“I think your theory is empty! It has nothing useful to say to me.” This is a refrain that those of us who teach theory hear frequently in the classroom. ‘Useful theory’ can be tough to sell especially to ‘practical’ people. Can theory be easy to learn and applicable in the real world?
Cheryl is a PhD student and lecturer in the School of Education and Professional Development. She argues that her ‘Bourdieu Game’ helps overcome initial suspicion towards difficult and challenging ideas, making them more accessible for everybody, whether academic or not. This post will be useful to you if you want to find out more about Bourdieu or if you are interested in game-based approaches to learning. Cheryl wants to start a conversation about the best ways to open up powerful knowledge to as wide an audience as possible.
Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist and renowned intellectual. He argued that money is not the only way to buy things and that manners, habits and networks are also routinely used in society to help people get what they want. These are important ideas with a wide application and the Bourdieu Game helps people understand them.
Players start by watching this three-minute, simplified explanation of Bourdieu’s theory, just to help them get to grips with some unfamiliar language such as habitus, cultural capital and doxa.
Then they try to use these words to describe what happens in ‘The Gentleman Prisoner’ an episode from the 1970s sitcom, Porridge. Have a go yourself and see what you come up with!
Then it’s on to the game itself.
Each player is issued with one economic, two social and two cultural capital cards that together represent their ‘habitus.’ They introduce themselves to the other players, mentioning each of their cards and selecting an assumed name to represent their new persona.
They are now ready to enter the first field; a nightclub dance-floor! Moving through a series of fields, each with its own set of rules or doxa, they work out who are the top-dogs and who are the whipping boys, earning cash for status at each step of the way.
The winners are the ones with the most money at the end of the game, and they can give it as ‘charity’ to the losers or use it to buy rewards for themselves.
Hilarity, resentment of inequality, reflections on similar scenarios from real life and playful use of the unfamiliar language as it becomes more and more familiar during the game are all hopeful and productive outcomes of the Bourdieu game. Players are then encouraged to use the ideas to analyse some of the professional challenges that they meet in their careers. The sought-for learning is that theorists are our friends and can help us overcome real life problems.
Download Cheryl’s paper on the subject:
Reynolds, Cheryl (2015) The impact of a game-based approach to Bourdieu on learners training to teach in post-compulsory education at an English University. In: Inspire Conference, 14 January 2015, University of Huddersfield. (Submitted)