Bourdieu once described sociology as a contact sport. Clearly, there are a number of ways the analogy can be read, depending on whom one takes the contact to be with. The two most obvious candidates, at least reading off from Bourdieu's own practice of sociology, are perhaps other sociologists and society at large. He was particularly critical of those whose studied, calm, allegedly revolutionary post-Marxian tracts presented no obstacles to their smooth ascendance to the security of an assured place in a self-referential academic pantheon. This was, of course, a particularly obvious form of aporetic slip, since his own post-Marxian, philosophically-inclined studies were as effective as forms of accumulation of symbolic capital as any of those he criticised. Its transparency is something Bourdieu may well have relished though: the perfect illustration of the enduring power of the habitus. Indeed, there is the temptation - which should almost certainly be resisted - to understand the contact in sociology as being with onseself: the prisoner making a project of the exact description of their cell.
Games were a recurrent metaphor for Bourdieu, a sign of his Wittgensteinian inheritances. Somewhere in The Logic of Practice, he compares the "conditioned and conditional freedom" provided by the habitus as similar to that offered to the player by the rules, formal and not-so-formal, of football. There are a variety of tactics available at each moment - to pass the ball short, long, square, down the line, to try and sell the dummy and so on - each of which takes its place in an overall strategy, and is, like it, chosen, but only from a particular set, pre-determined by the ways in which football is played. Some are preferred to others, just as some are more successful than others. Personally, the obvious aspiration of Wenger's Arsenal to play such open, fluid, attacking football redeems them even when, as they inevitably do, they fail to reach the standards they have set themselves. I am able to ignore all kinds of faults - the vulnerability at set-pieces, the tendency to fruitless over-elaboration, the apparent inability to score scrappy or headed goals, the periodical petulance - because of the simple combination of the glory of their footballing ambitions and their closeness to achieving them.
All this is notwithstanding that, after all, football is a contact sport, and that, until this year, Wenger's Arsenal were at their best with one of the most combative midfielders I've seen play. Vieira broke up play all over the pitch and drove the side forward. Now he's gone, Gilberto does a more sedentary version of the same job, sitting in front of the back four, winning the ball back and passing it on to the more artistically-inclined of his colleagues to go and weave their magic upfield. In a way, this is a version of the problem of dirty hands: in the absence of force, violence, a willingness to let the end justify the means, little can be achieved, and so, inevitably, the question of compromise arises, of how far to let ideals be dirtied by the mucky requirements of the world as it is. A world that last season included Blackburn for example. Just as it is true that you can break an awful lot of eggs with making an omelette, it is also true that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
One of the criticisms levelled at Bourdieu here, connected to that of his lack of reflexivity about his own academic career, is basically that he was surly, insufficiently grateful or gracious to those around him. Maybe, and maybe it was in self-justificatory mode that he claimed that sociology was a contact sport. If it is a contact sport though, its Vieiras are surely a precondition of its Henrys. Bourdieu may well have been bruising at times, and does indeed seem to have had a "a reductive sense of human nature as motivated only by self-interested competition for status" - he once claimed, referring to his American admirers, to believe "that anyone… who introduces [an] author to another country has some ulterior motive", relying on a conceptual opposition his own work disowned - but his adoption and adaptation of Wittgensteinian ideas of social life as game-playing were genuinely innovative, and should not be dismissed as "nothing more than coining a term and quarreling more or less violently".