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What Makes a Social Class?

On The Theoretical and Practical Existence Of Groups

Author(s): Pierre Bourdieu
Source: Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Vol. 32 (1987), pp. 1-17
Published by: Regents of the University of California
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What Makes a Social Class?
On The Theoreticaland Practical
ExistenceOf Groups*

By Pierre Bourdieu

It wouldbe easy and tempting to deridethetopicof thissym-

posium and to uncoverthe presuppositionsit conceals under its
apparentneutrality.But ifyouwillallowmejust one criticismof the
way it formulates the questionof social class, it is thatit misleads
one to believethatthisproblemcan be reducedto a simplechoice
and resolvedbya fewcommon-sense arguments.
In fact,behindthe proposedalternative- is class an analytical
constructor a folkcategory?- hides one of the most difficult of all
theoreticalproblems,namely,the problemof knowledge, but in the
veryspecial formit assumes when the object of this knowledgeis
made bothofand byknowingsubjects.
One of the main obstaclesto scientific sociologyis the use we
make of commonoppositions,paired concepts,or what Bachelard
calls "epistemologicalcouples:" constructedby social reality,these
are unthinkinglyused to constructsocial reality.One of thesefunda-
mentalantinomiesis theoppositionbetweenobjectivismand subjec-
tivismor, in morecurrentparlance,betweenstructuralism and con-
structivism,whichcan be roughly characterized as follows.Fromthe
objectivistpointof view,social agentscan be "treatedas things,"as
in theold Durkheimianprecept,thatis, classifiedlike objects:access
to the objectiveclassificationpresupposeshere a breakwith naive
whichare seen as "prenotions"or "ideolo-
gies." From the subjectivistpoint of view, as representedby
phenomenology,ethnomethodology and constructivistsociology,
agents social
construct which
reality, is itselfunderstoodas the pro-
ductof the aggregation of theseindividualacts of construction.For
thissortof sociologicalmarginalism, thereis no need to breakwith
primarysocial experience,for the task of sociologyis to give "an
* Thisis thetextofa lecture
as keynoteaddressto theDean's
Symposium on "Gender,Age,Ethnicityand Class: Analytical
at TheUniversity
ofChicago,April9-10,1987. Translated
fromFrench byLocJ.D. WacquantandDavidYoung.

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accountof accounts."
This is in facta false opposition. In reality,agentsare both
but theyclassifyaccordingto (or depending
classifiedand classifiers,
upon) theirpositionwithinclassifications.To sum up whatI mean
by this,I can commentbrieflyon the notionof pointof view: the
pointof view is a perspective,a partialsubjectivevision(subjectivist
moment);but it is at thesame timea view,a perspective, takenfrom
a point,froma determinatepositionin an objectivesocial space
(objectivistmoment). Let me develop each of these moments,the
as theyapplyto theanalysisof class,
objectivistand the subjectivist,
and showhowtheycan and mustbe integrated.

The objectivistmoment-fromsocial classes to social space:

Class as a well-foundedtheoreticalconstruct
The firstquestion,close to the one assigned,is "Are classesa
scientificconstruct or do theyexistin reality?"This questionis itself
a euphemismforthemoredirectand moredirectly politicalquestion:
"Do classes existor do theynot?" since this questionarises in the
veryobjectivityof the social worldand of the social struggles that
occur in it. The questionof the existenceor the non-existence of
classesis, at leastsincetheemergence of Marxismand of thepolitical
movements it has inspired,one of themajorprinciplesof divisionin
the politicalarena. Thus one has everyreasonto suspectthatwhat-
ever answerthis questionreceives,it is based on politicalchoices,
even ifthetwopossiblestandson theexistenceof classescorrespond
to two probablestanceson the mode of knowledge,realistor con-
structivist,ofwhichthenotionof class is theproduct.
Those who assertthe existenceof classes will tend to take a
realiststandand, iftheyare empirically inclined,theywillattemptto
determineempiricallythe propertiesand boundariesof the various
classes, sometimesgoing as far as to count, to the person,the
membersof thisor that class. To thisviewof theproblemone can
oppose, and this has oftenbeen done, particularly by conservative
sociologists,the idea that classes are nothingbut constructs of the
scientist,with no foundation whatsoever in reality,and that any
attemptto demonstratethe existenceof classes by the empirical
measurement of objectiveindicatorsof social and economicposition
willcome up againstthefactthatit is impossibleto find,in the real
world,clear-cutdiscontinuities: income,likemostproperties attached
to individuals,showsa continuousdistribution suchthatanydiscrete
category one mightconstruct on itsbasis appearsas a merestatistical
artefact.And Pareto'sformula,accordingto whichit is no easierto
draw a line betweenthe richand the poor thanbetweenthe young
and the old- one mightadd nowadays:betweenmen and women-
this formulawill always delightthose, and they are many,even

