100 books like Language and Symbolic Power

By Pierre Bourdieu, Gino Raymond (translator), Matthew Adamson (translator) , John Thompson (editor)

Here are 100 books that Language and Symbolic Power fans have personally recommended if you like Language and Symbolic Power. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation

Will Kitchen Author Of Film, Negation and Freedom: Capitalism and Romantic Critique

From my list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom.

Why am I passionate about this?

My background is in academic film analysis, although this has opened doors to many subjects: literature, music, philosophy, political economy… My students are always encouraged to think beyond their "home" discipline when they come to university. I believe that if you study a subject deep enough, it will lead to all the others. So far, my research has led me from classical music through Hollywood biopics and Romanic philosophy to some of the most fundamental questions about the construction and social organisation of creative labour in the modern world. I find that the most enjoyable books explain the world to us whilst reflecting upon what that act of explanation means. 

Will's book list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom

Will Kitchen Why did Will love this book?

Like most students, I first came to classes expecting to absorb knowledge from my teachers. Rancière made me think again.

Every good professor knows from experience that learning is always a two-way process. Rope learning might prepare us for ‘the real world,’ but the real world is not a place of freedom.

For Rancière, if we really want to change the world, the educator must be transformed from the venerable sage into the honest tyrant who proclaims: “You’ve got to think for yourselves, even if you must be told to do it.”

By Jacques Ranciere,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ignorant Schoolmaster as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This extraordinary book can be read on several levels. Primarily, it is the story of Joseph Jacotot, an exiles French schoolteacher who discovered in 1818 an unconventional teaching method that spread panic throughout the learned community of Europe.

Knowing no Flemish, Jacotot found himself able to teach in French to Flemish students who knew no French; knowledge, Jacotot concluded, was not necessary to teach, nor explication necessary to learn. The results of this unusual experiment in pedagogy led him to announce that all people were equally intelligent. From this postulate, Jacotot devised a philosophy and a method for what he…


Book cover of Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge

Will Kitchen Author Of Film, Negation and Freedom: Capitalism and Romantic Critique

From my list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom.

Why am I passionate about this?

My background is in academic film analysis, although this has opened doors to many subjects: literature, music, philosophy, political economy… My students are always encouraged to think beyond their "home" discipline when they come to university. I believe that if you study a subject deep enough, it will lead to all the others. So far, my research has led me from classical music through Hollywood biopics and Romanic philosophy to some of the most fundamental questions about the construction and social organisation of creative labour in the modern world. I find that the most enjoyable books explain the world to us whilst reflecting upon what that act of explanation means. 

Will's book list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom

Will Kitchen Why did Will love this book?

The book that made the philosophy of science relevant to everything.

Popper’s rejection of inductive reasoning had fascinating implications for politics, psychology, and (through E. H. Gombrich) art. The simple idea that perception is always predetermined by experience was not new, of course (Popper always credited his predecessors, including Xenophanes), but I find his ability to develop this theme against the contemporary vogue for empirical positivism deeply rewarding.

Popper helped to establish our modern intellectual climate with his most important lesson, adapted from Darwin: Embrace criticism. 

By Karl Popper,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Conjectures and Refutations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Conjectures and Refutations is one of Karl Popper's most wide-ranging and popular works, notable not only for its acute insight into the way scientific knowledge grows, but also for applying those insights to politics and to history. It provides one of the clearest and most accessible statements of the fundamental idea that guided his work: not only our knowledge, but our aims and our standards, grow through an unending process of trial and error.


Book cover of Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life

Will Kitchen Author Of Film, Negation and Freedom: Capitalism and Romantic Critique

From my list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom.

Why am I passionate about this?

My background is in academic film analysis, although this has opened doors to many subjects: literature, music, philosophy, political economy… My students are always encouraged to think beyond their "home" discipline when they come to university. I believe that if you study a subject deep enough, it will lead to all the others. So far, my research has led me from classical music through Hollywood biopics and Romanic philosophy to some of the most fundamental questions about the construction and social organisation of creative labour in the modern world. I find that the most enjoyable books explain the world to us whilst reflecting upon what that act of explanation means. 

