PhD course: The social theories of Bourdieu, Foucault and Honneth - exploring interconnections and divergencies

The Centre for Gender Research, in collaboration with the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, offers a PhD-course led by Professor Lois McNay, exploring key topics in the social theories of Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and Axel Honneth.

This PhD-course is aimed at doctoral students in the social sciences, particularly those studying in Sociology, Political Theory and Gender and Women’s Studies, but also related fields such as Practical Philosophy and Psycho-social Studies.

The writings of Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault and Axel Honneth have had a huge impact on research in the social sciences, perhaps above all in challenging conventional notions of the sovereign, rational subject and in prompting thereby a comprehensive rethinking of the nature of Western modernity. Although there is a shared focus across their thought on ideas of embodiment and power, each thinker has developed these notions in distinctive ways. The purpose of the course is to explore specific points of overlap and divergence with the overall  aim of developing an enhanced understanding of the contribution that their thought makes to critical social theory. The course will explore both conceptual and methodological dimensions of these competing social theories.

Bourdieu conceptualises the body in phenomenological terms as the locus of embodied practice in the world and he attaches it to a neo-functionalist account of the reproduction of class structure. For Foucault, the body is the primary site of social control, where behaviour is shaped and regulated according to disciplinary norms of freedom. In Honneth, embodiment is primarily conceived of through the psychosocial demand for recognition that, when unmet, can catalyse radical social movements.  In what ways do these accounts of the body as the pivotal site of, respectively, class domination, disciplinary control and social recognition reinforce each other and in what ways do they diverge? More generally, is modern society best thought of in terms of a neo-Marxian account of class, as a disciplinary regime, or as a progressively expanding order of recognition. Can these competing accounts be fruitfully combined or are they ontologically incompatible? What, if anything, can they tell us about gendered and racial oppressions? How do they address the new forms of social precarity unleashed by neoliberalism? Is social progress contingent or can it be said to have a discernible underlying pattern or telos and, if so, what can this tell us about possibilities for freedom? What does each author mean by agency and where are possible spaces of freedom and emancipation to be located? Do these authors have an adequate understanding of the affective and psycho-social motivations of social action? Is social theory purely explanatory or should it have a normative function? If so, what is the nature of this normative content and the role of the theorist therein? More broadly, how should we understand the relation between political and social theory? These and other questions will form the focus of presentations and class discussion.

Published Feb. 18, 2019 3:35 PM - Last modified May 7, 2019 11:17 AM