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


Capital is an important part of this equation just as the habitus is; however, fields and the complex interaction of these elements need to be discussed to make sense of how the equation works. Bourdieu's use of the word 'field' is obviously a metaphor for a space, or arena in which a game-like scenario is played out. The field is the objective element in the equation: 'a field consists of a set of objective, historical relations between positions anchored in certain forms of power (or capital)' (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 16). Here Bourdieu is arguing that the field in which a game is being played, while objective, can only exist because the agents, as players with capital, thus have a certain amount of the power necessary to take part. Bourdieu argues that there are different fields, such as the educational field (Bourdieu, 1977), the artistic or literary field (Bourdieu, 1993b), or the political field (Bourdieu, 2000). There may be others also, such as the legal field or the media field. These, for Bourdieu, are definite bounded environments, where actors in possession of various forms of capital can draw upon and use this capital in a game-like scenario to achieve success.

However, the possession of capital is sometimes only valid in certain fields, and an actor outside of his or her field may not be able to play the game competently and therefore not achieve as much success as others. That is, actors draw on capital to make moves, which are similar to moves in a game. This suggests that there has to be a certain amount of 'know-how' to play the game competently, and certain rules have to be followed in the game; some actors, if in possession of the correct type of capital in the corresponding type of field, have a better understanding of the rules than others. They may know what moves to make to achieve success. This is what Bourdieu calls 'know-how' or 'feel for the game', and it is when the habitus is of importance because the rules, as objective conditions in the field, may become incorporated and embodied into the actor's habitus and are drawn upon to make decisions when in a game situation. This ability to make the correct decision develops through experience over time and exposure to these circumstances. Thus, the 'habitus consists of a set of historical relations "deposited" within individual bodies in the form of mental and corporeal schemata of perception, appreciation and action' (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 16). Actors, because of their habitus, which has certain types of knowledge and skill embodied in it, have developed a 'feel for their particular game' without having had the rules explicitly explained or absolutely calculating every single move within the field/game scenario; rather they have an intuitive knowledge based on past experience. They are familiar and thus competent because of the historical relations deposited and embodied within them, which are drawn upon and used for the purposes of achieving a desired outcome. A player with the correct type of institutionalized and embodied capital can be a successful player in a corresponding field. Thus the habitus embodies particular skills and knowledge that predispose actors or players to success within that field. To this extent, agents who are competent and successful have what is called symbolic power. Conversely, players who are not competent and are in effect dominated by powerful players experience what Bourdieu terms symbolic violence. This is a situation whereby agents are not recognized because they have the wrong habitus and capital in that field. They are thus constrained, hindered, unable to exercise any real power within the field which would lead to a degree of success.

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