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amongsociologists, who wantto convincethemselves and othersthat

social differencesdo not exist,or thattheyare withering away(as in
thethemeof theembourgeoisement of theworking class or thehomo-
genizationof society)and who argueon thisgroundthatno domi-
nantprincipleof differentiation exists.
Those whoclaimto discover"ready-made"classesalreadycon-
stitutedin objectiverealityand thosewho hold classesto be nothing
more than pure theoreticalartefacts(scholarly or "popular"),
obtainedby arbitrarily cuttingup theotherwiseundifferentiated con-
tinuumof the social world,have thisin common,thattheyaccepta
substantialistphilosophy, in Cassirer'ssenseof theterm,whichrecog-
nizes no otherrealitythanthatwhichis directlygivento the intui-
tion of ordinaryexperience. In fact, it is possible to deny the
existenceof classesas homogeneoussetsof economically and socially
differentiated individualsobjectivelyconstituted into groups,and to
assertat the same timethe existenceof a space of differences based
on a principleof economicand social differentiation. In orderto do
so, one needs only to take up the relationalor structural mode of
thinkingcharacteristic of modernmathematicsand physics,which
identifies the real not withsubstancesbut withrelationships.From
thispointof view,the"social reality"spokenof in objectivistsociol-
ogy(thatof Marx,but also Durkheim's)consistsof a set of invisible
relationships, those preciselywhichconstitutea space of positions
externalto one anotherand definedby theirrelativedistanceto one
another. For this realismof the relation,the real is the relational;
realityis nothingotherthanthe structure, as a set of constantrela-
tionshipswhichare ofteninvisible,because theyare obscuredby the
realitiesof ordinarysense-experience, and by individualsin particu-
lar, at whichsubstantialist realismstops. It is this verysame sub-
stantialismwhich vindicatesboth the assertionand the denial of
classes. From a scientificstandpoint,what exists is not "social
classes" as understoodin the realist,substantialist and empiricist
mode of thinking adoptedby bothopponentsand proponentsof the
existenceof class, but rathera social space in the truesense of the
term,ifwe admit,withStrawson,thatthefundamental propertyof a
space is thereciprocalexternalityof theobjects it encloses.
The taskof science,then,is to construct thespace whichallows
us to explainand to predictthelargestpossiblenumberof differences
observedbetweenindividuals,or, whatis the same,to determine the
mainprinciplesof differentiation necessary or sufficient to explainor
predictthe totalityof the characteristics observedin a givenset of
The social world can be conceived as a multi-dimensional
space that can be constructed empiricallyby discoveringthe main
factorsof differentiation whichaccountforthe differences observed

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in a given social universe,or, in otherwords, by discoveringthe

powersorformsofcapitalwhichare or can becomeefficient, likeaces
in a gameof cards,in thisparticularuniverse,thatis, in thestruggle
(or competition)forthe appropriation of scarcegoods of whichthis
universeis thesite. It followsthatthestructure of thisspace is given
by the distributionof the various forms of capital,thatis, by thedis-
tributionof theproperties whichare activewithintheuniverseunder
study-those propertiescapable of conferring strength, power and
consequently profit on theirholder.
In a social universelike Frenchsociety,and no doubt in the
Americansocietyof today, these fundamentalsocial powers are,
accordingto myempiricalinvestigations, firstlyeconomiccapital,in
its variouskinds; secondlyculturalcapital or better,informational
capital,again in its different kinds;and thirdlytwo formsof capital
that are very stronglycorrelated,social capital, which consistsof
resourcesbased on connectionsand groupmembership, and symbolic
capital,whichis theformthedifferent typesof capitaltakeonce they
are perceivedand recognizedas legitimate.Thus agentsare distrib-
uted in the overallsocial space, in the firstdimensionaccordingto
the global volumeof capital theypossess,in the second dimension
accordingto thecomposition of theircapital,thatis, accordingto the
relativeweightin theiroverallcapitalof thevariousformsof capital,
especiallyeconomicand cultural,and in thethirddimensionaccord-
ing to the evolutionin timeof the volumeand compositionof their
capital,thatis, accordingto theirtrajectory in social space. Agents
and setsof agentsare assigneda position,a locationor a preciseclass
of neighboring positions,i.e., a particular area withinthatspace; they
are thus definedby their relativeposition in termsof a multi-
dimensionalsystemof coordinateswhose values correspondto the
valuesof thedifferent pertinent variables. (Occupationis generally a
good and economicalindicatorof positionin social space and, in
addition,providesvaluableinformation on occupationaleffects, i.e.,
effectsof thenatureof work,of theoccupationalmilieu,withits cul-
turaland organizational specificities,etc.)
But this is wherethingsget complicated:it is in effectquite
likelythatthe productof the relationalmode of thinking(like the
three-dimensional diagramin factoranalysis)willbe interpreted in a
realist and "substantialist"way: "classes" as logical classes-
analyticalconstructs obtainedby theoretically dividinga theoretical
space- are then seen as real, objectivelyconstitutedgroups. Ironi-
cally,the more accuratethe theoreticalconstruction of theoretical
classes,the greaterthe chancethattheywill be seen as real groups.
Indeed, these classes are based on the principlesof differentiation
whichare actuallythemosteffective in reality,i.e., the mostcapable
of providingthe fullest explanation of the largest number of
differencesobservedbetweenagents. The construction of thespace is

