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The Life of Property: House, Family and Inheritance in Béarn, South-West France

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Volume 21

Methodology & History in Anthropology

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The Life of Property

House, Family and Inheritance in Béarn, South-West France

Timothy Jenkins

208 pages, 1 map, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-667-2 $135.00/£99.00 / Hb / Published (April 2010)

eISBN 978-1-84545-823-2 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit Buy the eBook from these vendorsRequest a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®


“[The author’s] insights into Bourdieu’s project are intriguing and original, comprising, in some respects, the makings of an ‘anthropological biography’ of this influential figure… the work is a welcome addition to the literature on rural Europe, and France in particular, and demonstrates the ongoing potential of European ethnography for illuminating anthropology’s “unconscious” dispositions and Western intellectual mannerisms. It will be of interest to historians and sociologists, no doubt, as well as anthropologists.”  ·  Anthropos

"Jenkins’s work articulates a rich theoretical framework that informs the study of regional identity and the place and motivations of rural actors in provincial modernization. It is intriguing to consider how this approach might be applied to other distinctive regions of France. Finally, this project’s ethnographic focus on families in late twentieth-century Béarn places it at the forefront of a growing number of historical studies of France in that period. As these works are increasingly interdisciplinary in nature, [this volume] offers a clear model that scholars can appreciate.  ·  H France Review

Among other interesting insights, Jenkins uncovers the origin of Bourdieu’s [who grew up in Béarn] conception of habitus, and the basis for his passive vision of peasant agency as the realization of age-old routines.  ·  JRAI

One peculiar genius of this book lies in the agile demonstration that Bourdieu’s failure to live up to his own theoretical principles instantiates a recognizably Béarnais problem—the conviction of imminent dissolution…[a] dense, complex, and richly rewarding historical anthropology.”  ·  Michael Herzfeld in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History


In Béarn, a region of south-west France, longstanding and resilient ideas of property and practices of inheritance control the destinies of those living in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Based on extensive fieldwork and archival research that combines ethnography and intellectual history, this study explores the long-term continuities of this particular way of life within a broad framework. These local ideas have found expression twice at the national level. First, sociological arguments about the family, proposed by Frédéric Le Play, shaped debates on social reform and the repair of national identity during the last third of the nineteenth century – and these debates would subsequently influence contemporary European thought and social policy. Second, these local ideas entered into late twentieth-century sociological categories through the influential work of Pierre Bourdieu. Through these examples and others, the author illustrates the multi-layered life of these local concepts and practices and the continuing contribution of the local to modern European national history.

Timothy Jenkins was trained in anthropology at the Oxford Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. In 1992, he was appointed a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and in 2001, became an Assistant Director of Research (ADR) at the University of Cambridge; he currently holds these two posts. His interests are in European, particularly British and French, ethnography, as well as anthropological theory and the history of ideas. Among his publications is Religion in English Everyday Life: an Ethnographic Approach (Berghahn Books, 1999).

Subject: Theory and MethodologyHistory (General)Sociology
Area: France


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