the craft of The sociologist

El oficio de sociólogo

The past month of December, 2011, during the days 12, 13 and 14, the CBA (Círculo de Bellas Artes of Madrid) organized, with the collaboration of the Embassy of France, a cycle of conferences on The craft of the sociologist. The legacy of Pierre Bourdieu , who joined the program of activities that the CBA was dedicated last fall to the social and cultural reality of the Maghreb.

Pierre Bourdieu knew how to combine the ambition of theoretical sociology classic with the methodological tools sophisticated social science contemporary and the critical spirit of the sociology of combat. Their studies constitute one of the more attempts made by questioning the hiatus between the traditions and materialistic hermeneúticas, not only through the theoretic speculation, but also through empirical investigations of great power.

The rigor of Bourdieu never prevented him from taking first-hand the dimension is necessarily polemic and sociology and, especially in his last years of life, was a leading figure of the movement alterglobalizadores. Maybe that’s why the legacy theorist Pierre Bourdieu has not ceased to grow since his death in 2002. These days seek to recover and develop some of the main lines occupied by Bourdieu, with particular attention to cross-cultural relations.

José Luis Moreno-Tab – spoke at the last conference (14/12/2011) and has been kind enough to allow us to publish in Cisolog the text of his lecture On the current state of the Trade of sociologist1, also published on his blog: hexis. philosophy and sociology.

El oficio de sociólogo

El oficio de sociólogoJosé Luís Moreno Tab is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Cadiz, phd in Philosophy from the University of Granada and the holder of an Habilitation à diriger des recherches in Sociology at l’école des hautes études en sciences sociales of Paris (EHESS). He researches and publishes on the epistemology of the social sciences, sociology, philosophy, and sociology of mental illness. Among his works it is noteworthy Becoming in Foucault (Montesinos), Philosophy and sociology in Jesus Ibanez (XXI Century), Moral body, eating disorders and social class (CIS), and Foucault and the political (Tierradenadie). It is the translator of the book of Jean-Claude Passeron The sociological reasoning. The space a comparative analysis of the historical evidence (the XXI Century).



El oficio de sociólogoThe craft of the sociologist (published in 1968: hereafter MS), a book emblematic of the sociology of French 60’s, stirs up today, enthusiasm is dwindling. I tried to use it in courses in the Philosophy of the social sciences in master and the reception has been difficult when not hostile. Although it was designed as an educational instrument, not as many students are now willing to follow in his introduction (I won’t say anything because of his selection of texts from the philosophy of science) and, I dare say, not too many professionals. The book is too scientific for the humor, postmodern, too theoretical for the positivist; complex writing for many students who are away from the daily demands of their jobs academic writing or, for those who earn their living as sociologists, their research reports. The craft of the sociologist, that so far were wanted, from its title, the manuals of philosophy of social science, has become yet another text for the fans to epistemology (among us, Jesus Ibáñez proposed a powerful reading of it, perhaps the last…); or, at least, in witness of an era where the philosophy was a condition of entry into the sociological domain. It seems to Me that that is true in Spain, but also in France, despite the fact that there remain schools, with greater or lesser emphasis, is claimed of its two authors more famous.

Pierre Bourdieu never deny the Craft of the sociologist and, despite what it might seem, nor Jean-Claude Passeron. As I have reconstructed the genesis of the book in my introduction to the Spanish edition of sociological Reasoning (Brown Tab, 2011) I will refrain from repeating it in the framework of this intervention. I will present the reasons why Passeron claimed, yet, in general lines, the manifesto methodological signed with Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Chamboredon and I interrogaré about them to the thread of the exhibition.