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the basis of a divisioninto classes whichare only analyticalcon-

structs,butconstructs well-founded in reality(cumfundamento in re).
Withthe set of commonprincipleswhichmeasurethe relativedis-
tancebetweenindividuals,we acquirethe meansof regrouping indi-
vidualsintoclassesin sucha waythatagentsin thesame class are as
similaras possiblein thegreatestpossiblenumberof respects(and all
the more so as the numberof classes thusdefinedis largeand the
area theyoccupyin social space is small),and in sucha waythatthe
classes are as distinctas possible fromone another-or, in other
words,we secure the possibilityof obtainingthe largestpossible
separationbetweenclassesof thegreatestpossiblehomogeneity.
Paradoxically, the means used to constructand to exhibitthe
social space tendto obscureit fromview;thepopulationsit is neces-
saryto constitute in orderto objectifythepositionstheyoccupyhide
theseverypositions.This is all themoretruewhenthespace is con-
structedin a way that the closer the individualagentsin it, the
greatertheirprobablenumberof commonproperties, and conversely,
the farther theyare fromeach other,the fewerpropertiestheywill
have in common. To be moreprecise,theagentswho occupyneigh-
boringpositionsin thisspace are placedin similarconditionsand are
therefore subjectto similarconditioningfactors:consequentlythey
have everychanceof havingsimilardispositionsand interests, and
thus of producingpracticesand representations of a similarkind.
Those who occupythe same positionshave everychanceof having
the same habitus,at least insofaras the trajectorieswhich have
brought themto thesepositionsare themselves similar.
The dispositionsacquiredin the positionoccupiedinvolvean
adjustment to thisposition-whatErvingGoffmancalls the"senseof
one's place." It is this sense of one's place which,in a situationof
interaction, promptsthosewhomwe call in Frenchles genshumbles,
literally"humble people"- perhaps"common folks" in English-to
remain"humbly"in theirplace, and whichpromptsthe othersto
"keep theirdistance,"or to "keep theirstationin life."It shouldbe
said in passingthatthesestrategies may be totallyunconsciousand
take the formof whatwe commonlycall timidityor arrogance.In
fact,thesesocial distancesare inscribedin thebody. It followsthat
objectivedistancestend to reproducethemselvesin the subjective
experienceof distance,remotenessin space beingassociatedwitha
formof aversionor lack of understanding, whilenearnessis lived as
a moreor less unconsciousformof complicity.This sense of one's
place is at thesame timea senseof theplace of others,and, together
with the affinities of habitusexperiencedin the formof personal
attraction or revulsion,is at the root of all processesof cooptation,
friendship, love, association,etc.,and therebyprovidesthe principle
of all durablealliancesand connections, includinglegallysanctioned

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Thus althoughthe logical class, as an analyticalconstruct

foundedin reality,is nothingotherthanthe set of occupantsof the
same positionin a space, theseagentsare as such affectedin their
social beingby the effects of the conditionand of the conditionings
corresponding to theirpositionas definedintrinsically(thatis to say,
by a certainclass of materialconditionsof existence,of primeval
experiencesof the social world,etc.),and relationally (thatis, in its
relationto otherpositions,as beingabove or belowthem,or between
themas in thecase of thosepositionsthatare "in themiddle,"inter-
The homogenizing effectof homogeneousconditionings is at
the basis of thosedispositionswhichfavorthe developmentof rela-
tionships,formalor informal(like homogamy),whichtend to in-
crease this veryhomogeneity.In simpleterms,constructed classes
theoreticallyassemble agents who, beingsubject to similarconditions,
tendto resembleone anotherand, as a result,are inclinedto assem-
ble practically,to come togetheras a practicalgroup,and thus to
reinforce theirpointsof resemblance.
To sum up so far:constructed classescan be characterized in a
certainway as sets of agentswho, by virtueof the factthat they
occupysimilarpositionsin social space (thatis, in thedistribution of
powers),are subjectto similarconditionsof existenceand condition-
ing factorsand, as a result,are endowedwithsimilardispositions
whichpromptthem to develop similarpractices. In this respect,
such classes meet all the requirements of a scientifictaxonomy,at
once predictiveand descriptive, whichallows us to get the greatest
amountof information forthe least cost: the categoriesobtainedby
cuttingup sets characterized by the similarity of theiroccupational
conditionswithina three-dimensional space have a veryhighpredic-
tive capacityfor a relativelysmall cognitiveexpense(that is, rela-
tivelylittleinformation is necessaryto determine thepositionin that
space: one needsthreecoordinates, globalvolumeof capital,compo-
sitionof capitaland social trajectory).This use of thenotionof class
is inseparablefromthe ambitionto describeand classifyagentsand
theirconditionsof existence in such a way thatthe cutting-up of
social space into classes mightaccountfor variationsin practices.
This projectis expressedin a particularly lucid formby Maurice
Halbwachs,whosebook,publishedin 1955 underthetitleOutlineof
a Psychology of Social Classes,firstappearedin 1938, a fulldecade
beforeRichard Centers'influentialvolume on The Psychologyof
Social Classes in this country,underthe revealingtitle:"Dominant
motivesorientingindividualactivityin social life." By gathering
together in one set agentscharacterized by the"same permanent col-
lectiveconditions,"as Halbwachsput it, our aim is to explainand
predictthepracticesof thevariouscategoriesthusconstituted.

