Figured World vs. Field

Drawing particularly on Homo Academicus, Holland et al. (1998: 59) highlight the limitations of applying Bourdieu’s concept of ‘field’ to the analysis of day-to-day socio-cultural relations in academic practice, in comparison to their proposed ‘figured worlds’ as a heuristic for identity development:

“Had Bourdieu mediated his understanding through “figured world” instead of “field,” he would have told us more about the discourses of academia and the cultural constructions that constituted the familiar aspects of academic life: the taken-for-granted generic figures (professors, graduate students, undergraduates, provosts, secretaries) and their generic acts—both such formal tasks as giving tutorials, administering tests, firing, hiring, and granting degrees, and the less formal stories of tenure granted, tenure denied, and teaching responsibilities juggled against writing and scholarly research—as situated in a particular institution. He would have more closely detailed the terms of academic discourse—such as “quality,” “originality,” and “brilliance”—as ways in which academics come to evaluate their efforts, understand themselves, and interpret the positions they hold in the academy.”


Holland, D., Lachicotte, W. Jr., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

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