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'''Habitus''' is a complex concept referring primarily to the non-discursive aspects of culture that bind individuals to larger groups.
Origin of Concept
as "body techniques" (techniques du corps) and further developed by
in the 1930s, habitus can sometimes be understood as those aspects of culture that are anchored in the body or daily practices of individuals, groups, societies, and nations. It includes the totality of learned habits, bodily skills, styles, tastes, and other non-discursive knowledges that might be said to "go without saying" for a specific group -- in that way it can be said to operate beneath the level of
. One work that employs the concept of habitus in a specific context is James F. English's ''The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value'' (Harvard UP 2005).
Habitus in Bourdieu's Social Theory
The concept is sometimes (incorrectly) said to originate in the "genetic" structuralist theory of
, who adopts the concept and considerably expands its meaning. Bourdieu extended the scope of the term to include a person's
s and dispositions.
The concept of habitus is foundational to Bourdieu’s theory of
. Bourdieu combined a
framework with close attention to
. A key relationship in bridging
in social research, for Bourdieu, is that between habitus and field via practices. To study the subjective-objective nature of
, the researcher may take on the perspectives of both research subject and observer in kind of double participant observation, which combines the objective study of the world with
knowledge of the subject(s) of the study. The double objectification in his method is described by Jenkins (1992:50), “First, there is the work done in the act of observation and the objectification or distortion of social reality which it is likely to produce. Second, there is an awareness of that distortion and of the observer as a competent social actor in his/her own right.”
A problem with the conceptualization of habitus can be seen to enter in Bourdieu’s view of
(or perhaps this is a strength). In Bourdieu's focus on practices and habitus, they are neither objectively
nor products of
. Habitus are cultural structures that exist in people’s bodies and minds. Fields are sets of relations in the world. Through practices, fields condition habitus and habitus inform fields. Practices mediate between the inside and outside. But, habitus cannot be directly observed, and habitus are conditioned structures.
In Bourdieu's theory,
is not directly observable in practices or in the habitus, but only in the experience of subjectivity. Hence, some argue that Bourdieu’s project could be said to retain an objectivist bias from
. Further, some critics charge that Bourdieu's "habitus" governs so much of an individual's social makeup that it significantly limits the concept of human agency. In Bourdieu's references to "habitus" it sometimes seems as if so much of an individual's disposition is predetermined by the social habitus that such pre-dispositions cannot be altered or left behind.
Defenders of Bourdieu argue that such critics have misunderstood and exaggerated the conservative extent of "habitus" in Bourdieu. Bourdieu allows agency its location within the bounded structures of society and self. And, Bourdieu advocates a method for researchers to include diverse cultural voices in their work.
Bourdieu's methodology, if imperfect in some theory aspects, and the
are two important contemporary efforts to advance social research methods which reconcile the division of subjectivity and objectivity which plagues the
Scholars Researching "Habitus" in the Field
Loic J.D. Wacquant]
*Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. ''Outline of a Theory of Practice''. Cambridge University Press.
*Elias, Norbert. ''The Civilizing Process''.
*Jenkins, Richard. 1992. ''Pierre Bourdieu''. London: Routledge.
*Mauss, Marcel. 1934. "Les Techniques du corps",[
] ''Journal de Psychologie'' 32 (3-4). Reprinted in Mauss, ''Sociologie et anthropologie'', 1936, Paris: PUF.
*MacLeod, Jay. 1995. ''Ain't No Makin' It''. Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.
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