ARIS, Jan. 24 Pierre Bourdieu, a leading French sociologist and maverick intellectual who emerged as a public figure here in the 1990's by championing the antiglobalization movement and other antiestablishment causes, died in a Paris hospital on Wednesday. He was 71.
The cause was cancer, friends said.
The author of 25 books, many translated into English, Mr. Bourdieu was particularly interested in exploring the formative roots of class distinctions and power structures. He applied his theories to a broad range of topics, including education, television, masculinity, intellectuals, the media, language and poverty.
While his influence has long been felt in academic circles in France and the United States, Mr. Bourdieu assumed a public role in the tradition of Émile Zola and Jean-Paul Sartre only in the last decade, when he became what Le Monde called "the intellectual reference" for movements opposed to free market orthodoxy and globalization.
In the process, he also turned his guns on television talk-show hosts for delivering "cultural fast food" and on many fellow intellectuals whom he accused of abusing their privileged status in France by opining on issues about which they knew little. Counterattacks by intellectuals like Alain Finkelkraut and Bernard- Henry Lévi ensured that he remained in the public eye. Some critics said that he had grown increasingly sectarian in recent years.
Yet while he described his political position as "to the left of the left," meaning that he considered the Socialist Party to have sold out, he stood at the heart of France's intellectual establishment. He held the chair of sociology at the Collège de France, an elite government-backed think tank, he taught at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and he edited a sociology journal.
One measure of his iconoclastic renown in France was that the report of his death was the lead story in Le Monde. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, himself a Socialist, described Mr. Bourdieu as a master of contemporary sociology and said that "his works made him the leader of a school of thought that applied incisive criticism to the capitalist society."
One of Mr. Bourdieu's central theses was that social and cultural breeding were critical to achieving status and power, but his own life's story suggested that, at least for some, France could work as a meritocracy.
Born on Aug. 1, 1930, in Denguin in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Mr. Bourdieu had a peasant farmer- turned-postman as a father. Gascon, now a moribund regional dialect, was spoken at home. Young Pierre nonetheless proved a bright student, attending the region's best high school before gaining entrance to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, the traditional cradle of French intellectuals, where he studied philosophy before turning to sociology.
Although he graduated at the top of his class, he felt something of an outsider as a poor man surrounded by children of the French elite, and that feeling continued even as he became part of the French intelligentsia. "A lot of what I've done has been in reaction to the École Normale," he said in an interview with The New York Times a year ago. "I think if I hadn't become a sociologist, I would have become very anti-intellectual. I was horrified by that world."
Beginning in 1958 he taught for two years at the University of Algiers just as the Algerian war for independence from France was gaining momentum. From this experience emerged his first book, "The Sociology of Algeria." After returning to France to teach in Lille and Paris, he married the former Marie-Claire Brisard in 1962. She and their children, Jérôme, Emmanuel and Laurent, survive him.
Later, while assuming an ever more prominent role as a sociology teacher, he stepped up the pace of his publications. "Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste," published in France in 1979 and in the United States in 1984, was named one of the 20th century's 10 most important works of sociology by the International Sociological Association. Among his other influential works are "State Nobility: Elite Schools in the Field of Power," "Homo Academicus," "Pascalian Meditations," "On Television" and "The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Societies," which he edited.
A soft-spoken man who seemed to enjoy provoking other intellectuals, Mr. Bourdieu had a fatalistic view of the social and economic possibilities available to most people, believing that they entered adulthood with the experiences that would determine their success or failure. "The point of my work is to show that culture and education aren't simply hobbies or minor influences," he told The Times. "They are hugely important in the affirmation of differences between groups and social classes and in the reproduction of those differences."
Persuaded that most people in France did not have a fair chance to rise in society, he came to favor the underdog, above all those fighting against perceived injustices wrought by unfettered capitalism.
Among those whom he supported was José Bové, who gained fame in 1999 by leading small farmers in France on an attack against McDonald's. Today, Mr. Bové was among those remembering Mr. Bourdieu warmly. "For him," Mr. Bové said, "life itself was a commitment."