The dual-edged sword of sociological theory: critically thinking sociological theoretical practice

Christopher Thorpe

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Within sociology, engagement with theoretical ideas and concepts is consistently misrepresented as a ‘desubjectivized’, ‘self-determined’ and ‘rationally’ mediated process. This paper critically interrogates this position by drawing attention to the ‘other side’ of the theory/practice dialectic, the transformative effects engaging with sociological theory has, and the consequences of this for the theoretical advancement of the discipline. Utilizing Bourdieu's conceptual categories of habitus, capital and field, the processes by which theoretical forms of reasoning infiltrate and inflect agents' ontological security are identified and delineated, along with a discussion of the negative consequences this has for theoretical debates and dialogue. The latter part of the paper takes these arguments and uses them to identify the reflexive value, but ultimately contradictory logic, Bourdieu's concepts give rise to and the relevance of this for the problems dealt with throughout the paper. By way of a conclusion, a call is made for greater critical scrutiny and reflexive awareness of the ways in which sociological theory is understood and represented, in the hope that the emancipatory potential it engenders can be realized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215–228
Number of pages14
JournalDistinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Habitus
  • Ontological security
  • Practical consciousness
  • Reflexivity
  • Sociological theory
  • Theoretical habitus


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