Extrapolating the Rules of Analysis from Bourdieu’s ‘The Rules of Art’: A New Perspective on Literary Criticism

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Since it’s English publication in 1996, Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘The Rules of Art’ has been viewed as a sociological account of the present state of the literary field. Few have viewed his unique way of analysing Flaubert’s seminal novel, ‘Sentimental Education’, as a substantive approach to literary criticism.

The main purpose of this investigation is to distil Bourdieu’s theoretical framework which he used to analyse Flaubert’s novel. In brief, Bourdieu proposes a four-pronged approach which is a radical departure from previous schools of thought regarding literary criticism, but that is both comprehensive and also encompassing of past theoretical influences.

In its most simplest element, Bourdieu firstly suggests an internal reading of the text where he proposes a character analysis, with a particular focus on each protagonists' habitus and relationship to the field of power. Secondly, Bourdieu advises on a reconstruction of the social space that the author inhabited at the time of production; and thirdly, their position-taking in this social space. This allows for the construction of the artist’s habitus, and in turn, what Bourdieu refers to as the objectification of the subject. This objectification is meant to guard against the sacralising of the author or the work of art. Fourthly, Bourdieu recommends recreating the literary field at the time the author produced the work and its relationship with the field of power.

This sociological approach to literary criticism is meant to provide a fuller understanding of the artist, the work, the society at the time that allowed such a work to be recognised by the literary establishment (or not as may be the case), and the construction of the present-day literary field.


Keywords: Pierre Bourdieu and ‘The Rules of Art’, Bourdieu’s and Flaubert’s ‘Sentimental Education’, Habitus, Literary Field and Field of Power, Sociology and Literary Criticism
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Extrapolating the Rules of Analysis from Bourdieu’s ‘The Rules of Art’


Michelle Almirón

PhD Candidate, Spanish Department
School of Language Studies
College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

Canberra, ACT, Australia

Michelle Almirón is a PhD candidate undertaking the second year of research at the Australian National University in Canberra on Argentine Literature. Her investigation focuses on extrapolating the mode of analysis used by Pierre Bourdieu in ‘The Rules of Art’ and applying it to José Hernandez’s classic verse novel ‘Martin Fierro’. Her honours thesis focused on the study of Liliana Heker’s novel ‘El Fin de la Historia’ (‘The End of History’). She is currently a graduate visiting scholar on exchange with the Spanish Sub-Faculty at the University of Oxford.

Ref: H08P0427