The dilemmas of pluralism theory: on the set of observational sociology

Sociology) lacks of a paradigm, unified from its beginning as a science. One might answer that sociology was a science (something that makes, for example, Paul Veyne in certain moments of his work) or may be so in a better future. Each author classic (Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Passeron insists on the inclusion of Wilfredo Pareto) helps to see what others do not and, therefore, does not exist, except in the reconciliations school, the possibility of occupying all of the positions. However, despite the fact that each one defends theories of the social is incompatible with each other. The logic and epistemology of the science that can be derived from the classics are similar. Epistemologically (MS, 96-97), and despite the fact that the authors are not aware of it, they took the principle of Neurath-Quine according to which there are systems in the world that contain the same quality empirical but to formulate theoretical systems completely different (Brown Tab, 2003). What immerses us that in the relativism? No, but when we want to reconstruct how it works productively sociology, or according to Passeron the historical sciences, we are confronted with a dilemma. We can choose not to demand too much about how to generate the knowledge sociological. In that case, almost any kind of empirical work serves. Its power to generate sociological theories are shown to be so lax that anyone can be a good candidate to explain the data. We can, on the contrary, to choose an empirical work with a certain format: that defendant by a theoretical system specific. In this case, only we are interested in the set of observational useful for our theory, and we run the risk of seeking only those who illustrate. In the first case, any way of seeing the world is useful, and from it any theory. Sociology is degraded in the interpretation capricious of collected facts without method. In the second case, sociology becomes a vehicle of illustration of a theory that rejects any mode of data collection that alter its basic postulates; it degrades, then, an ideology that looks scientific.

Moreover, in the case of Passeron, it is assumed that no theory can be falsado by an experiment definitive, as Popper proposed to demarcate science and ideology. There may be examples of favourable or contrary of a theory but never a empirical information that allows to discard it or validate it. When a theory proves to be productive is measured by two axes. The first axis, presents us with many demands of observation. These provide examples that enrich the theory. This shaft, so to speak, insufflated wealth of empirical theory because, without it, none of us would have allowed us to understand the logic of certain junctures in history. An axis that tends to spread the scientific theory in a series of illustrations and, of course, any good theory contains something more and that is sorted according to the other axis. This allows us to compare the examples on the basis of a theoretical framework which says what is relevant and what is not, how they build the links causally significant in a series of events and, in the end, what is variable and what is permanent in every situation that compares. Force semantic and logical consistency strengthen this axis: if we fall in love with them, we tend to take theoretical and the internal articulation and we forget the character of empirical sociology. If the danger of the first axis is in the scattering ethnographic, the second is in the armouring. doctrinal. Data without concepts lead to blindness and sociography and, in the best of cases, to good journalism; at worst, propaganda, disguised as science. Concepts without data are empty of the real and derail the scientific work of the philosophical (Passeron, 1994: 101).

Is it not possible to think in a paradigm that, as in the sciences monoparadigmáticas, allow maximum articulation and logic of comparison, and encourages the empirical examples, all at the same time? It would be possible if, and only if, it could be defined, for each context, what is relevant for the comparison. But a context can not be crushed completely, and then become a package of variables, constants that we can compare with other context where appear such variables. This is one of the possibilities offered by the statistical reasoning. Now, with this, if we want to extend the comparisons and produce descriptions rich, or even explanations, we must work with realities that they can’t overlap, that are not identical to each other. No paradigm, if we want to understand them well, you can tell us, a priori, which is what we consider important in these realities. The contexts are alike in certain traits, in others, not: treat them as if they were interchangeable improves joint theoretical paradigm, but disparage from the empirical point of view.


Sociology with philosophy but not metaphysics: the construction of controlled wholly to the blade of Passeron

But the paths of metaphysical speculation are more complicated. The whole theory about the world, can give us useful keys to understand it. In that sense, Bourdieu and Passeron have been used abundantly from his philosophic culture, and have maintained throughout their journey a diet philosophical nourished. Already in the Craft of a sociologist (MS, 85) claim theories, including those formulated by philosophers, for its potential heuristic, capable of providing a program of observation of reality, and therefore of the open questions of scientific work. The social philosophy and not the empirical counterpart to the epistemological with the empirisimo closed, symbolizing the first “boldness without rigor” and the second “the rigor without boldness” (MS, 100-101). Synthesize both means to gather the valuable of the two forms of intellectual work. The philosophy proposes world images complex and, thus, allows to find a common weave between what the data show us broken up. The trend of the whole help to situate the data in areas of activity and allows you to explore the connections between the different spheres that make up the world. The philosophical work allows you to combat the atomization of data and allows organisation of these in a set. Up to here the have, but the must of the philosophy has always been high to a science is empirical and consists in exacerbate this trend to the full and to lose the control of the same, to avoid the work of having to deal with the data and check if there is an exclusive trend that governs the whole, and, in sum, whether or not there is a set synchronized or multiple (MS, 90). Little emphasis will be placed on how much you owe this perspective to Althusser, author with the who Passeron has been much more fair. On the other hand, Bourdieu has carried on the ambition of the marxist tradition, to construct a general theory of the fields, something that Passeron (1994: 79) considers that it must give up the sociology.

