6.4-18.5 2019 Pierre Bourdieu: In Algeria. Testimonies of Uprooting.

© Pierre Bourdieu / Fondation Pierre Bourdieu, St. Gall. Courtesy: Camera Austria, Graz.

The photographs that Pierre Bourdieu took in the course of his ethnological and sociological research work during the Algerian war of liberation allow a new angle on his view of the social world.

These photographs, which laid buried in dusty boxes for fifty years, testify to a journey of initiation and a profound conversion that served as the starting point of an extraordinary scientific and intellectual trajectory.

Having the feeling of being left empty-handed in view of this vast social laboratory in a state of war, which made field research a veritable adventure, Bourdieu threw himself with total commitment into his work, experimenting, testing and using all possible ethnological and sociological research techniques.

As a firm opponent of French colonialism and military oppression, Bourdieu saw his research in the compass of a radical political and committed approach: He wanted to bear witness to all that he saw, to understand a totally unsettled social world rife with contradictions and anachronisms.

With an opening on 6th April, the Department of Sociology at Lund University will host the exhibition Pierre Bourdieu In Algeria: Testimonies of Uprooting in cooperation with Landskrona Foto. The exhibition contains photographs Bourdieu took during his fieldwork in Algeria between the years of 1957 and 1960. The exhibition is produced by Camera Austria and Fondation Pierre Bourdieu and curated by Christine Frisinghelli (Camera Austria, Graz) and Franz Schultheis (Fondation Pierre Bourdieu, St Gall, Switzerland).

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was a French sociologist who, through his scientific work, to a great extent has influenced both sociology and social anthropology and other scientific disciplines. Pierre Bourdieu arrived in Algeria to complete his national service in 1955 and returned in 1958, taking up an appointment as lecturer at the University of Algiers. During his years in Algeria Bourdieu closely studied both the traditional Algerian society and the ongoing social transformation under the French colonial power. At the same time, it marked a personal transformation for Bourdieu from his position as a philosopher to a social scientist, sociologist and especially a fieldworker. He tried out a range of techniques: surveys, observations, in-depth interviews, sketches of village geography and houses. Photography was one crucial way in which Bourdieu gathered data- and developed his sociological eye.

Bourdieu entered a country torn apart not just by colonialism but also by the introduction of capitalist markets and consequent social transformation. It was in this context that Bourdieu developed the concept of “symbolic violence” to refer to the many ways in which people´s dignity and capacity to organize their own lives, were wounded. If the justification for colonial rule came in the idea of a mission civilisatrice, and more basically the notion that “the natives” simply lacked civilization, much early anthropology was devoted to demonstrating that the societies into which colonialism intervened were in fact civilized, had culture, had an organized way of life. If the basic fact of colonialism was domination, then, according to Bourdieu, the ethical imperative for the researcher was to make domination manifest.

Bourdieu depicted the social transformation of the Algerian society in three books; Sociologie de l’Algererie, Le Déracinement and Travail et travailleurs en Algérie.
Sociologie de l’Algererie is based mostly on the existing literature of ethnographers, missionaries, and officials, informed a little by Bourdieu’s own interviews and contacts, and perhaps more by simply the experience of living in Algeria. It focuses mainly on Algeria’s three main “traditional” Berber societies and on the factors that knit the groups together very imperfectly: Islam, markets, and colonialism. Le Déracinement portrayed the crisis of traditional agriculture and the resettlement camps created by a brutal policy of forcibly uprooting peasants in order to try to squelch resistance to the colonial war. Travail et travailleurs en Algérie examines the lives of labor migrants, workers in the new metropolitan economy of colonial Algeria.

Bourdieu´s texts on Algeria offer somewhat of a tragic story. There are traditional cultures, in different ways adapted to their physical environments and productive capacities, capable of reproduction so nearly perfect that they seem almost without history. Islam swept into North Africa but without destroying traditional culture; it was absorbed. But then French colonialism brought changes that could not be absorbed because backed by transformative economic and state power. Many were drawn from the once stable countryside by the seduction of labor markets; others were forcibly resettled by the military. Cash transactions replaced long-term relationships; texts replaced oral traditions. Urban Arabic speakers launched a revolutionary movement against French rule, but for the Berbers it had the fatal flaw that, just like the French, it offered them citizenship only on the condition of transformation, uprooting, and acceptance of new forms of domination.

Some of the photographs in the exhibition document research sites and served as mnemonic devices to spark Bourdieu’s own memory later. Some, rather more artfully, try to make a point. By his own account, Bourdieu was drawn especially to photograph scenes that brought to the foreground transitions and dislocations, the contrast between old and new;  “situations that spoke to me because they expressed dissonance”, as he told Franz Schultheis in an interview (published in the book Pierre Bourdieu Picturing Algeria). There are striking and sometimes quite wonderful examples here. More than a few focus on veiled women – riding a scooter, buying a newspaper, in front of a shop selling radios. Others show peasant men in the city, often with a tiny capital of objects for sale and looking uncomfortable.

Bourdieu did not shrink from photographing much that seemed more private than the public, even if many of his photographs are shot from an oblique angle or show their subjects from the back. Beyond personal diffidence, Bourdieu was conscious that he was manifestly a Frenchman photographing Algerians.

Britt-Marie Johansson, Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor in Sociology, Lund University Based on extract from Craig Calhouns foreword to the book Pierre Bourdieu, Picturing Algeria (2003)