Will's book list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom

Will Kitchen Why did Will love this book?

As a writer, Adorno learned much from music–both what it says and what it fails to say. Each page is packed with enough ideas to inspire a dozen discussions.

For me, philosophy makes the most sense in this "continental" (as opposed to "analytic") style. The fragmentary, anti-systemic approach developed from the Early German Romantics, extending through Friedrich Nietzsche down to the poststructuralists.

Although falling short of the grandeur of his magnum opus, Negative Dialectics, Adorno’s most accessible book maintains a keen critical edge alongside an appealing balance between clarity and richness––reason and imagination. 

By Theodor Adorno, Edmund FN Jephcott (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Minima Moralia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written between 1944 and 1947, Minima Moralia is a collection of rich, lucid aphorisms and essays about life in modern capitalist society. Adorno casts his penetrating eye across society in mid-century America and finds a life deformed by capitalism. This is Adorno's theoretical and literary masterpiece and a classic of twentieth-century thought.


Book cover of Explanation and Power: The Control of Human Behavior

Will Kitchen Author Of Film, Negation and Freedom: Capitalism and Romantic Critique

From my list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom.

Why am I passionate about this?

My background is in academic film analysis, although this has opened doors to many subjects: literature, music, philosophy, political economy… My students are always encouraged to think beyond their "home" discipline when they come to university. I believe that if you study a subject deep enough, it will lead to all the others. So far, my research has led me from classical music through Hollywood biopics and Romanic philosophy to some of the most fundamental questions about the construction and social organisation of creative labour in the modern world. I find that the most enjoyable books explain the world to us whilst reflecting upon what that act of explanation means. 

Will's book list on philosophy books about knowledge, culture, and freedom

Will Kitchen Why did Will love this book?

An interdisciplinary study taken to its logical conclusion. Starting with a powerful interpretation of Romanticism back in the 1950s, Peckham’s work culminated in an ambitious "general theory of human behaviour."

In essence, this book helped me understand that explanation is a form of violence–all languages, and all cultures, strive to enforce predictable behaviour in other human beings. Despite his flaws, Peckham offers a fascinating example of the power of interdisciplinarity. All subjects, when followed through, lead to all the others. 

By Morse Peckham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Explanation and Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Explanation and Power was first published in 1988. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

The meaning of any utterance or any sign is the response to that utterance or sign: this is the fundamental proposition behind Morse Peckham's Explanation and Power. Published in 1979 and now available in paperback for the first time, Explanation and Power grew out of Peckham's efforts, as a scholar of Victorian literature, to understand the nature of Romanticism. His search ultimately led back to-and built upon-the…


Book cover of Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action

Jacqueline Kennelly Author Of Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

From my list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to activism at a young age, inspired by a book given to me by a friend in Grade 10. I also grew up poor; my trajectory into university was unusual for my demographic, a fact I only discovered once I was doing my PhD in the sociology of education. By the time I started interviewing activists for my doctorate, I had a burning desire to understand how social change could happen, what democracy really looked like, and who was left out of participating. I am still trying to figure these things out. If you are, too, the books on this list might help!

Jacqueline's book list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy

Jacqueline Kennelly Why did Jacqueline love this book?

I have an intellectual crush on Pierre Bourdieu. He has a sexy mind. Unfortunately, he passed away just as I was getting to know his work, back in 2002. Bourdieu wrote a mind-boggling number of books, but I have chosen this one as a good introduction for people who’d like to get to know his work. Practical Reason is actually made up of a series of lectures, all written relatively late in his career. They do quite a good job of accessibly summarizing his key ideas. Bourdieu supported the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and was a vociferous critic of neoliberalism. Bourdieu’s work helps to explain how inequality is recreated across generations, and why dominant interests tend to shape the trajectory of the state. 

By Pierre Bourdieu, Randall Johnson (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Practical Reason as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Do social classes really exist? Is disinterested action really possible? What do the family, the church, and the intellectual world have in common? Can morality be founded on hypocrisy? What is the "subject" of action? In this new volume, one of France's foremost social thinkers of our time responds to these major questions and to others, thus tracing the outlines of a work that could be called "Pierre Bourdieu by himself."

