What can Pierre Bourdieu teach us about work and inequalities? On the 2oth anniversary of his death, this conference will gather social scientists from all around the world to discuss how his legacy can shed light on workplace and labour market processes and how these feed into inequalities.

While Bourdieu is widely perceived as a sociologist of social class, education, and culture, many recent works prove that it is possible and fruitful to analyse work and employment in Bourdieusian terms. At a time of rising economic inequality, we revisit Bourdieu to reflect on how his concepts can be deployed, elaborated, and refined in research on work and inequality.


We invite theoretical and empirical papers from all social science disciplines on the broad theme of how Bourdieu can help us understand work and inequalities. This of course involves contributions that combine Bourdieusian theory with other approaches. We also encourage participation from researchers who challenge colour-blind and gender-blind approaches to key Bourdieusian concepts. Themes and topics for papers might include, but are not limited to:


What does work do to those who do it? On the one hand, Bourdieu argues that early experiences settled in the form of durable dispositions (what he calls the habitus) inform how we feel and behave in a variety of settings, including the workplace. How then do the ways of being acquired away from work shape ways of performing work tasks and roles? How do past experiences, shape beliefs, representations, goals, expectations, emotions and practices relative to work? On the other hand, Bourdieu recognised that habitus undergo permanent revisions over the life course.  How then do workplaces, with their controls, constraints and cultures, play into this process? Can we observe occupational or organisational habitus and dispositions? How are these produced and through which mechanisms are they inculcated? Looking beyond the workplace, what does the neoliberal economy of work mean for habitus formation and practice beyond work? How do recurring experiences of inequality, insecurity and discontinuity leave their mark on workers? 


Who gets what and why? Bourdieu chiefly studied how schools sort people and regulate stratification by imposing cultural hierarchies (valuation) while masking their arbitrary character (legitimization). But what role do workplaces and the labour market play into this dual process? What are the attitudes, preferences, knowledges and behaviours that bring respect, recognition, and esteem in the workplace? How do gatekeepers define and measure merit, talent, effort, and performance in the workplace? How do these definitions of the ideal worker relate to and reproduce hierarchies beyond market relations? Relatedly, how do economic, social and cultural capitals play into hiring decisions, pay determination, and career progression? How do competences, dispositions and resources acquired from the family, class background and schooling experiences regulate access to employment and the distribution of rewards at work? In a context of educational massification, how do certifications and credentials intersect with other forms of cultural capital? Last but not least, how do gender categorisations, ethnoracial classifications, class markers or disability labelling mediate the currency of skills and dispositions held by workers?


When, why, and how do workers consent or dissent? Since the 19th century, what confrontations between workers and employers mean for politics, mobilisations and conflict has spawned entire libraries of sociological work. With a conceptual armoury leaving room for both reproduction and transformation, Bourdieu can help us account for the dialectic of conflict and consent in the modern workplace. Under what conditions does work produce symbolic violence? And under what conditions can they break away from doxic scripts and challenge power imbalances? Along with traditional forms of collective action (trade unions and strikes), what everyday resistance strategies do workers use to obstruct or derail management control? How have recent political and economic transformations (e.g. neoliberalism, deunionisation, uberisation) affected all this? Can Bourdieu be a thinker of emancipation at work?   

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