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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement


Bourdieu's concept of the habitus arose out of a need to reconcile the structure-agency debate, or what Jenkins (1992) has described as the positions of plastic man (guided completely by structure) or autonomous man (the individual having complete free will). Essentially Bourdieu argues that the habitus incorporates the objective structures of society and the subjective role of agents within it (Jenkins, 1992: 3).

The habitus is:

the structures constitutive of a particular type of environment (e.g. the material conditions of existence characteristic of a class condition) produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representations which can be objectively 'regulated' and 'regular' without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them and, being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of the conductor. (1977: 72)

Bourdieu is arguing that as actors we enter into an environment that is already structured in a particular way, which produces habitus. Thereafter the habitus shapes the individual within that environment, but at the same time shapes and influences the constitutive structures of the environment that produced the habitus in the first place. So the habitus incorporates structure and agency and is a mutually influencing dynamic - the habitus is therefore a 'structuring structure'. As Crossley has argued, 'habitus is both structured and structuring, a product and producer of social worlds... [it] captures both the embodied performative aspect of social structures, and the mechanism whereby they are transmitted across generations and through historical time' (2003a: 43). As a concept, it helps explain how patterns of social action - practice - pertaining to social life are durable, why they are stable and why certain social practices are reproduced according to our social status throughout generations. Bourdieu (1984, 1996) used it to identify how social class distinction and elite privilege is reproduced in French society. A good example of this is the education system, where: class based advantages are passed from parents to children through the habitus, but as pre-reflective and habitual acquisitions they are generally misrecognized within the school as natural talents and are rewarded appropriately. The school thus launders cultural advantages, albeit unwittingly, transforming them into the hard clean currency of qualifications. (Crossley, 2003a: 43)

Thus the habitus embodies capital which can be used to achieve success. There are different forms of capital which is the topic for discussion in the next section.

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