On False Problems

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.

If these false sociological problems, false scientific problems, persist, this is because they are often based on real social problems or on real social interests. For example, as you suggested, I believe that the majority of these oppositions between macro and micro, objective and subjective, and today, among historians, between economic analysis and political analysis, and so on, are false oppositions that do not resist three seconds of theoretical analysis, but that they are extremely important because they fulfill social functions for those who use them….

The interest in false problems is that they are eternal. Besides, from the point of view of science, these false problems are often rooted in real political problems: that’s the case, for example, with the opposition between individuals and society, individualism and socialism, individualism and holism, all those ‘ism’ words that I see as absurd, without any sense. These oppositions can always be reactivated because they have something to do with the opposition between collectivism or socialism on the one hand and liberalism on the other. And by way of these underground affiliations, political struggles can be brought into the scientific field. Now, the autonomy of the scientific field depends on the establishment of frontiers against these false problems…. (37-9)

Listen to the original radio broadcast, in French, here.
Pierre Bourdieu Roger Chartier The Sociologist and The Historian