Radical Philosophy, 193 pp 33-41

On the State comprises edited versions of three lecture courses that Pierre Bourdieu delivered between 1989 and 1992 at the Collège de France during his tenure of a research chair in sociology at that institution (1982-2001).* Beginning with the well-worn theme of the difficulties of thinking and studying the state, then illustrating the importance of state effects, the lectures conclude with detailed accounts of the sociogenesis of the dynastic and then the bureaucratic state from the twelfth century onwards. These topics indicate that Bourdieu did not aim to develop a general theory of the state as a universal, or of state formation wherever it occurred, nor to undertake comparative historical analyses of states and empires, nor to provide a comprehensive account of particular states. Rather, he aimed to sketch and illustrate a research programme, based on his own core concepts and the logic of practices, which would explore the genesis of the modern European state and some distinctive features and contradictions of its typical modus operandi. The analysis in On the State draws mainly on secondary analysis of selected studies of England and France with supplementary material drawn from imperial Japan and contemporary China but it also supplements these cases with earlier or parallel studies conducted by Bourdieu and his collaborators on the state’s role as ‘the central bank of symbolic capital’ in organizing other social fields, such as housing, education, marriage, public opinion, law, and the professions.