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Lecture 13 Practice theory: Bourdieu and the habitus

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1 Lecture 13 Practice theory: Bourdieu and the habitus

2 Search for agency Reaction against ‘structure’
‘Practice theory’ is not a coherent theory. The relation between structure and agency. Key words: praxis, action, interaction, activity, experience, performance, agent, actor, person, self, individual and subject. Motivation becomes a key concern. Emotion, the self, and subjectivity. How the social system can be produced and altered through the intentional actions and interaction of individuals.


4 Mauss – Techniques of the body
The culturally specific ways in which people came to be aware of and use their bodies Habitus: acquired embodied ability or facility instilled through processes of education and imitation. Practical reason.

5 Bourdieu – Theory of practice
Interested in overcoming the limitations of a ‘subjectivist/phenomenological’ and ‘objectivist’ positions. Phenomenology: focus on lived experience of the world which excludes the question of the conditions of possibility of this experience. Objectivism: views social world from ‘above’.

6 Bourdieu’s habitus “The conditionings associated with a particular class of conditions of existence produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organise practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them. Objectively ‘regulated’ and ‘regular’ without being in any way the product of obedience to rules, they can be collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organising action of a conductor.” (The Logic of Practice p.53)

7 Habitus – Practical knowledge
Developed through the process of socialisation during childhood Individuals are still free to follow their own strategies The goals and values on which these strategies are based are determined by the habitus The habitus is continually being developed through experience Avoid emphasis on social rules which are conformed to

8 Bodily hexis “Bodily hexis is political mythology realised, em-bodied, turned into a permanent disposition, a durable way of standing, speaking, walking, and thereby feeling and thinking. The opposition between male and female is realised in posture, in the gestures and movements of the body, in the form and opposition between straight and bent, between firmness, uprightness and directness ….and restraint, reserve and flexibility.” (Logic of Practice p60-70)

9 Embodied habitus Acquired through an unconscious process of practical imitation – a practical reproduction It is not knowledge which a person has but something a person is Since it is beyond the grasp of consciousness, it cannot be deliberately reflected upon or deliberately manipulated.

10 The habitus mediates experience
“Between the child and the world, the whole group intervenes ... with a whole universe of ritual practices and utterances, which people it with meanings structured in accordance with the principles of the corresponding habitus. Inhabited space – starting with the house – is the privileged site of the objectification of the generative schemes, and, through the divisions and hierarchies it establishes between things, between people and between practices, this materialised system of classification inculcates and constantly reinforces the principles of the classification which constitutes the arbitrariness of culture.” (Logic of Practice p.76)

11 Michael Jackson: embodied knowledge
Structuralist/interpretivist approach to ritual: What does it mean? Culture is not ‘superorganic’ Ritual and dance are a form of direct, embodied experience and knowledge – not consciously reflected upon

12 Kuranko Girls initiation ritual
When women dance they imitate male movements, activities and dress Not self-conscious, but spontaneous expressions of bodily practice which they have seen and experienced in their social world Initiation ritual disrupts the normal modes of being Creativity is circumscribed by the habitus

13 Embodied knowledge Initiation recreates the social order
People are informed by and give form to a habitus. Values of society are inscribed on the body Maturity is matter of common sense which is achieved when inner thoughts are consistent with spoken words and external actions – experiential truth rather than knowledge reflected upon

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