The grammar of an ambivalence: On the legacy of Pierre Bourdieu in the critical theory of Axel Honneth

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Abstract

In the mid-1980s, Axel Honneth – successor to Jürgen Habermas, and now considered the most prominent representative of the Frankfurt School's third generation – made an important contribution to the sociophilosophical reading of Pierre Bourdieu's work that fundamentally shaped its German reception (see Behr, 2001). This contribution is marked by a clear ambivalence. On the one hand, it is obvious that it was in no way gratuitous. Honneth knew from the beginning that Bourdieu's work was to play a key role in his own project to renew the tradition of critical theory (Honneth, Basaure, Reemtsma and Willig, 2009). At the centre of this project was a reappropriation and revitalisation of the Hegelian concept of the ‘struggle for recognition’ (Honneth, 1995 [1992]; 2000; 2003; 2007 [2000]). On the other hand, Honneth's early texts, which contribute to the German reception of Bourdieu, are eminently critical of Bourdieu's work. In a monographic article presented in the early 1980s, Honneth (1984) advances the critique that Bourdieu's social theory tends to ignore the normative structuring of social life and instead takes up a utilitarian, strategic understanding of social action. This charge similarly dominates the interview Honneth and his colleagues conducted with Bourdieu, which was published two years later (Bourdieu, Honneth, Kocyba and Schwibs, 1986). I want to argue that this ambivalence cuts across Honneth's entire relationship with Bourdieu's work. Whilst Honneth rejects what he considers to be the socio-ontological foundations of Bourdieu's sociological theory, he draws upon the Bourdieusian approach and considers it as an expression of an exemplary sociology.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Legacy of Pierre Bourdieu
PublisherAnthem Press
Pages203-222
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780857289278
ISBN (Print)9780857287687
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

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