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But one can go still furtherand, fromthis same objectivist

understanding of the social world, postulate,as Marx did, that
theoretical classes are real classes,real groupsof individualsmoved
by theconsciousness of theidentity of theirconditionand interests, a
consciousness whichsimultaneously unitesthemand opposesthemto
otherclasses. In fact,the Marxisttraditioncommitsthe verysame
theoreticist fallacyof whichMarx himselfaccused Hegel: by equat-
ing constructed classes,whichonlyexistas such on paper,withreal
classesconstituted in the formof mobilizedgroupspossessingabso-
lute and relationalself-consciousness, the Marxisttraditionconfuses
thethingsof logicwiththe logicof things.The illusionwhichleads
us to believethattheoreticalclasses are automatically real classes-
groupsmade of individualsunited by the consciousnessand the
knowledgeof theircommonality of conditionand readyto mobilize
in pursuitof theircommoninterests- willtryto grounditselfin one
of severalways. On the one hand,one may invokethe mechanical
effectof the identityof conditionswhich,presumably, mustinevit-
ablyassertitselfwithtime. Or, following a completely different logic,
one mayinvokethe effect of an "awakeningof consciousness"(prise
de conscience)conceivedas the realizationof the objectivetruth;or
any combinationof thesetwo. Or betterstill,thisillusionwill seek
to finda basis in a reconciliation, broughtabout under the en-
lightenedguidanceof the Party(with a capital P), of the popular
visionand thescholarlyvision,so thatin theend theanalyticalcon-
structis made intoa folkcategory.
The theoreticist illusion which grantsrealityto abstractions
hides a whole seriesof major problems,thosewhichthe verycon-
struction of well-founded theoreticalclassesallowsus to pose whenit
is epistemologically controlled:a theoreticalclass, or a "class on
paper,"mightbe consideredas a probablereal class,or as theproba-
bilityof a realclass,whoseconstituents are likelyto be broughtcloser
and mobilized(but are not actuallymobilized)on the basis of their
similarities (of interestand dispositions).Likewisethe social space
maybe construedas a structure of probabilitiesof drawingindividu-
als togetheror apart,a structureof affinity and aversionbetween
them. It remainsnonethelessthat,contrary to whatMarxisttheory
assumes,the movementfromprobability to reality,fromtheoretical
classto practicalclass,is nevergiven:eventhoughtheyare supported
by the"sense of one's place" and by theaffinity of habitus,theprin-
ciples of vision and division of the social world at workin the con-
struction of theoretical classeshave to compete,in reality, withother
principles,ethnic,racial or national,and moreconcretely still,with
principlesimposedby the ordinaryexperienceof occupational,com-
munaland local divisionsand rivalries.The perspective takenin the
construction of theoretical classesmaywellbe themost"realistic,"in
thatit relieson therealunderlying principlesof practices;it stilldoes

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not imposeitselfupon agentsin a self-evident manner. The indivi-

dual and collectiverepresentation that agentsmay acquire of the
social worldand of theirplace in it maywellbe constructed accord-
ingto completely differentcategories,even if,in theireverydayprac-
tices,theseagentsfollowthelaws immanentin thatuniversethrough
themediationof theirsenseof place.
In short,by assumingthat actions and interactionscould
somehowbe deducedfromthestructure, one dispenseswiththeques-
tionof themovement fromtheoretical grouptopracticalgroup,thatis
to say,thequestionof the politicsand of thepoliticalworkrequired
to imposea principleof visionand divisionof thesocial world,even
when this principleis well-foundedin reality. By maintaininga
sharpdistinction betweenthe logic of thingsand the thingsof logic,
even those whichare best adjustedto the logic of things(as with
well-founded theoreticalclasses),we can establishat once severalpro-
positions:firstlythat classes realizedand mobilizedby and forclass
struggle,"classes-in-struggle," as Marx would have them,do not
exist;secondlythatclassescan assentto a definiteformof existence
onlyat thecostof a specificwork,of whichthespecifically theoretical
production of a representation of the divisionsis a decisive element;
and thirdlythatthispoliticallabor is all the morelikelyto succeed
when it is armed with a theorywell-founded in reality,since the
effectthatthistheorycan exertis all themorepowerful whenwhatit
makesone see and believe is more present,in a potentialstate,in
realityitself. In other words, an adequate theoryof theoretical
classes(and of theirboundaries)leads one to pose thatthe political
workaimedat producingclassesin theformof objectiveinstitutions,
at once expressedand constituted by permanent organsof representa-
tion, by symbols,acronymsand constituents, has its own specific
logic, that of all symbolicproduction.And this politicalworkof
classmakingis all the more likelyto be effective when the agents
whoseunityit strivesto manifestare close to one anotherin social
space and therefore belongto thesame theoretical class.
Whethertheyhave an occupationalbasis as in our societiesor
a genealogicalbasis as in pre-capitalistsocieties,groupsare notfound
ready-made reality. And even when theypresentthemselveswith
thisair of eternity thatis thehallmarkof naturalizedhistory, theyare
alwaysthe productof a complexhistoricalworkof construction, as
Luc Boltanskihas shownin thecase of thetypicallyFrenchcategory
of ^cadres'"'(engineersand executives,or the managerialclass). The
titleof E. P. Thompson'sfamousbook, The Making of theEnglish
WorkingClass, shouldbe takenquite literally:the workingclass as
we perceiveit today throughthe words used to name it, such as
"workingclass," "proletariat,""v/orkers"(travailleurs), "labor," etc.,
and throughthe organizationssupposedto representit, withtheir
acronyms,offices,councils,flags,and so on, this class is a well-

