Over the past four decades, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu produced one of the most imaginative and subtle bodies of social theory of the postwar era. When he died in 2002, he was considered to be the most influential sociologist in the world and a thinker on a par with Foucault and Lévi-Strauss—a public intellectual as important to his generation as Sartre was to his.
Bourdieu’s final book, The Bachelors’ Ball, sees him return to Béarn, the region where he grew up, to examine the gender dynamics of rural France. This personal connection adds poignancy to Bourdieu’s ethnographic account of the way the influence of urban values has precipitated a crisis for male peasants. Tied to the land through inheritance, these bachelors find themselves with little to offer the women of Béarn who, like the young Bourdieu himself, abandon the country for the city in droves.