The empirical work, for its part, also makes skid to sociology. Basically, because all of us serves according to the theoretical system from which to play: thanks to it can be compared to others, according to a selected set of properties. In the end, the tendency to fragment incomunica to sociology in the virtuosity and statistical description delinquent of sociography (Passeron, 1994: 101). One and another are invaluable compared to the simple game of philosophical concepts, but they become obstacles to be unable to identify what information is relevant in their display tabular or, as is often the case in ethnography, literary.

There is a second way of describing the yaw metaphysical that already belongs to Passeron. An argument is metaphysical, although it mimics the form of the argument from a sociological standpoint, when the value of their arguments comes from the loyalty to certain sacred texts, which are converted, by his magic power, in the certificate of what is said. Empirical theories help us to see realities that are not seen, and pose research tasks that without them no one would. The metaphysical theories or are restricted to the diet of the unique example (ignoring the theory does not explain), or are engaged to rewrite in the language of the theory which others have discovered. Is manufactured, then, a regalia conceptual impostado for the empirical examples without understanding very well what it is that introduce innovative concepts in the description of the events and neither in the organization a theoretical approach to the same. A principle of deflation theoretical, described by Passeron in the sociological Reasoning, helps to prevent the fatal seduction of the theory. The science galilean know how to exclude the rhetoric: all when there is matematizable does not enter into their device to research or argumentation (Passeron, 1994: 88). In social sciences, there is a provision of standardized control of the metaphysical. For our razor, not Ockham, but Passeron, must be reasoned in the following way: ask yourself, he says to us, without we cut the galas theoretical statement, as soon as we loose (heuristic, semantic, and empirically) by the way: if we don’t lose anything, say it without so much hype and will have escaped to the pretenses of the senselessness of metaphysics. In the end, the imposture metaphysics reaches its maximum level when it is supported by the interpretation is capricious. In that case, the reader is not haunted by the charisma of a theoretical system, but for a subject capable of satisfy with your style, our claims of consistency and ideological identification or repulsion aesthetic (given that a good part of the prejudices only serve to confirm what nasty is what we dislike). It is useless to say how much of this submission charismatic in the argument has course in the prestige media, what is obvious, but also in the intellectual life and, specifically, in the scientific life.


The models and the empiria: the construction of the object

But let’s get back to the principles proposed in the motion, let us remember, allowed a set of social theories diverge. The first of the principles, which Passeron called principle bachelardiano, pointed out the necessity of breaking with the common sense through the construction of a model of analysis. Thanks to this, the research is allowed to distance themselves from the presentation of everyday reality. What is or is not a major philosopher, an example of a mental illness or a space of exchanges democratic, are realities all of them on which there was a social discourse hegemonic that never leaves unharmed or the researcher more vigilant. Little can be overstated the importance of such prejudices: the best lesson, when you play in representations useful to the groups with power, gives to experience the turmoil that is triggered when one tries to distance himself from them, and produce a discourse about the world organized from a framework of analysis different: very few philosophers, psychiatrists, or participants in assemblies are left as if nothing when they are encoded according to the profession, the career school or the framework of dominant discourses in a period and in an environment of intellectual, professional, or political. As pointed out by the authors of the Craft, the rupture with common sense is never absolute, and only those who do not know the epistemology French can imagine that between common sense and the process of breaking there is the difference between sin and salvation.