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foundedhistoricalartefact(in the same way thatDurkheimspokeof

religionas a "well-founded illusion"). The same is trueof a group
like the elderly,your "senior citizens,"which PatrickChampagne
and Rmi Lenoir have shownto be a genuinehistoricalinvention
born of the action of interestgroupsand sanctionedby legal con-
secration.But it is thefamilyitself,in thenuclearformin whichwe
know it today,whichcan best be describedas the productof the
action,again sanctionedby legal arrangements, of a wholeseriesof
agentsand institutions,suchas lobbiesin thearea of familyplanning
and policy.
Thus althoughwe are now farfromthe originalquestion,we
mighttryto reconsiderthetermsin whichit was formulated.Social
classes,or moreprecisely, to when
the class whichis tacitlyreferred
we speak of social classes, namely, "the workingclass" exists
sufficientlyto makeus questionor at leastdenyits existence,even in
the mostsecureacademicspheres,onlyinasmuchas all sortsof his-
toricalagents,starting withsocial scientistssuch as Marx,have suc-
ceededin transforming whatcould have remainedan "analyticalcon-
struct"into a "folkcategory,"thatis, into one of thoseimpeccably
real social fictionsproducedand reproducedby the magicof social

The subjectivistmoment-fieldof forcesand fieldof struggles:

The workof class-making
The existenceor non-existence of classes is one of the major
stakesin thepoliticalstruggle.This muchsuffices to remindus that,
like any group,collectiveshavingan economicand social base, be
they occupationalgroupsor "classes," are symbolicconstructions
orientedby the pursuitof individualand collectiveinterests(and,
firstof all, by the pursuitof the specificinterests of theirspokesper-
sons). The social scientistdeals with an object whichis itselfthe
object, and the subject,of cognitivestruggles- strugglesnot only
betweenscholars,but also betweenlaymenand, among these,be-
tweenthe various professionalsin the representation of the social
world. The social scientistmightthusbe temptedto set himselfup
as a referee, capable of adjudicatingwithsupremeauthority between
rival constructions, betweenthose plain folk theorieshe excludes
fromhis theoreticdiscoursewithoutrealizingthattheyare partand
parcelof realityand that,to a certaindegree,theyare constitutive of
This theoreticist epistemocentrism leads one to forgetthatthe
criteriaused in the construction of the objectivespace and of the
well-founded it makespossibleare also instruments-
classifications I
should say weapons-and stakesin the classification strugglewhich
determines themakingand un-making of theclassificationscurrently

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in use. For instance,the relativevalue of the different species of

capital,economicand cultural,or amongthevariouskindsof cultural
capital,legal-economiccapital and scientificcapital, is continually
beingbroughtinto question,reassessed,throughstruggles aimed at
inflating or deflating the value of one or the othertypeof capital.
Consider,in the Americancontext,the historically changingrelative
values, at once economic,social and symbolic,of economictitles,
stocks,bonds, IRAs, and educationalcredentials;and among the
latter,of the MBA versusthe Masterof Artsin Anthropology or in
Comparative Literature. A good many criteriaused in scientific
analysisas instruments of knowledge, includingthemostneutralones
and thosethatseem most "natural"such as age or sex, operatein
realpracticesas classificatory schemes(thinkof theuse of suchpairs
as old and young,paleo/neo,etc.). The representations whichagents
produceto meettheexigenciesof theirday-to-day existence,and par-
ticularlythe names of groupsand all the vocabularyavailable to
name and thinkthe social,owe theirspecific,strictly practical,logic
to the factthattheyare oftenpolemicaland invariablyorientedby
practicalconsiderations.It followsthat practicalclassifications are
nevertotallycoherentor logicalin thesenseof logic;theynecessarily
involvea degreeof loose-fitting, owingto the factthat theymust
remain "practical" or convenient. Because an operation of
classification dependson the practicalfunctionit fulfills, it can be
based on different criteria,dependingon the situation,and it can
yield highly variable taxonomies. For the same reasons, a
classificationcan operateat varyinglevelsof aggregation.The level
of aggregation will be highestwhenthe classification is applied to a
region of social space that is distant,and therefore, less well-known-
in thesame waythata city-dweller's perceptionof treesis less clearly
differentiated thanthe perceptionof a country-dweller. In addition,
likeconnoisseurs who classifypaintingsby reference to a characteris-
tic or prototypical memberof thecategory in question,ratherthanby
scanningall theindividualmembersof thecategory or byconsidering
all the formalcriteriarequiredto determinethat an object indeed
belongsto the category, social agentsuse as theirreference pointsin
establishing social positionsthe figures typicalof a positionin social
spacewithwhichtheyare familiar.
One can and musttranscendtheoppositionbetweenthevision
whichwe can indifferently label realist,objectivistor structuralist on
the one hand,and the constructivist, spontaneistvision
on the other. Any theoryof the social universemust includethe
representation that agentshave of the social worldand, more pre-
cisely,thecontribution theymaketo theconstruction of thevisionof
thatworld,and consequently, to theveryconstruction of thatworld.
It musttakeintoaccountthesymbolicworkof fabrication of groups,
ofgroup-making. It is through thisendlessworkof representation (in

