From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Habitus is a complex concept referring primarily to the non-discursive aspects of culture that bind individuals to larger groups.


[edit] Origin of concept

Introduced by Marcel Mauss as "body techniques" (techniques du corps) and further developed by Norbert Elias 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 ideology. 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).

Loic Wacquant wrote that habitus is an old philosophical notion, originating in the thought of Aristotle and of the medieval Scholastics, that was retrieved and reworked after the 1960s by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to forge a dispositional theory of action suited to reintroducing the inventive capacity of agents within structuralist anthropology .

[edit] Habitus in Bourdieu's social theory

The concept is sometimes (incorrectly) said to originate in the "genetic" structuralist theory of Pierre Bourdieu, who adopts the concept and considerably expands its meaning. Bourdieu extended the scope of the term to include a person's beliefs and dispositions.

The concept of habitus is foundational to Bourdieu’s theory of social research. Bourdieu combined a structuralist framework with close attention to subjectivity in social context. A key relationship in bridging objectivism and subjectivism in social research, for Bourdieu, is that between habitus and field via practices. To study the subjective-objective nature of social practices, 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 reflexive 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 social life (or perhaps this is a strength). In Bourdieu's focus on practices and habitus, they are neither objectively determined nor products of free will. 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, agency 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 structuralism. 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 structuration theory of Anthony Giddens are two important contemporary efforts to advance social research methods which reconcile the division of subjectivity and objectivity which plagues the social sciences.

[edit] Definition of Habitus

The concept of habit or habitus refers to '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.' -- Marcel Mauss

[edit] Scholars researching "habitus" in the field

[edit] North America

Anthropologist Philippe Bourgois also incorporates the concept of "habitus" into much of his work with injection drug users in the San Francisco area.


[edit] See also

  • National habitus

[edit] Further reading

  • 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",[2] 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.