In these texts, the author tries to go to the essential, that is, the most elementary and fundamental, questions. He thereby explains the philosophical principles that have led to…


Book cover of Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate

Alanna Cant Author Of The Value of Aesthetics: Oaxacan Woodcarvers in Global Economies of Culture

From my list on people who make things for a living.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Canadian social anthropologist living in England, and my research is about material culture and heritage in Mexico. I have always been fascinated by the ways that people make their cultures through objects, food, and space; this almost certainly started with my mum who is always making something stitched, knitted, savoury, or sweet, often all at the same time. I hope that you enjoy the books on my list – I chose them as they each have something important to teach us about how our consumption of things affects those who make them, often in profound ways.

Alanna's book list on people who make things for a living

Alanna Cant Why did Alanna love this book?

Like the other works on my list, Susan Terrio’s book considers how globalization transforms the production, meanings and markets for goods, and the lives of those who make them. Terrio considers how artisanal chocolate makers in Paris and the Bayonne area worked to carve out a high-value market niche for themselves by re-educating the public about the quality and prestige of French handmade chocolates. She documents how they managed to succeed in this project by borrowing terminology and practices from wine connoisseurship, and by linking their handmade chocolate to French identity. I love this book because it provides insights into how our own ideas about taste, quality, and enjoyment are deeply connected to economics, politics, policy, and identity – and because it’s about chocolate, of course! 

By Susan J. Terrio,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This absorbing narrative follows the craft community of French chocolatiers--members of a tiny group experiencing intensive international competition--as they struggle to ensure the survival of their businesses. Susan J. Terrio moves easily among ethnography, history, theory, and vignette, telling a story that challenges conventional views of craft work, associational forms, and training models in late capitalism. She enters the world of Parisian craft leaders and local artisanal families there and in southwest France to relate how they work and how they confront the representatives and structures of power, from taste makers, CEOs, and advertising executives to the technocrats of Paris…


Book cover of Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity

Jacqueline Kennelly Author Of Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

From my list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to activism at a young age, inspired by a book given to me by a friend in Grade 10. I also grew up poor; my trajectory into university was unusual for my demographic, a fact I only discovered once I was doing my PhD in the sociology of education. By the time I started interviewing activists for my doctorate, I had a burning desire to understand how social change could happen, what democracy really looked like, and who was left out of participating. I am still trying to figure these things out. If you are, too, the books on this list might help!

Jacqueline's book list on how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy

Jacqueline Kennelly Why did Jacqueline love this book?

Wacquant was educated in France, under Pierre Bourdieu. He brings his French sensibilities and training to the United States, asking fundamental questions about the massive inequality there, how it came to be, and who it is serving. This is one of the books he has written in answer to those questions. I started teaching chapters from this book in a graduate seminar on Urban Inequality. No other scholar does such a precise job of tracing the connections between neoliberalism and inequality in the USA, which pushes poor Black men into prison and poor Black women into the welfare office. It is a sobering but powerful read that really helps you understand how neoliberalism is lived by those who suffer the most under its auspices.

By Loïc Wacquant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Punishing the Poor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The punitive turn of penal policy in the United States after the acme of the Civil Rights movement responds not to rising criminal insecurity but to the social insecurity spawned by the fragmentation of wage labor and the shakeup of the ethnoracial hierarchy. It partakes of a broader reconstruction of the state wedding restrictive "workfare" and expansive "prisonfare" under a philosophy of moral behaviorism. This paternalist program of penalization of poverty aims to curb the urban disorders wrought by economic deregulation and to impose precarious employment on the postindustrial proletariat. It also erects a garish theater of civic morality on…


Book cover of Missing Class

James M. Jasper Author Of The Emotions of Protest

From my list on what drives protestors.

Why am I passionate about this?

