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Warwick Seminar for Interdisciplinary French Studies: Jeremy Lane (Nottingham), ‘From Bourdieu to Piketty: tracing the emergence of a “nouveau capitalisme patrimonial”’
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In a paper published in the British Journal of Sociology, the French economist Thomas Piketty claims that his work on inequality should be located in a tradition of social scientific thought personified by Pierre Bourdieu. This claim has not convinced a number of those in France who claim allegiance to Bourdieu. Indeed, Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, Didier Eribon, and Frédéric Lordon have all denounced Piketty’s work, claiming it manifests an adherence to ideas of meritocracy and economic liberalism characteristic of the failings of the French ‘second left’. Having clarified the reasons for this hostility to the ‘second left’ in Bourdieusian circles, this paper offers a reading of Piketty’s Le Capital au XXIe siècle (2013) and Capital et idéologie (2019) alongside Bourdieu’s earlier La Distinction (1979) and La Noblesse d’État (1989). The paper argues that Bourdieu and Piketty’s work can indeed be seen as complementary. In short, Bourdieu plots shifts in the form and structure of capital possessed by the dominant fraction of the dominant class at a moment when France found itself on the cusp of its transition from post-war Fordism to financialised globalisation. Bourdieu’s analysis of these shifts anticipates Piketty’s account of the increases in socio-economic inequality characteristic of a period of full-blown financialisation, when ‘r’ is once again greater than ‘g’, to use his celebrated formula. The paper shows that these developments have led Piketty to renounce the faith in meritocracy and liberal economics that was indeed once the hallmark of those ‘second left’ circles from which he has emerged. The paper concludes by pondering the political significance of Piketty’s status as a disillusioned meritocrat.

Jeremy Lane is Professor of French and Critical Theory at the University of Nottingham. He has published widely on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, on the reception of jazz in interwar France, and on representations of the post-fordist workplace in contemporary France. He is currently pursuing two projects, the first on Jacques Rancière and the social sciences and the second on the ways in which responses to Covid may have exacerbated existing tendencies to precarity, surveillance, control, and socio-economic inequality.