University Of Exeter, England The central argument of this article is that there is no fact of the matter, no evidence, however tentative or questionable, that will serve adequately to identify actions "chosen" or "determined" for the purposes of sociological theory. This argument will be developed with reference to the two theorists of the greatest importance in advocating the sociological value of the concept of agency: Talcott Parsons, with his "voluntaristic theory of action," set the scene for the whole agency (...) and structure debate in modern sociology, and Anthony Giddens, in his theory of structuration, provides the most comprehensive recent account. Both theorists put forward grounds and justifications for their use of the concepts of "choice" and "agency," but it will be argued here that in the last analysis, none of them has any sociological merit. (shrink)
A critical review of Bourdieu’s theory of the state is developed here against the backdrop of both his wider theoretical project and empirical studies. Elaborating the concepts of symbolic capital, symbolic violence, and symbolic domination, the centrality that Bourdieu accords to symbolic forms is compared to benchmark Weberian accounts that start with the state monopoly of violence. Reviewing also some of the burgeoning secondary literature discussing his theory of the state, Bourdieu’s writings, which encompass various antinomies, are shown to vacillate (...) between two distinct perspectives—a strong and a weak theory of the state. His rejection of the “physicalist” approaches of Marx, Elias, and Tilly is elaborated and subject to a counter-critique, particularly in relation to the notion of symbolic “violence.” Bourdieu’s account of the state is shown to be as much a political as theoretical intervention. His antagonism towards Marxist accounts in particular is shown to be rooted in a pragmatic interest in the role of the “left hand of the state” in progressive reform; and this perspective is traced back to the twin influences of Durkheim and Hegel, French republicanism, and in particular the potential of the state to express a universal interest. At the same time, compared with sophisticated Marxist and Weberian accounts and the work of Norbert Elias and Gramsci, Bourdieu’s theory is shown to be severely lacking in the way that he deals with violence and coercion. His “expanded materialism,” particularly with the “strong theory,” bends the stick too far and overplays the symbolic basis of consent. Nevertheless, Bourdieu’s insights with regard to the pervasive influences of state practices of classification, taxonomy, delegation, and naming are shown to have real utility with regard to focused empirical investigations of the state in modern societies. (shrink)
In this paper I compare and contrast the reproduction of elite strata in Randall Collins’s path-breaking book, The Credential Society, with Pierre Bourdieu’s important discussion found in The State Nobility. Although both approaches draw on Weber and Durkheim, focus on the interaction between material and cultural processes, subscribe to a relational form of analysis, and share a similar political world-view – social democrat and radical republican respectively – they also differ. These differences relate to their respective philosophical anthropology, the nature (...) of their long-term analysis, the different contexts within which their work emerged – Algeria and the post-war constellation and early Cold War period – and the divergent nature of the broader substantive sociological problems they are engaged with. In terms of their dissimilarities, not only is each approach useful for criticizing the other, but it will be argued that these divergences need to be synthesized into a broader, more powerful explanatory theory. (shrink)
The political and sociological project -- Knowledge and epistemology -- Agency -- Social structure -- Time, space, and historical sociology -- Modernity -- Rationality and reflexivity -- Politics and the third way -- An alternative sociology.
This introduction to a special issue outlines the significance of Randall Collins’s contribution to sociology. The first section briefly reviews Collins’s main books and assesses their impact on social science. The second section offers a summary overview of the papers that comprise the special issue.