James M. Jasper has written a number of books and articles on politics and social movements since the 1980s, trying to get inside them to see what participants feel and think. In recent years he has examined the many emotions, good and bad, involved in political engagement. He summarizes what he has learned in this short book, The Emotions of Protest, taking the reader step by step through the emotions that generate actions, to those that link us to groups, down to the emotional and moral impacts of social movements. The book is hopeful and inspiring but at the same time also clear-eyed about the limitations of protest politics.

James' book list on what drives protestors

James M. Jasper Why did James love this book?

Meetings are one of the main activities of social movements, and plenty of misunderstandings occur based on the way people talk due to different backgrounds. This amusing book focuses on the effects of social class, which both activists and scholars have tended to forget about in recent years. If nothing else, it will give you something to think about during your next meeting.

By Betsy Leondar-Wright,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Missing Class as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many activists worry about the same few problems in their groups: low turnout, inactive members, conflicting views on racism, overtalking, and offensive violations of group norms. But in searching for solutions to these predictable and intractable troubles, progressive social movement groups overlook class culture differences. Missing Class looks through a class lens and discovers that members with different class life experiences tend to approach these problems differently. Using this class lens enables readers to envision new solutions, solutions that draw on the strengths of all class cultures to form the basis of stronger cross-class and multiracial movements.

In Missing Class,…


Book cover of Course in General Linguistics

Robin Reames Author Of The Ancient Art of Thinking For Yourself: The Power of Rhetoric in Polarized Times

From my list on transforming how you think about language.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of language to propel everything we think—from our values and beliefs, to political views, to what we take for absolute truth. Once I learned there’s a whole field devoted to studying language called “rhetoric”—the field in which I’m now an expert—there was no turning back. Rhetoric has been around for more than 2,000 years, and since its inception, it has taught people to step back from language and appraise it with a more critical eye to identify how it works, why it’s persuasive, and what makes people prone to believe it. By studying rhetoric, we become less easily swayed and more comfortable with disagreement. 

Robin's book list on transforming how you think about language

Robin Reames Why did Robin love this book?

Another classic. This book launched the intellectual movement known as structuralism, a theory that calls into question the idea of human autonomy and individual will. Even though I may feel like I am in conscious control of all my words, thoughts, and actions, structuralism says this is an illusion, especially where language is concerned. 

Saussure introduced the radical idea that “language eludes the control of our will.” The larger symbolic system of meaning predetermines what can be said and thought more than my individual intention does. That system developed slowly over time, and we never observed its long process of development, yet we are always constrained by it, like being caught in a web.

Saussure claims it’s not us but language that’s in charge; we’re just along for the ride. 

By Ferdinand la Saussure,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Course in General Linguistics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Cours de linguistique generale, reconstructed from students' notes after Saussure's death in 1913, founded modern linguistic theory by breaking the study of language free from a merely historical and comparativist approach. Saussure's new method, now known as Structuralism, has since been applied to such diverse areas as art, architecture, folklore, literary criticism, and philosophy.


Book cover of Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe

Theodor Pelekanidis Author Of How to Write About the Holocaust: The Postmodern Theory of History in Praxis

From my list on Books to make you reconsider what you know about history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian and author, passionate about how the past influences current ideas and perceptions. While reading for my Ph.D. in Historical Theory, I started to realise that it is not the past that influences us, but we that actually create it. The books in the list came up at different points in my life and research and made me think and rethink the concept of historical knowledge, how we acquire it, how we narrate it, and what we retain from it.

Theodor's book list on Books to make you reconsider what you know about history

Theodor Pelekanidis Why did Theodor love this book?

It’s a tough nut to crack, but totally worth it when you finally read it.

Although I write historical texts myself, I hadn’t considered how these texts are structured and mediated by historians. H. White showed me and many others that writing a historical text does not differ in form from writing a literary one.

Through a thoroughly structured argument, the book is a trip in the history of historiography and a careful analysis of the most important people who formed the way we look at our past today. Definitely one of the most influential theoretical texts of the last century.

By Hayden V. White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Metahistory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In White's view, beyond the surface level of the historical text, there is a deep structural, or latent, content that is generally poetic and specifically linguistic in nature. This deeper content - the metahistorical element - indicates what an "appropriate" historical explanation should be.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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