Although everyone accepts that a certain set of questions should lead to an investigation, the appeal to the conscience of the actors serves to question the existence of models of previous analyses. A recent fashion among post-modern, populist, and humanist, considered that any theoretical model is disqualified for ignoring the vision of the individuals and do not describe the reality with all its richness. In general, it is often presented this as a moral failing of the researcher, as a symptom of his sufficiency. The first sin (run descriptions modelizadas) can only be absolve competing with the realist literature and the second (to produce different descriptions to those that employ the involved) becoming hagiógrafo of the subject. As can be seen, the idea, shared by the empiricism more ramplón or anthropology more in love with his subject, that the sociologist can be overridden (because it is the mirror of the nature that analyzes or the heart and the brain of those you described), it has not lost the influence that was implied already in the Trade (MS, 61). It may be recalled, without being obvious, that without a model of social structure does not comprise factors that are analyzed ―without the theory of the old age there are no old, as I said Pareto (MS, 74-75)― and that only by means of analogies (which involves defining units of comparison and context) can be understood to the subject. A model never intended to copy reality (MS, 81) but highlight the same certain aspects and certain links between such aspects that allow one to discern the principles that organize the events: not only because they confirm the model, but also because, as is often the case, they move away from him.

Can be argued that the theoretical models should emerge from the observation of reality. Sometimes, with this only underlines that sociology and, especially, the ethnography, receive many vocations literary failures. What can serve as a conceptualization made ad hoc for an exclusive research work? A theory of a exclusive juncture is a novel, bad novel I would say Passeron, in the guise of literature. On other occasions, the renunciation of all construction object serves simply to ingratiate himself with the pervasive mood, especially in those areas where the canon ruling is more aggressive. There are many social reasons to waive the requirement bachelardiana of rupture (interpreted always in a trend, incomplete and non-mystical) and also many to doubt that sociology will be able to maintain without it, interest as a discipline.


Reasons and rationalizations: the illusion of transparency

The second principle assumes the hypothesis that the objective sense of an act and the subjective sense does not coincide necessarily. According to Passeron, was Pareto, fucking in the circles of left ―and its use was a bit of Althusser (Moulin and Veyne, 1996: 316)― but cultivated by Raymond Aron, who inspired this beginning. Pareto, in respect of the reasons and of their effects in reality, defined four possibilities. In the first, we articulate the linkage goal and the anticipation of the subject. But that chain does not have the same consistency in the engineer, in the financial speculator, or in the chief political, military, or the legislator. Only the first enjoys a know experimental; the others have a single purpose (the legislator but also the drivers of mass) and, in addition, in the case of the latter, should clearly establish a hierarchy between the various values to be clear, in every moment, what privilegiarán in action: the speculator, who only seek the money, have it easier than those who may seek power, order, or expansion, each of which is performed only occasionally, edging out the others. A strategist needs to take on a pact with yourself and do not change with time, which must remain constant the own actor. The conditions of the action logic, tells us Passeron by means of Pareto, are anything but easy. What that does not prevent the assumption of the rational actor or the praises of the rationality of the agents campen for their respects ―at times, what is more fun, with intentions of hegemony in social theory.

With so much celebration of lucidity, often causes scandal when describing the actors within each of the actions is not logical. Let’s look at them. In the first place, and it happens rarely, it may be that the action of the actor’s lack of rationality objective or subjective. You can, and that is more common, that the actor intended with a purpose, but that the action does not reach. It can also happen that the actor does not set any order, but the action will contribute to one. Here it happens as the first choice of the actions is not logical: that the subject must renounce reason is as difficult as rare. In the end, it may be that the action contains an end goal, but in the conscience of the actor to have a different purpose. In this latter case, as in the previous question yet: what would have accepted the actor of the consequences objective of their actions, if known? Fundamental problem in politics, remember Passeron, since it is, in the fourth case, if the author had sacrificed their principles for the sake of responsibility to the undesired effect of their acts.