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everysenseof theterm)thatsocial agentstryto imposetheirvision

of theworldor thevisionof theirown positionin thatworld,and to
definetheirsocial identity.Such a theorymusttake as an incontro-
vertibletruththatthetruthof thesocial worldis thestakeof a strug-
gle. And, by the same token,it mustrecognizethat,dependingon
theirpositionin social space,thatis, in thedistributions of thevari-
ous speciesof capital,the agentsinvolvedin this struggleare very
unequallyarmed in the fightto impose theirtruth,and have very
different, and evenopposedaims.
Thus the"ideologies,""preconceptions," and folktheoriesthat
the objectivistrupturehad to set aside in the firstplace to construct
theobjectivespace of social positions,mustbe broughtback intothe
model of reality.This model musttake into accountthe factthat,
contrary to thetheoreticist illusion,thesenseof thesocial worlddoes
not assertitselfin a univocaland universalfashion;it is subject,in
objectivity itself,to a pluralityof visions. The existenceof a plurali-
tyof visionsand divisionsthatare different, or even antagonistic,is
due, on the "objective" side, to the relativeindeterminacy of the
realitywhichoffers itselfto perception.On theside of theperceiving
subjects,it is due to theplurality of theprinciplesof visionand divi-
sion available at any given moment(religious,ethnicor national
principlesof division,forinstance,are liable to competewithpoliti-
cal principlesbased on economicor occupationalcriteria).It also
stemsfromthe diversityof viewpointsimpliedby the diversityof
positions,of pointsin space fromwhichthevariousviewsare taken.
In fact,social "reality"presentsitselfneitheras completelydeter-
mined,nor as completelyindeterminate.From a certainangle,it
presentsitselfas stronglystructured, essentiallybecause the social
space presentsitselfin the formof agentsand institutions endowed
with different propertieswhichhave veryunequal probabilitiesof
appearingin combinations: in the same waythatanimalswithfeath-
ers are morelikelyto have wingsthananimalswithfur,people who
have a perfect commandof theirlanguageare morelikelyto be found
in concerthalls and museumsthan those who do not. In other
words,the space of objectivedifferences (withregardto economic
and culturalcapital)findsan expressionin a symbolicspace of visible
distinctions, of distinctivesignswhichare so manysymbolsof dis-
tinction.For agentsendowedwiththepertinent categoriesof percep-
tion, i.e., with a practicalintuitionof the homologybetweenthe
space of distinctive signsand the space of positions,social positions
are immediately discerniblethroughtheirvisiblemanifestations ("ca
fait intellectuel" "that looks intellectual").This being said, the
specificity of symbolicstrategiesand in particular,strategies which,
like bluffsor symbolicinversions(the intellectual's VolkswagenBee-
tle),use thepracticalmastery of thecorrespondences betweenthetwo
spaces to produce all sorts of semantic jamming, consists in

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introducing, in theveryobjectivity of theperceivedpracticesor pro-

perties,a sort of semanticfuzzinesswhich does not facilitatethe
directdeciphering of social signs. All thesestrategies findadditional
strength in the factthat even the most constantand most reliable
combinationsof propertiesare only foundedon statisticalconnec-
tionsand are subjectto variationsin time.
This,however,is not all. Whileit is truethattheprinciplesof
differentiation which are objectively the most powerful,like
economicand culturalcapital,produceclear-cutdifferences between
agents situated at extreme ends of the distributions,they are evi-
dentlyless effective in the intermediate zones of the space in ques-
tion. It is in these intermediate or middle positionsof the social
space that the indeterminacy and the fuzzinessof the relationship
betweenpracticesand positionsare the greatest, and thatthe room
leftopen forsymbolicstrategies designedto jam thisrelationship is
the largest.One understands whythis regionof the social universe
providedthesymbolicinteractionists, especiallyGoffman, witha field
uniquely suited to the observation of the various forms of presenta-
tionofselfthrough whichagentsstriveto construct theirsocial iden-
tity. And we mustadd to thesethe strategies aimed at manipulating
the mostreliablesymbolsof social position,thosewhichsociologists
are fondof usingas indicators,such as occupationand social origin.
It is the case forinstance,in France,withthe instituteurs, primary
school teachers,who call themselvesenseignants, whichcan mean
highschool teacheror even university professor;and withbishops
and intellectuals who tend to underreport theirsocial origins,while
othercategoriestendto exaggerate theirs.Alongthesesame lines,we
shouldalso mentionall thosestrategies designedto manipulaterela-
tionsof groupmembership, whetherfamily,ethnic,religious,politi-
cal, occupationalor sexual,to displayor to concealthemaccordingto
practicalinterests and functions definedin each case by reference to
the concretesituationat hand,by playing,accordingto the needs of
themoment,on thepossibilities offered by simultaneous membership
in a plurality of collectives.(Such strategies have theirequivalent,in
relativelyundifferentiated societies,in the way agentsplay on and
playwithgenealogical, family, clan and tribalaffiliations.)
This symbolicmanipulationof groupsfindsa paradigmatic
formin politicalstrategies:thus,by virtueof theirobjectiveposition
situatedhalf-way betweenthe two poles of the space, standingin a
stateof unstableequilibriumand waveringbetweentwoopposedalli-
ances,the occupantsof the intermediate positionsof the social field
are theobjectof completely contradictory bythosewho
try,in the politicalstruggle, to win themover to theirside. (The
Frenchcadres,forinstance,can be sentpackingamong"class enem-
ies" and treatedas mere "servantsof capital," or on the contrary
mergedintothedominatedclass,as victimsof exploitation.)

