The premise upon which the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1990a; 1999; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992) is built is that the social world is not a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be understood through ‘common sense’ groupings or models such as that of family or culture. The phenomena that make up the social world in which we live are culturally and historically bounded and temporal in nature. Furthermore, they are socially constructed within a structural network of social and power relations (Jenkins 2002). Bourdieu’s concepts of field and habitus seek to address the ways in which agency and reflexivity (habitus) are shaped by or embedded within structure (field). The framework he outlines offers a novel way of thinking about the complexities of the everyday experiences of life, incorporating structure and agency and providing a way of categorising the different forms of currency or capital that we use to negotiate the lifeworld and our place within it. Whilst often categorised as a social theorist, Bourdieu claims his work is a

means of interpreting the empirical world in which we live and rejects the notion of creating theory divorced from empirical enquiry. Jenkins explains Bourdieu’s ‘reluctance to theorise other than through a research based engagement with the complexities of social life’ (2002: 176). Furthermore, he notes that the results of research into the social world produce an account of reality that is not ‘reality’ per se and is merely a product of the ways in which the account has been constructed, thus forcing the researcher and reader into a position of reflexivity. These are just some of the reasons why the theoretical framework outlined by Bourdieu has such potential within medical sociology in helping to explore and explain the complexities of living with illness, and particularly long-term illness or disability, and in forcing us to think about both the structure/agency debate and the role of the researcher. This chapter starts then with an outline of Bourdieu’s concepts of field, capital

and habitus before providing a critical exposition of the Bourdieuian take on the structure/agency debate. It concludes with an example of how this framework could be used to rethink empirical data within the field of medical sociology.