Theory, Culture and Society 36 (7-8):5-21 (2019)

This text derives from a recording, and transcripts, of the introduction which Althusser gave on 6 December 1963, to a seminar for students in the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, offered at his invitation by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron. Althusser takes the opportunity to raise questions about the status of social science and suggests that Bourdieu and Passeron represent slightly different strands of contemporary research practice, partly as a result of their different formation and practice since themselves leaving the École. Althusser first considers the relation between the human sciences and the traditionally instituted Faculty of Letters or Humanities. What is the origin of the compulsion to constitute a science of human relations? Given that the social sciences have established themselves, Althusser then tries to define their nature. He suggests that they have three forms: as abstract and general theory, as ethnology, and as empirical sociology. He discusses the pros and cons of each in some detail. Althusser then asks what are the features which constitute sciences and concludes that they must always possess discrete theoretical perspectives corresponding with discrete components of reality but must also possess an element of self-referentiality or, as he puts it, must be objects to themselves. Althusser suggests that his contemporary social sciences are not philosophically adequate by the criteria which he advances. He proceeds to introduce Bourdieu and Passeron in such a way as to invite consideration of whether their practices meet his criteria.
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DOI 10.1177/0263276419873373
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