(1) Steve Lekson: Use other theorists who are more grounded and make sense.
Steven Lekson has an amusing post, "La Maladie Française" on his blog, The Southwest in the World. This blog is fascinating - it consists of chapters and parts of chapters of a book that Lekson is in the process of writing. Readers can follow his book as it is constructed, quite an innovative process. This particular post is about the convoluted prose of Bourdieu, de Certeau, et al. Lekson says:
"I have from time to time disparaged French social philosophy. It’s not so much the content (it’s that too), but rather the language. To paraphrase Professor Higgins, the French don’t care what they say actually, so long as they write it properly. Which, for French social philosophers, means convoluted, obtuse, ambiguous, impenetrable — well-known hallmarks of French philosophy, generally."
After posting several choice uncomprehensible quotes., Lekson lists some archaeological theoreticians. who write clearly and comprehensibly. He says:
"Theory does not require Delphic obscurantism. Many useful thinkers think clearly and write clearly. I list several below – a quick, short list with only a few works for each. Some are old and some not so old. You must judge if their thinking is useful (I find it so). But – and this is key – you can judge their thinking directly on its merits, and not as faith that something useful lies buried in the verbiage."
(2) Robert Rosenswig: Why cite Bourdieu and Giddens when Marx said it better?
In an interesting paper, Robert Rosenswig notes that many archaeologists cite Bourdieu and Giddens without engaging with their work. He compares their perspective on agency and practice to the ideas of Marx. But whereas Marx presented a materialist theory of agency, these scholars promote an idealist version. Rosenswig advocates a return to Marx's materialist theory of modes of production and social change.
2011 Materialism, Mode of Production, and a Millennium of Change in Southern Mexico. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 18:(in press).
(3) Andrew Abbott: Bourdieu contributes nothing new; avoid abstract social theory.
I've raved about Andrew Abbott's (2004) very useful book several times in this blog, here, here, and here. Abbott is not a big fan of high-level abstract social theory:
· “A good idea, then, ought to have some referent in the real world. This is not to deny the utility of pure social theory, but the vast majority of social theory consists of relabeling. All real theory arises in empirical world, in the attempt to make sense of the social world, no matter how abstractly construed. A student is well advised to stay clear of writing pure theory. It’s an open invitation to vacuity .... Relabeling is a general activity in social science because it’s a way of appearing novel without having to do much.” (p. 218).
In another passage, Abbott explicitly calls Bourdieu's concept of habitus as a simple relabeling of concepts long used in sociology.
2004 Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. Norton, New York.
Other prominent sociologists who have little use for Bourdieu include Jon Elster, Raymond Boudon, Peter Hedström, Robert Sampson, and Charles Tilly. Also check out philosopher of science Mario Bunge (1995).
1995 In Praise of Intolerance to Charlatanism in Academia. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 775:96-115.
(4) Yours truly: You can do rigorous theoretically-informed research without bothering with Bourdieu et al.
As detailed in my paper on urban theory (Smitih 2011), archaeologists interested in causality and explanation can conduct their research and engage with theory on an epistemological level below that of high-level, philosophical, social theory (I wrote that paper before reading Abbott). I call such theory "empirical theory." In the social sciences (outside of archaeology) such theory is labeled "middle-range theory," drawing on the concept by Robert K. Merton (which has nothing to do with Lewis Binford's idiosyncratic concept of the same name). I got tired of grant proposals and articles by archaeologists (students and professionals) in which the authors spend a lot of time waxing poetic about Giddens and Bourdieu, and then go on to describe their research in rather pedestrian terms that ignore the theory entirely. If you are not going to USE theory, then don't waste your time talking about it. Better still, find empirical theory that you CAN use to plan and carry out your fieldwork and to analyze your data.
Smith, Michael E.
2011 Empirical Urban Theory for Archaeologists. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 18:167-192.
For further clarification of different kinds of theory (and how high-level theory relates to middle-range causal theory), see also my earlier post "Theory, theory theory: What do we mean by theory?"