Each one of such possibilities does not define types of people, but types logical: it means that every human being can be described according to a model of action logic or based on multiple and, at times, opens the debate of what type of action to use to define the action of the actors. The actor machiavellian: what is a manipulative, strategic, that is to say, a species of the genus defined in the action logic? But isn’t it better for handling to have consistent faith, which allows you to follow him to one, although the road takes you to another order? If you do not have such faith, then pescaríamos to the imitator of the florentine. Would then the actor machiavellian to the last class of actions is not logical (a subjective logic that leads to an objective, divergent) and within it the species of those who would accept the order if known. Only disguised as Savonarola has a successful Machiavelli. Thus, the agents contain multiple records of beliefs and encounter divided internally. To be a manipulator, you must play with yourself (provided that you created the others) to be a beautiful soul guided by the ethic of conviction (Passeron, 1995: 38-74).

Passeron summarized subsequently with the Pareto principle that in the Trade expressed himself even with Durkheim, Marx or psychoanalysis. Jean-Louis Fabiani (1994: 136) has insisted that each of the theories on the non-transparency are not equivalent, but I find that this touch a principle that allows you to define a minimum common denominator. So how outrageous it is? Can we assume, therefore, that all human actions are actions logical? This is an assumption so fantastic that it is hard to understand that there are people who are mofe of the notion of ideology, of the unconscious or habitus to focus on a mode of an actor is very difficult to locate.


Sociology without sociology

The tendency to naturalise social facts are said in two ways. The first, which has a successful appellant, are supported in dynamic transhistóricas and may well become resigned to the sociological work. This, only a frivolous or a dogmatist could believe it, you can’t put social relationships at the helm of any causal link. The proposal of the Office, oblivious to any humor deconstructivist, was “not to abdicate prematurely from the right to the explanation of sociological or, in other terms, not to have recourse to a principle of explanation borrowed from another science, whether biology or psychology, while the effectiveness of the methods of explanation properly sociological has not been fully tested” (MS, 42). Those who work in the sociology of the mental illness or the health to understand the utility of this formulation. If sociologists use the languages of other disciplines in their work, well would shut up. If the aim is to use a theory without working with her statements to observational ―always dependent on a theoretical framework and technology, explained Neurath (Brown Tab, 2003)― that allow it to be a theory empirically, the most reasonable would be that dedicated to write popular books of the discipline venerated.

When one rubs it, even if it is far away, with models of naturalistic explanation of human events (for example in the area of mental health where much of the scientific literature is inspired in such paradigms) and checks its limits (recognized mainly by those who are truly competent), you can not avoid to be surprised of the weight that they have explanations naturalists in the social sciences. What have you tried, seriously, to produce sociological explanations even in areas that are more prone to the life sciences or health? Those who most encourage the sociologist to follow are not his colleagues positivists who twist the nose (here there is a postmodern, of which complaint is made in the campus where I do research trips…) as soon as someone explains to them that, for example, although schizophrenia is hereditary, there is still a lot to say sociologically about it. No, I encourage more real involved in those areas (I speak of doctors or psychiatrists…) that are in a sociology that works from their rules of argumentation, from the modesty of their artisanal techniques (yes, yes: o qualitative!) and their traditions of theory, a lot of light on complex processes. For that you have to know the rules of argumentation of sociology and its traditions of theory and that, it seems, is too much to ask.

The data of the sociologist is to deal with fragments of the historical world, and only from coordinated historical we can reason about them. Following the contributions of J. R. Searle (The construction of social reality) or Ian Hacking (How The social construction of what?) it must be clear how much work description sociology is left to be done before importing the data descriptions produced in the areas of psychiatry and experimental psychology Both, moreover, are very respectable: the lack of knowledge of the analytical resources of the sociological tradition, or the obsession for having a principle of magic that fills our gaps, significantly less (Passeron, 1994: 111-112). And a lot of that, laziness disguised pomposity intellectual, one is found in the references naturalists. A argumentation scientific, out of your region technological and argumentative, it becomes a metaphysics that does not convince by its power of description, but rather by the prestige of the discipline from which it is imported.

