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Ballet Body Narratives

Pain, Pleasure and Perfection in Embodied Identity

Angela Pickard

Ballet Body Narratives is an ethnographic exploration of the social world of classical ballet and the embodiment of young ballet dancers as they engage in «becoming a dancer» in ballet school in England. In contrast to the largely disembodied sociological literature of the body, this book places the corporeal body as central to the examination and reveals significant relationships between body, society and identity. Drawing on academic scholarship as well as rich ballet body narratives from young dancers, this book investigates how young ballet dancers’ bodies are lived, experienced and constructed through their desire to become performing ballet dancers as well as the seductive appeal of the ballet aesthetic. Pierre Bourdieu’s critique of the perpetuating social order and his theoretical framework of field, habitus and capital are applied as a way of understanding the social world of ballet but also of relating the ballet habitus and belief in the body to broader social structures. This book examines the distinctiveness of ballet culture and aspects of young ballet dancers’ embodied identity through a central focus on the ballet body.
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Chapter 2: Ballet, Body and Bourdieu



Ballet, Body and Bourdieu

In this chapter I examine Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptual framework. I begin with a brief discussion of the background to Bourdieu’s work. I then discuss Bourdieu’s key concepts of field, habitus and capital and his acknowledgement of gender hierarchy. I summarise Bourdieu’s two significant works in relation to this book: Distinction (1984) and The Logic of Practice (1990a). Next, I examine the main strengths and challenges of Bourdieu’s conceptual framework. Finally, I argue that the work of Bourdieu provides a useful approach to examining and understanding the ballet body and embodied identity.

Bourdieu’s Conceptual Schema

There is a great deal of critical appraisal of the work of Pierre Bourdieu. Important commentaries by David Swartz (1997), Bridget Fowler (1997) and Derek Robbins (1999; 2000a; 2000b) have drawn out his many strengths and contributions to sociological theory. Robbins (2000a) stated that Bourdieu has had a ‘paradigmatic life of creative conceptualisation’ (p. xxiv). Indeed Bourdieu has made significant contributions to sociology (1988, 1990b, 1993a, 1997b, 2001; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992; Bourdieu et al., 1999) but also to anthropology (Bourdieu, 1962, 1977, 1990a), cultural studies (1984, 1993b, 1996, 1997a, 1998) and philosophy (1992, 1996, 2000). Key works on Bourdieu have also recognised the major contributions he has made to anthropology and sociology (Jenkins, 1992; Calhoun et al., 1993), education (Grenfell and James, 1998), cultural studies (Fowler, 1997; Lane, 2000; Robbins, 2000a, 2000b) and philosophy (Shusterman, 1999). ← 21 | 22 → Bourdieu has made...

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