profession, but I think it is not known outside of it. (25-6)

Listen to the original radio broadcast, in French, here.
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