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In the realityof the social world,thereare no moreclear-cut

boundaries,no moreabsolutebreaks,thanthereare in the physical
world. The boundariesbetweentheoreticalclasses whichscientific
investigationallowsus to construct on thebasis of a plurality of cri-
teriaare similar,to use a metaphorof Rapoport's,to theboundaries
of a cloud or a forest.These boundariescan thusbe conceivedof as
linesor as imaginary planes,such thatthe density(of the treesor of
thewatervapour)is higheron theone side and loweron theother,or
above a certainvalue on the one side and belowit on theother. (In
fact,a moreappropriateimagewouldbe thatof a flamewhoseedges
are in constantmovement, oscillatingarounda line or surface.)Now,
the construction of (mobilizedor "mobilizable")groups,thatis, the
of a permanent
institutionalization organization capable of represent-
ingthem,tendsto inducedurableand recognizeddivisionswhich,in
the extremecase, i.e., at the highestdegreeof objectification and
could takeon theformof legalfrontiers.Objects
in thesocial worldalwaysinvolvea degreeof indeterminacy and fuz-
ziness,and thuspresenta definitedegreeof semanticelasticity.This
elementof uncertainty, is what providesa groundfor differing or
antagonisticperceptions and constructionswhichconfront each other
and whichcan be objectivizedin the formof durableinstitutions.
One of the major stakesin these strugglesis the definitionof the
boundariesbetweengroups,thatis to say,the verydefinition of the
groups which, by asserting and manifestingthemselves as such, can
becomepoliticalforcescapable of imposingtheirown visionof divi-
sions,and thuscapable of ensuringthe triumphof such dispositions
and interestsas are associatedwith theirpositionin social space.
Thus, alongsidethe individualstruggles of dailylifein whichagents
continuallycontributeto changingthe social world by strivingto
imposea representation of themselvesthroughstrategies of presenta-
tion of self,are the properlypoliticalcollectivestruggles.In these
struggles whose ultimateaim, in modernsocieties,is the powerto
nominateheld by the state,i.e., the monopolyover legitimatesym-
bolic violence,agents-who in thiscase are almostalwaysspecialists,
such as politicians-struggle to impose representations (e.g., demon-
strations)which createthe verythingsrepresented, which makethem
existpublicly,officially.Theirgoal is to turntheirown visionof the
social world,and the principlesof divisionupon whichit is based,
intotheofficial vision,intonomos,theofficial principleof visionand
Whatis at stakein symbolicstruggles is the impositionof the
legitimatevision of the social worldand of its divisions,that is to
say, symbolic power as worldmakingpower, to use Nelson
Goodman'sword,thepowerto imposeand to inculcateprinciplesof
constructionof reality,and particularlyto preserveor transform
establishedprinciplesof union and separation,of associationand

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disassociationalreadyat workin the social world such as current

classificationsin mattersof gender,age, ethnicity, regionor nation,
thatis, essentially,powerover wordsused to describegroupsor the
institutions whichrepresent them. Symbolicpower,whoseformpar
excellenceis thepowerto makegroupsand to consecrateor institute
them(in particularthroughritesof institution, the paradigmhere
beingmarriage), consistsin thepowerto makesomething existin the
objectified, public,formalstatewhichonlypreviouslyexistedin an
implicitstate,as withthe constellationwhich,accordingto Good-
man,beginsto existonlywhenit is selectedand designatedas such.
Whenit is appliedto a social collective,evenone whichis potentially
definedin the mannerof the cloud,the performative powerof nam-
ing, which almost always comes with a power of representation,
bringsintoexistencein an instituted form,i.e., as a corporatebody,
whathithertoexistedonlyas a serialcollectionofjuxtaposedindivi-
duals. Here one wouldneed to pursuemorefullytheimplications of
thefactthatthesymbolicstruggle betweenagentsis forthemostpart
carriedout throughthe mediationof professionals of representation
who, actingas spokespersonsfor the groupsat whose servicethey
place theirspecificcompetence,confront each otherwithina closed,
relatively autonomousfield,namely,thefieldof politics.
It is here that we would find again, but in a completely
transfigured form,the problemof the ontologicalstatus of social
class,and, forthatmatter,of all social groups. And,following Kan-
torovicz,we could drawon the reflection of the canonistswho won-
dered,as we do herewithregardto class,whatwas thestatusof that
whichmedievalLatin called corporatio, constituted body,"corporate
body." In this case, theyconcluded,as did Hobbes who, in this
respect,followedthe verysame logic,thatthe grouprepresented is
nothingotherthanwhatrepresents it, or the factof the representa-
tion itself,herethe signatureor the seal whichauthenticates the sig-
nature,sigillumauthenticum, fromwhich the French word sigle
(acronym,logo) is derived;or, moredirectly, the representative, the
individualwho represents thegroup,in everysenseof theterm,who
conceivesit mentallyand expressesit verbally,names it, who acts
and speaksin itsname,whogivesit a concreteincarnation, embodies
it in and throughhis veryperson;theindividualwho,by makingthe
groupseen, by makinghimselfseen in its place, and above all, by
speakingin itsplace,makesit exist. (All of thiscan be seenwhenthe
leader,beingtherepository of thewholebeliefof thegroup,becomes
the object of the cult whichthe grouprendersunto itself,the so-
called"personality cult".) In short,the signified,thatis, thegroup,is
identified withthesignifier, theindividual,thespokesperson, or with
the bureau,the local, the committee, or the councilwhichrepresent
it. This is whatthesame canonistscalledthemystery of "ministery,"
the mysterium of ministerium.This mystery can be summedup in