But, to be important (for reasons of fashion, of colonialism or cultural conservatism ideologically masked), the tendency to pursue laws ahistorical human behavior can be more insidious. Let’s put aside the always socorridísimos peaceful philosophical. A quick list: the interdisciplinarity that connects everything with everything, the will or the power relations, the determinations in the last instance: nothing is said of the penultimate and the antepenultimate… not to mention already of the society of the spectacle, of the dialectic of the enlightenment or of the power of the crowd). Similar loopholes of the empirical work were ridiculed by Max Weber (2008: 46) when he disassembles the auri sacra fames (Passeron puts the example often) would explain capitalism: what is on all sides does not explain what has date and place. In addition to this, and it is more problematic, there is a trend in the whole intellectual construction powerful, also arising out of the sociological research, to perpetuate itself in theories for all the social world and have been. The trend marxian to pursue laws of history or elementary forms of events prevails in sociological theories so powerfully empirical as Randall Collins ―it’s everywhere in places of interaction ritual (Moreno Tab, 2010: 123-128)― or, according to Jean-Louis Fabiani (1994: 139-140) it is a temptation of a general theory of fields in Bourdieu.

Against this trend Passeron has proposed to add a fourth principle: the awareness that all statement empirical has a theoretical sense infradeterminado. Passeron called this principle franciscan (next to the bachelardiano, the durkheimiano and weberian). The beginning is cute, but perhaps needless, because the poverty of theoretical know that it is a feature of all language theoretical, also in the sciences monoparadigmáticas, since we cleared it up Otto Neurath (Brown Tab, 2003). The epistemology popperiana, Passeron book to the sciences of nature, nor is there convincing.

What is the Profession of sociologist? A theory of sociological knowledge based on three principles which does not are useful for advancing sociological theory. Once pluralism is recognized theorist, it seems difficult to establish a scale to choose between the various theories regardless of the demands of the context (Fabiani, 1994: 141). But yes they are not to return to the united presociológicos and to avoid laziness, metaphysical, naturalist, or empiricist (this last, whether in your version statistical or literary-ethnographic) will distort the understanding of the social world, because in that plane there is a breakthrough. In that sense, the Trade does not serve to make great jumps forward, but also to prevent huge jumps backwards.Forget that it was a huge advancement in the epistemology of the social sciences would mean a loss of cultural capital.



Bourdieu, P., J.-C. Chamboredon, J.-C. Passeron (1968): Le metier de sociologue, Paris, Mouton-Bordas.

Fabiani, J.-L. (1994): “Epistémologie régionale ou épistémologie franciscaine ? La théorie de la connaissance sociologique face à la pluralité des modes de conceptualisation en sciences sociales”, Revue européenne des sciences sociales, no. 99.

Moreno Pestaña, J. L. (2003): “What Does it mean to argue in sociology?: Jean-Claude Passeron, and the argument is sociological”,Spanish Journal of Sociology, no. 3, 2003.

―(2010): “An epistemic critique of the Chains of ritual interaction”, Spanish Journal of Sociology, no. 13.

―(2011): A philosophy for the historical sciences: presentation of the work of Jean-Claude Passeron”, J.-C. Passeron, The sociological reasoning. The space a comparative analysis of the historical evidence, Madrid, Siglo XXI.

Moulin, R., P. Veyne (1996): “‘entretien avec Jean-Claude Passeron. A itinéraire de sociologue”, Revue européenne des sciences sociales, Vol. XXXIV, no. 103.

Passeron, J.-Cl. (1970): “Présentation”, in R. Hoggart, La Culture du pauvre. ‘étude sur les conditions de vie des classes populaires anglaises, Paris, Minuit.

(1994) : “la pluralité théorique in sociologie. Théorie de la connaissance sociologique et théories sociologiques”, Revue européenne des sciences sociales, no. 99.

(1995): “Weber et Pareto: la rencontre du principe de rationalité dans les sciences sociales”, in J.-C. Passeron, L.-A. Gerard-Varet, eds., Le modèle et l enquête: les usages du principe de rationalité dans les sciences sociales, Paris, EHESS.

Weber, M. (2008): The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, Barcelona, Spain.



  1. Bourdieu, P., Chamboredon, J., Passeron, J.-, & Hugo Azcurra, F. (s. f.). The craft of the sociologist : budgets epistemological. TWENTY-first century of Spain’s Publishers, SA [↩]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

Begin typing your search above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top