Economies of Misery

Pierre Bourdieu in Algeria
May 28th to July 8th, 2005

An exhibition of photographs by Pierre Bourdieu

In cooperation with Camera Austria Graz (Christine Frisinghelli), University of Geneva, Département de Sociologie (Franz Schultheis) and Fondation Pierre Bourdieu, Geneva

The work of the sociologist, ethnologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) includes important studies on photography. The inquiry into the social uses of photography, which he conducted in collaboration with Luc Boltanski and Robert Castel, among others, and which was published under the title „Un art moyen, essai sur les usages sociaux de la photographie&ldquo (Paris 1965), was recognised far beyond the social-scientific field. Before this study, in the years 1958 - 1961 in Algeria, Bourdieu used a camera himself in his field studies, at the time of the Algerian struggle (1954-1962) for independence from the French colonial power. The Algerian war had a decisive influence on many renowned French intellectuals of the second half of the twentieth century, Bourdieu included.

Partly in sharp distance to the influential writings of Frantz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre, Bourdieu was particularly concerned with the consequences of „modernization“ and „deculturation “ in Algeria but also with the effects of the war for which France had mobilised no less than two million soldiers in order to keep their last Mahgrebian territory. He analysed intentions and effects of the forced resettlement of at least one quarter of the Algerian population by France for military reasons. This investigation, which was published in the volume „Le Deracinement“ (the uprooting) in 1964, was conducted together with Abdelmalek Sayad. This Algerian sociologist - who is also known for his studies on the Maghrebian diaspora - enriched Bourdieu’s approach with the perspective of an „inverse“ ethnology and sociology.

The studies in Algeria are part of Bourdieu’s earliest sociological work but, as he stated in reference to „La Misère du Monde“ (Paris 1993), he considers them to be also his most current one. During the time in Algeria Bourdieu built up archives of photographs that encompassed about 2000 images. In his last years, he entrusted Franz Schultheis, the Fondation Pierre Bourdieu (Geneva), and the international journal of photography Camera Austria (Christine Frisinghelli) with the remaining part of this archive, comprising about 650 negatives and 140 prints, with the aim to make them public in exhibitions and publications.

With the exhibition and the accompanying book with the same title „Pierre Bourdieu. Images d’Algerie. Une affinité elective“ (Actes sud / Camera Austria / Fondation Liber, Graz 2003, ISBN 2-7427-4136-4), parts of this archive have been exhibited in Paris and Graz in 2003 and afterwards in Tokyo, Seoul, London, Umea, Geneva, Freiburg, and Munich among others. By now 44 selected photographs will be shown in the Kunstraum of the University of Lueneburg. In close cooperation with Christine Frisinghelli and Franz Schultheis the exhibition in Lueneburg is especially focused on those „economies of misery“ that were the effect of modernization, forced innovation, deculturation, colonialism, and war. They emerged with the migration of „depeasant peasants“ (Bourdieu) into the Algerian centres, where the migrants formed a sub- and semi-proletariat of unemployed and small merchants. In view of their conditions of existence, a „regressive traditionalism of hopelessness“ spread among them. Besides migration, however, these economies were also due to the forceful resettlement of the Algerian population into several thousands of camps („Centres de regroupement“) which were constructed with the intention to break resistance and to isolate guerrilla fighters. Bourdieu and Sayad regarded this displacement as „one of the most brutal known in history“; and as a „pathological response to the fatal crisis of the colonial system“ (cf. Le Deracinement. Paris 1964, pp. 13, 27).

In his analyses, Bourdieu arrived at very different conclusions to those of Frantz Fanon in his „Les Damnés de la Terre“ (1961, transl. The Wretched of the Earth) and of Jean-Paul Sartre Sartre wrote a famous preface to Fanon’s study, which is to be regarded as one of the main works of Third World studies as well as of post-colonial studies. Bourdieu tried to translate the nearly metaphysical question, seemingly urgent in view of the Soviet and Chinese experiences, whether the proletariat, the sub-proletariat or the peasants would constitute the revolutionary class in the Third World into social-scientific terms. In contrast to Fanon and Sartre, he neither saw the uprooted peasants, nor the newly emerged, precarised urban sub-proletariat as a force being able to support the revolution in Algeria decisively. The political development after the struggle for independence, which demanded about a million of victims on the side of the Algerians, later confirmed his assessment.

Through his Algerian studies, Bourdieu furthermore aimed at understanding the logic of the transition from a pre-capitalist economy to a capitalist one, that is to say, the way „tradition“ was replaced by „modernity“, as expressed in the sociological „theory of modernization“ emerging in the frame of the development discourse of the 1950s. Relying on the theoretical framework of Durkheim, Bourdieu interpreted the imposed modernization as a „pathological acceleration of cultural chang“”. The exhibition also draws attention to the forced modernization imposed on Algeria by the introduction of an industrialized agriculture, which in Bourdieu’s archive manifests itself in the form of images, showing man-machine hybrids at work in the valley of Mitidja.

Translation from German: Larissa Buchholz, SUNY at Stony Brook, N. Y. and Andrea Hoeft, University of Lueneburg.

Supported by the Sparkasse-Kulturfonds