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Pierre Bourdieu, the ‘cultural turn’ and the practice of international history

Jackson, Peter (2008) Pierre Bourdieu, the ‘cultural turn’ and the practice of international history. Review of International Studies, 34 (1). pp. 155-181.

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The rise of the ‘cultural turn’ has breathed new life into the practice of international history over the past few decades. Cultural approaches have both broadened and deepened interpretations of the history of international relations. This article focuses on the use of culture as an explanatory methodology in the study of international history. It outlines the two central criticisms often made of this approach. The first is that it suffers from a lack of analytical rigour in both defining what culture is and understanding how it shapes individual and collective policy decisions. The second is that it too often leads to a tendency to exaggerate the importance of the cultural predispositions of individual or collective actors at the expense of the wider structures within which policy-making takes place. The article provides a brief outlined of the social theory of Pierre Bourdieu – which focuses on the interaction between cultural orientations of social actors and the structural environment that conditions their strategies and decisions. It then argues that Bourdieu’s conceptual framework can provide the basis for a more systematic approach to understanding the cultural roots of policy making and that international historians would benefit from engagement with his approach.