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Language and Symbolic Power Paperback – 10 Dec 1992
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"Linguists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, folklorists converge more and more today in studies of situated discourse. The link between the dynamics of situations and the dynamics of society as a whole goes largely neglected. For that articulation one needs the resources of a social theory. Here Bourdieu′s analyses of symbolic power and practice are our best resource; one might say they are indispensable. The starting point is not the uniform language of educational elites and formal linguists, but expressive styles; not social structure as fixed and given, but fields and fractions in which identities are ever–contested; power as collusion as well as compulsion; configurations that theory not only discloses but also effects; all in all, a perspective that is both sceptical and empirical, broad yet subtle, engaged and insightful." Professor Dell Hymes, University of Virginia
This volume brings together Bourdieu's highly original writings on language and on the relations between language, power and politics. Bourdieu develops a forceful critique of traditional approaches to language, including the linguistic theories of Saussure and Chomsky and the theory of speech-acts elaborated by Austin and others. He argues that language should be viewed not only as a means of communication but also as a medium of power through which individuals pursue their interests and display their practical competence. Drawing on the concepts which are part of his distinctive theoretical approach, Bourdieu maintains that linguistic utterances or expressions can be understood as the product of the relation between a 'linguistic market' and a 'linguistic habitus'. When individuals produce linguistic expressions, they deploy accumulated resources and they implicitly adapt their expressions to the demands of the social field or market. Hence every linguistic interaction, however personal and insignificant they may seem, bears the traces of the social structure that it both expresses and helps to reproduce.Boudieu's account sheds fresh light on the ways in which linguistic usage varies according to considerations such as class and gender. It also opens up a new approach to the ways in which language is used in the domain of politics. For politics is, among other things, the site par excellence in which words are deeds and the symbolic character of power is at stake. This volume, by one of the leading social thinkers in the world today, represents a major contribution to the study of language and power. It will be of interest to students throughout the social sciences and humanities, especially in sociology, politics, anthropology, linguistics and literature. See all Product description
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As anyone familiar with Bourdieu would expect, the reader would find many illuminating insights. I consider this an essential title for those who participate in dialogue concerning contemporary society.
However, unlike many US linguists, he assumes there is an empirical connection between language use and larger social domains; furthermore, he is able to explain the way power often operates through exclusion and devaluation (dialect analysis). One of the less abstract chapters, the chapter on Searle, is excellent. Bourdieu accurately locates the efficacy of the speech act, not in the functional form of the utterances, such as christening, ordering, requesting, etc., but in the recognition by all involved that the agent who produces the speech act has the right to be obeyed and that the material circumstances of the speech act are appropriate. Mary Jane down the street and the mayor of NY may christen a new warship using the exact same functional words, but the power of those words depends on our recognition that, in this example, the mayor, not just anybody, has the authority to name. Bourdieu masterfully argues this point, and I would recommend reading that chapter first for its accessibility and accuracy in pointing out that the extra-linguistic is as much linguistic as the linguistic.