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two equations. The firstone establishesan equivalencebetween

mandatorsand mandated: the Churchis the Pope; Statusest magis-
tratus'the post is the magistrate who holds it, or accordingto Louis
XIV: "L'Etat c'estmoi'" or further still,the GeneralSecretary is the
Party-whichis theclass,and so on. Then thesecondequationposes
thattheconfirmed existenceof themandatedimpliestheexistenceof
the groupof mandators.The "class," or the "people" ("Je suis le
peuple,"says Robespierre),or the gender,or the age group,or the
Nation,or anyotherwise elusivesocial collectiveexists,ifand onlyif
thereexistsone (or several)agent(s)who can assertwitha reasonable
chanceof beingtakenseriously(contrary to the madmanwho takes
himselfforthe Nation) thattheyare the "class," the "people," the
"Nation,"the"State" and so on.
So in orderto give a briefanswerto the questionposed, we
willsay thata "class," be it social,sexual,ethnic,or otherwise, exists
whenthereare agentscapable of imposingthemselves, as authorized
to speakand to act officially in its place and in its name,upon those
who,by recognizing themselvesin theseplenipotentiaries, by recog-
nizingthemas endowedwithfullpowerto speak and act in their
name,recognizethemselves as membersof theclass,and in doingso,
conferupon it the onlyformof existencea groupcan possess. But
forthisanalysisto be thorough, it would be necessaryto showthat
this logic of existenceby delegation,which involves an obvious
dispossession,imposesitselfall the morebrutallywhenthe singular
agentswho are to pass froma stateof serialexistence-collectioper-
sonariumplurium,as thecanonistsput it- to a stateof unifiedgroup,
capable of speakingand acting as one, througha spokesperson
endowedwithplena potentiaagendiet loquendi,lack any individual
meansof actionand expression.So thatin fact,dependingon their
positionin social space,thevariousagentsdo not have equal oppor-
tunityof accedingto the variousformsof collectiveexistence:the
ones are doomed to the diminishedformof existence,more often
than not acquired at the cost of dispossession,affordedby the
"movements"thatare supposedto represent whatwe call in thiscase
a class (as in the expression"the Englishworkingclass"); the others
are likelyto accede to thefullaccomplishment of singularitythrough
the electiveaggregation of thoseof equal privilegeafforded by these
groupingsrepresented in exemplaryand paradigmaticformby the
selectclub(suchas coteries,academies,boardsof directors, or boards
In thestruggle to makea visionof theworlduniversally known
and recognized, thebalanceof powerdependson thesymboliccapital
accumulatedby those who aim at imposingthe variousvisions in
contention, and on the extentto whichthesevisionsare themselves
groundedin reality.This in turnraises the questionof the condi-
tionsunderwhichdominatedvisionscan be constituted and prevail.

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First,one can positthatan actionaimed at transforming the social

worldis all the morelikelyto succeedwhenit is foundedin reality.
Now the visionof the dominatedis doublydistortedin thisrespect:
firstbecause the categoriesof perceptionthattheyuse are imposed
upon themby the objectivestructures of the world,and hencetend
to fostera formof doxic acceptanceof its given order; second
because the dominantstriveto impose their own vision and to
develop representations whichoffera "theodicyof theirprivilege."
But thedominatedhave a practicalmastery, a practicalknowledgeof
thesocialworldupon whichnominationcan exerta theoretical effect,
an effectof revelation:when it is well-founded in reality,naming
involvesa trulycreativepower. As we have seen withGoodman's
metaphorof the constellation, revelationcreateswhatalreadyexists
by placingit onto a different mastery.Thus
level,thatof theoretical
the mystery of ministery can exerta true magicaleffectby giving
powerto truth:wordscan makethingsand, byjoiningin theobjec-
tivizedsymbolization of the grouptheydesignate,theycan, if only
fora time,makeexistas groupscollectiveswhichalreadyexisted,but
onlyin a potentialstate.

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