Professor Bridget Fowler
- Honorary Professor (Sociology)
I am an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Glasgow, specialising in the sociology of culture, Marxist-feminist thought and social theory more broadly. Like many earlier social theorists, including both Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, I have been puzzled by the relative rarity of a politics of social transformation as a response to social injustice within Western societies. Further, like many Marxist-feminists, I was concerned with the mechanisms underlying the persistent reproduction of patriarchal and other hierarchical forms. Whilst the “dull compulsion of material needs” explains some of the choices and practices made by social actors, I have been convinced that answers need specifically to be sought in terms of the cultural worldviews, ideologies and utopia available to them.
My teaching and research initially was on sociological theory, but approached inventively to interrogate also the social role of certain genres of popular literature. Questions of literary production and consumption – including the social functions of ideology and utopia - were addressed, notably with the aid of an ethnographic reception study, an empirical resource often missing from those who study literary reception from the discipline of the arts (see 1979). The key conceptual framework for this study was drawn from classical sociological theorisations of class, gender, education and literary taste; indeed, this conceptual apparatus continues to be salient to my theoretical concerns, along with analyses of migration, ethnicity and imperialism.
However, by the 1980s - springing from these theoretical issues - a long-term interest was kindled in the pioneering studies of artistic production and consumption offered by the French sociologist and philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu brought a sociological understanding deeply informed by Marx, Weber and Durkheim to illuminate the secular arts, developing an approach similar to that adopted by these thinkers to evaluate the meanings and social significance of religion. Bourdieu became an engaging subject of sociological study more broadly, too, since I saw his logic of practice - combined with other theories, such as Marx’s - as the most fertile terrain for understanding social action in contemporary globalised capitalist societies. Indebted profoundly to his memory, I have taken up aspects of his thought in various books and essays. Perhaps the most well-known have been The Alienated Reader (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991) and Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory: Critical Investigations (Sage, 1997) but see also Reading Bourdieu on Society and Culture (editor) (Blackwell, 2000) and my co-authored research on women and architecture, also deploying Bourdieusian theory (Sociology 2004 (with Fiona Wilson), republished in 2013 in the Architectural Theory Review).
I have also been concerned with collective memory: a controversial and much- debated concept, located at the intersection of history and sociology. I managed to receive financial support and excellent research assistance for this work. The resulting book, The Obituary as Collective Memory was the first to take up Bourdieu’s own interest in academic obituaries, and to apply them to a more general study of cross-national newspaper obituaries in different periods (see Routledge 2007, the article by myself and Esperanza Bielsa (also 2007) and my chapter on academic obituaries in eds Dawson et al 2015).
My interests within the field of social theory extend to assessments of Bourdieu in the light of earlier thinkers, notably the disputed question of his degree of indebtedness to Marx. My own conclusions about this – and indeed perhaps my most succinct presentation of the thinker – appear in Pierre Bourdieu: Unorthodox Marxist (in eds. Susen and Turner, 2011). This essay will be translated into Italian in an edited collection on Bourdieu (ed. Gabriella Paolucci, 2018 forthcoming). In a parallel fashion, I have also explored Bourdieu’s affinity to the thought of Raymond Williams (see 2000) and Norbert Elias (2008), aiming to further illuminate both these figures whom Bourdieu knew well.
Yet whilst I have sought to develop over a long period a thorough, sympathetic but also critical assessment of Bourdieu, I have also addressed independently the achievements of other sociological theorists. Thus, I have contributed in recent years to edited collections on Luc Boltanski (2014) and John Eldridge (2015). I have also joined others in seeking to rescue from sociological amnesia the sometimes-derided Marxist sociologist of literature, Lucien Goldman and the neglected Anglo-Portuguese theorist, Herminio Martins (see the editorial introduction and an essay in ed Fowler et al Time, Theory and the Critique of Technological Reason: Essays in Honour of Herminio Martins, Palgrave 2018).
For the last few years, I have been examining the well-known post- 1970s’ transformations in material conditions, including financialisation, accelerating class inequalities and declining State welfare subsidies: a structural transformation that Bourdieu referred to as “the second conservative revolution”. Given my earlier work, I am concerned especially with how these changes these have been impacting on the nature and funding of cultural production (see Pierre Bourdieu: The State, Enlightenment and the Scottish Literary Field in eds. L. Adkins et al, Bourdieusian Prospects, Routledge 2017, but this is ongoing research). Currently, also, I am assessing the important advances made by Gisèle Sapiro, one of Bourdieu’s former PhD students, to our theories of the literary field or “world republic of letters”. Were I to be given the time, I would like to write on all the French sociologists whom he gathered around him. Sapiro’s distinguished work will come first.
- 2003-5 Leverhulme Trust (£8,373) The Sociology of the Obituary
- 2011 University of Glasgow seedcorn funding (with Dr Robert Gibb): for study of After Bourdieu, Sociology, Critique and the Collective Intellectual
- 2011 University of Glasgow (School of Social and Political Sciences) (with Andrew Smith, Principal Investigator): Poetry Reading in Govan
Postgraduate research students
- Lito Tsitsou
- Kieran Durkin
- Alison Eldridge
- Sylvia Morgan
- Zujaja Wahaj
- Tim Winzler
Contribution to research activities
- 2000-2008 Editor for series entitled New Horizons in Sociology, joint British Journal of Sociology, Sage Publishers
- Ongoing from 1990s and before: Peer Reviewer for Theory, Culture and Society, British Journal of Sociology, Theory and Society, Critique, Architectural Theory Review, Urban Studies
- Peer Reviewer (Grants and Fellowships) for ESRC, AHRC and the British Academy.