Pierre Bourdieu is a French anthropologist and sociologist who has had an enormous impact on the social sciences. He was a professor of sociology at the College de France, Paris until his death in 2002.

Bourdieu was born in 1930 in the Pyrenees in France; his father was a postal worker. Bourdieu studied philosophy, receiving his degree in 1954, after which he undertook fieldwork in Algeria during the War of Independence. This fieldwork formed the basis for his first major work, translated into English as Outline of a Theory of Practice, which lays out his great contribution: praxis or practice theory. This is the only book of Bourdieu's I have read, and so can speak with any first-hand knowledge about, but I can tell you that his entire oeuvre is innovative and extraordinary.

In Outline he elaborates on the concept of habitus which he developed in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. In essence, habitus refers to the forms of social construction by which people are made members of society; that is, the system, or more properly systems, by which individuals internalize the structures of the social order. Michel Foucault might refer to this process as subjectivization. Like Foucault, Bourdieu believed that social structures are not disinterested, but rather are based on unequal power relations between groups of people. Habitus is how elites ensure the reproduction of social structures, which are also necessarily, in Bourdieu's view, systems of domination. Over time, habitus becomes fully integrated into the social order, and elites no longer have to be directly involved in the reproduction of social structure.

All this sounds very abstract, but what is exciting about Bourdieu is that the social analyst can understand these structures and processes through an examination of mundane practical acts. Like Foucault, Bourdieu pays attention to the everyday, the lived - dispositions, Bourdieu calls bodily, habitual modes of behaviour and action - and he plumbs them for what they reveal about power relations. Humdrum acts like holding a spoon in a certain way or laying out a living room point to dispositions, to the habitus.

Bourdieu is a complex theorist who has written many many books, and I have merely scratched the surface of his contribution here. The apparently definitive webliography of Bourdieu's work in French, English, and German can be found at HyperBourdieu