Foucault vs. Bourdieu: Who had more influence on Sociology?

This week at OrgTheory, Fabio is discussing Foucault and his connection to sociology. Fabio began the discussion with a nice, brief summary of the major themes of Foucault’s work and an argument that Foucault has only been picked up selectively by Sociologists. Particularly, Fabio argues that Soc has absorbed Foucault’s ideas on self-discipline and productive, relational power, but more or less ignored his insights on governmentality, the death of the subject, etc. This post sparked discussion about Foucault’s overall role in the field, and the extent to which Foucault is taught and should be taught in core theory courses (potentially in addition to more specialized courses on particular subfields where Foucault’s influence has been larger).

Fabio argued in the comments:

Foucault is widely adopted in the humanities. Nearly every student read multiple works. In sociology, Foucault is optional, or at best one week in a theory course. You can easily have an entire sociology career that is Foucault free. Of course, there is variation. “Theory” people read Foucault, as do sexuality people. And there is dept variation as well.

While I think it’d be hard to argue that Foucault has had a bigger impact on Sociology than on the humanities, I thought it might be useful to dig into at least one source of readily available data to see how “Foucault-free” sociology is.

JStor’s Data for Researchers is a fantastic tool for doing faceted searches on JStor’s corpus. You can search full-text (or just titles, abstracts, etc.) by discipline, journal, year, and more. For this simple comparison, I searched in the full-text for Bourdieu and Foucault and compared the numbers of articles they appeared in by journal. Foucault and Bourdieu are nice here because almost all uses of those letters refer to the appropriate theorist (although there are a couple hits that clearly do not), and because I believe there is more or less consensus that Bourdieu has had a major influence on mainstream American sociology.*

So, the data.

In all Sociology journals (according to JStor’s definitions), “Foucault” appears in 4,371 articles, “Bourdieu” appears in 4,846.

Top Tier:
In AJS, “Foucault” appears in 270 articles; “Bourdieu” in 296.
In ASR, Foucault = 72; Bourdieu = 158. (Here’s a nice finding on the differences between AJS and ASR!)

Theory Journals:
In Sociological Theory, Foucault = 127; Bourdieu = 182.
In Theory & Society, Foucault = 271; Bourdieu = 251.

For some subfield analysis:
In Gender & Society, Foucault = 83; Bourdieu = 40.
In ASQ (near and dear to OrgTheory’s heart!), Foucault = 29; Bourdieu = 21. AMR is F:37; B:8.
In Sociology of Education, Foucault = 8, Bourdieu = 193 (!).
In J of Marriage and Family, Foucault = 15; Bourdieu = 16.
In Law and Society Review, Foucault = 119; Bourdieu = 70.

I was honestly surprised by these numbers. I expected much more of an advantage for Bourdieu, especially in the mainstream journals and in several of the subfields. Clearly there is large variation in subfield journals – Foucault having an advantage in Gender (and likely a much larger advantage if we moved to sexuality journals, not indexed by JStor under Sociology I believe) and Bourdieu having a huge advantage in education (in spite of Foucault’s potential relevance to studies of education – favoring Fabio’s argument that Foucault’s critique of institutions has largely been ignored). But overall, both Foucault and Bourdieu receive what seems to be a large number of citations across a range of subfields and in a sustained way, with perhaps Bourdieu gaining ground in the last 10 years and Foucault holding steady or dropping a bit (such that in the early 2000s, Bourdieu ranged from 175-250 citations/year while Foucault ranged from 145-175).

What do you all think? Is this evidence at all compelling for the relatively equal influence of Foucault and Bourdieu? If not, what are the data saying?

* If you think Bourdieu has not been very influential, I would love to hear the argument. I could buy that Bourdieu and Foucault are both cited ritually, or even possibly that Foucault citations tend to be more “ritualistic” and Bourdieu citations more “substantive”, but I’d want to see some serious evidence. As Brayden notes in his comments, even the presence of ritualistic citations is evidence of impact.



  1. Thomas

     /  July 6, 2011

    Though the original orgtheory post referred to American sociology, I think it would be rather interesting to contrast these results with British research.

    As far as ritualistic citation: is there any indication on the particular works that are most influential?

  2. Andrew

     /  July 6, 2011

    I only read Foucault once for a class, and that was his piece on discourse. I was never required to read Bourdieu either, and I don’t think my classmates did either, but it seems like Bourdieu is definitely in the background. His name and concepts are invoked all the time – so I feel like he’s sort of like a Robert Merton. I get the feeling that Bourdieu has pretty much been accepted into the imaginary “canon,” if you will. Foucault, while respected, seems to be treated as a kind of “radical.”

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