A Revolution without Kuhn?

Interactions, Not Paradigms

Bourdieu criticizes Kuhn for a number of reasons. Bourdieu’s habitus is a “different science.”

Kuhn’s paradigm as scientific inquiry does not “put forward a coherent model for explaining [scientific] change” (15). Bourdieu explains that using paradigms to explain scientific objects would not explain an “essential tension” in the field because, according to Kuhn, “revolution implies tradition, that revolutions are rooted in the paradigm: (Bourdieu 2004, 16). Thus, new attempts of the object under study to achieve a new goal (i.e., create a new government) against old attempts of the object to change the object under study (i.e. the polity or society) must not technically be new; because Kuhn sees the essential tension and change as only arising from “a mastery of the tradition” within the paradigm (2004, 16).

Habitus is not exactly like a paradigm. Whereas an anomaly in evidence may destroy a paradigm and create a new paradigm; Bourdieu’s habitus reveals an anomaly belonging to any given structure, say republicanism, as useful in both explaining the habits of the rules and regulations of said structure [republicanism], and in explaining why the specific habitus/interaction manifested. This results in a more complex and more interactive examination of the empirical world. Habitus is active in the society and/or polity because its structure and its constant structuring cause the political language to hold a position and take positions against exogenous habitus.

The Kuhnian paradigm is the equivalent of “the dominant understanding of a particular class of phenomena at a particular time” (Geddes 2003). And when paradigms fight against other paradigms and anomalies are discovered—the paradigms may become sand castles (Geddes 2003). On the other hand, a political structure may stop using one particular position-taking (i.e. habitus), because of development. Growth and decay initiate change. Kuhn’s paradigms are not very useful in wholly engaging positive science via interactions between paradigms—or growth. Indeed, revolutionary shifts are expected to be quite rare; like the American Revolution.

Bourdieu offers a comprehensive critique and alternative to Kuhn’s views in two ways: (1) the concept of the “autonomous” field functions as one of many structures; and (2) the concepts of reflexivity, the habitus, and scientific capital are deployed to counteract excessively relativistic claims of social constructivism, such as those found in laboratory science studies or radical standpoint epistemology (2004). Bourdieu thus offers the blueprint for political scientists to become an investigator-scientist, rather than a historical-explainer. Bourdieu (2004) leads, “The simultaneously scientific and social ‘strategies’ of the scientific habitus are envisioned and treated as conscious, not to say cynical, stratagems, orientated towards the glory of the researcher” (25, italics in original).

Bourdieu made clear, “[paradigms] determine[s] the questions that can be asked and those that are excluded, the thinkable and unthinkable; being both ‘received achievement’ and a starting-point, it is a guide for future action, a programme for research to be undertaken, rather than a system of rules and norms. Consequently, the scientific group is cut off from the external world so that one can analyze many scientific problems without taking account of the societies in which the scientists work” (15). Bourdieu’s method of scientific inquiry is one way of resolving this problem of non-empirical scientific inquiry.

Bourdieu broadly develops an explanation of habitus in order to connect the external world so that one can analyze scientific problems while taking account of the societies in which the scientists work. Capital is the essence of the field, and new capital shall change the field. Or from my perspective, political language capital is the essence of politics, and new legislation changes our politics. Instead of discovering the habitus of a scientist and his or her relations to society, I provide the framework for discovering the habitus of a political language and its relations to society. Legislation, for instance, is comprised of political language(s).

I believe that scientists can “account for authoritarian, liberal, and republican capital” in the field!


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