Science as sublimation: the challenge of objectivity in Pierre Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology

Gabriel Peters About the author

Abstract

The article investigates Bourdieu’s answer to a classic problem in the epistemology of the social sciences: how is an objective knowledge of the social world possible if social scientists’ points of view are conditioned by their belonging to this world? The text presents his thesis that the sociology of sociology, by revealing the social conditionings of social thought, enables a margin of freedom from these conditionings. Far from sliding into multiperspectivistic relativism, therefore, Bourdieu’s reflexive sociology is geared towards the conquest of objectivity. The paper also shows that his notion of sociological reflexivity is articulated to a conception of scientific objectivity as a “sublimated” effect of the rule-bound competition between interested agents that characterizes the field of science. Finally, although sympathetic to Bourdieu’s proposal, the article is interspersed with critical considerations about the tensions that inhere to it: a) the recognition of the “positioned” nature of his sociological interventions versus the intention of capturing the whole space of social-scientific viewpoints; b) the defense of a sociological reflexivity based on the rational dialectic of the scientific field versus the admission that social sciences do not possess enough autonomy to bring this rational dialectic about.

Keywords:
Pierre Bourdieu; Objectivity; Reflexivity; Epistemology of the social sciences; Sociology of knowledge

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