Two Sociologists

Pierre Bourdieu and Zygmunt Bauman

Authored by: Tony Blackshaw

Routledge Handbook of Leisure Studies

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415697170
eBook ISBN: 9780203140505
Adobe ISBN: 9781136495595


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The sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, the great social theorist of Distinction (Bourdieu, 1984), has always made a consistent appeal to leisure scholars. He is one of the most studied sociologists in Leisure Studies, and his ‘theory of practice’ (Bourdieu, 1977) is widely taught on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. And to a remarkable extent he has become Leisure Studies’ key sociologist. This is hardly surprising, since throughout his academic career he undertook numerous studies – taste, high culture, symbolic rivalry, photography, sport, education, skholē – so as to raise some compelling questions relating to the study of leisure. In marked contrast, the sociology of Zygmunt Bauman has until recently largely been ignored in Leisure Studies. This should not surprise us either, since he is not a leisure scholar. On the face of it there could hardly be a greater contrast than between the two key thinkers. On the one hand, Bourdieu’s Gallic, empirically informed social theory which brings myriad notions to bear for leisure scholars to apply in their own studies. On the other, Bauman’s Polish-British, desk-based sociological hermeneutics that simply demands of its readers that they be alert to ‘the continuous and changing aspects of life strategies [which should always be traced] back to the social figurations they serve (in a dialectic process of reciprocal determination) – and forward, to the patterns of daily life in which they find expression’ (Bauman, 1992: 11). But the two key thinkers are not altogether dissimilar: both are trying in their own inimitable ways to offer a way of thinking sociologically that is made to the measure of a world in which the rationalization of objects (and human subjects) through standardization, abstraction and Fordist mass production has been superseded by a world of rationalization through cultural difference, reflexive individualization and consumerism. This observation notwithstanding, it is the central argument of this chapter that Zygmunt Bauman is the more important, challenging and useful of the two sociologists for understanding leisure in contemporary societies. In order to substantiate this critique, the final third of the chapter offers a discussion of my various applications of Bauman’s work, and especially the theory of liquid leisure (Blackshaw, 2010). The preceding section identifies and discusses Bauman’s specific way of thinking sociologically about leisure. The chapter begins by outlining Bourdieu’s key ideas and how these have been applied to leisure, before exposing the limits of his sociology for Leisure Studies.

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