HABITUS capital FIELD doxa

It seems almost juvenile that I am only now engaging with Bourdieu in any critical way, but engineering disciplines do often lead to a reliance on scientific rationalism, not necessarily the area in which one encounter Bourdieu. But the bastardization of social and cultural capital by capitalists have driven my attention to the original conceptions theorized by Bourdieu.  To start, I wanted to quickly discuss the main components of his theory of distinction, or the idea of difference and how it is structured in our lives.  His conceptions of habitus, field, capital, and doxa are all central to the idea of difference, and essential to understanding his intentions to break the structure-agency dualism. 

The schemes of habitus which are the primary forms of classification, function below the level of consciousness and language beyond the reach of introspective scrutiny of control by will.  To speak of habitus is to include in the object the knowledge which the agents, who are part of the object, have of the object, and the contribution this knowledge makes to reality of the object.  In this paraphrased section of Bourdieu’s discussion of Distinction in his book Practical Reason, he also does away with the modernist subject/object dualism.  Habitus is the embodied social structures which create our taste, our dispositions, and are heavily influenced by our endowment of capital, both cultural and economic, their ratio and their amount.  Social capital for Bourdieu is more about privilege and structure than “networks of bridging and building relationships” related to civil society (like Putnam).  In The Forms of Capital Bourdieu defines social capital as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition,” where relationships are not only endowed but deliberately built by motivations of capital gain.

“Through the differentiated and differentiating conditionings associated with the different conditions of existence, which govern the social structure and the structuring force it exerts, the social order is progressively inscribed in people’s minds: social divisions become principles of division, organizing the image of the social world, and putting people in their places. ” Sense is an important word because it denotes a movement from rigidity or reality, such that our mental structures are different from our social structures, because the primary experience of the social world is doxa, an adherence to the relations which are accepted as self-evident because they structure inseparably the real world and the thought world. But this is a misrecognition because these social structures are internalized, made to be thought of as reality, when the orchestration of categories of perception of the social world are presented in every appearance as objective necessity, that the dominated are conscribed by the illusion of objective limits.

The sense of social space, like every practical sense, always refers to the particular situation which it has to orient practices. We do not realize, in an act of cognition, the sense of social structure defined by our tastes (dispositions or Habitus), is social necessity made second nature, turned into practice.  In the first chapter of Practical Reason Bourdieu explains habitus and dispositions with a seeming loss of agency:  “these enacted choices imply no acts of choosing”. That is, our actions are informed by the embodied social structures.  And if we were to think about our “sense of place,” our correct actions for our positions (fields), then “Challenging the principles of the incarnate social order, violates the mental order, scandalously flouting common sense” (This is the notion of doxa which deeply resonates with Gramscian common sense). Does Bourdieu offer revolutionary insights? Possibly, but he himself was seeking a more perfect science of society and maybe did not let this part of his life shine through his work ( he was a member of the Communist Party).

Bourdieu’s work speaks volumes to urban studies folks. Although his discussions, in my cursory reading, do not acknowledge inequality based on race.  The pertinence principle is the notion of perceiving the social world and which defines all the characteristics of persons or things which can be perceived, and is based on the interest that individuals or groups have in recognizing a feature and identifying a group or individual by that feature (stigmatization). Clearly, the exercise of power and domination through subjectification by labeling “others” with race, class, and gender differences are an extension of this principle. Bourdieu describes attributive judgment as the way someone classifies another by speaking of them in a certain way and labeling judgments as accusations of only one part of the properties constituting the social identity of an individual or group (name calling, stigmatization, etc). What can we take away from this in our search for alternatives to capitalist liberal democracy? How can we improve our institutions? Does PB offer any insights?


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One comment

  1. Reblogged this on My Desiring-Machines and commented:
    bourdieu is rearing his head for me again, thanks to beasley-murray…

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