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Outline and assess Bourdieu's concepts of habitus, capital and field.

Outline and assess Bourdieu's concepts of habitus, capital and field.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Erin McVeigh. Originally submitted for Sociological Theory Level 3 at University College Dublin, with lecturer Sean L'Estrange in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Erin McVeigh. Originally submitted for Sociological Theory Level 3 at University College Dublin, with lecturer Sean L'Estrange in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
1In this essay I will be assessing Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of habitus, field andcapital, by using gender as a paradigm I will be exploring the sociological processes suchconcepts can help to explain. Pierre Bourdieu was one of the most influential Frenchsociologists during the second half of the 20
th
century. The son of a postman, he was born in1930 in the agricultural region of Bearn in the Pyrenees, (Scott, 2009: 50). At the heart of hiswork was his effort to bridge subjectivism and objectivism, this lies in his concepts of habitusand field with their dialectical relationship to each other, (Ritzer, 2008: 530). A definition of the first of these concepts
habitus
refers to a set of acquired dispositions of thought,behaviour, and taste, which constitutes the link between social structures and social practiceor social action. This concept offers a possible basis for a cultural approach to structuralinequality and permits a focus on the embodiment of cultural representations in human habitsand routines, (Scott, 2009: 299). Therefore habitus is the mental or cognitive structures inwhich people deal with the social world, (Ritzer, 2008: 530-1). The second concept is that of field, according to Bourdieu each individual is assigned a position in a class of neighbouringpositions which are constituted by an individual's position within a particular region in socialspace itself. Since the properties and features constituting this space are always active, asocial space can be looked upon as a field of forces or a field of obligations and practiceswhich activate agents and which are imposed on the individuals within the social field inquestion. For Bourdieu the concepts of social fields, habitus, class disposition and the spaceof social classes redefines the theory of social class found in classical Marxism, and thecriticism of the concept of class that is put forward by poststructuralist theories, (Morrison,2006: 60-1). So while habitus exists in the minds of the actors, the field exists outside theirminds, (Ritzer, 2008: 530). The third concept I will be looking at is that of capital, accordingto Bourdieu, class groups can be identifiable by their varying levels of cultural and economiccapital. Professionals in public service, who are high in cultural capital and low in economic
 
2capital, tend to pursue healthy, active lifestyles involving exercise, low alcohol consumptionand participate in cultural and community activities, (Giddens, 2001: 296).In order to fully understand these concepts we have to view them in a sociologicalcontext. Bourdieu developed his theory of habitus to combine the objectivism of Durkheimwith the subjectivism of phenomenology. He developed an idea of socialisation through thenotion of habitus, which emphasized the skills and the different ways of looking at the worldthat people inherited from the unequal objectives of the social structures that surround them,(Scott, 2009: 50). You see people are endowed with a series of internalized schemes throughwhich they perceive, understand, appreciate, and evaluate the social world. So a habitus isacquired as a result of long term occupation of your position within the social world and itvaries depending on the nature of your position in that world, in other words not everyone hasthe same habitus, (Ritzer, 2008: 531). The habitus is not only a structuring structure, whichorganises the practices and the perception of p
ractices, but it’s a
lso a structured structure; theprinciple of division into logical classes that organises our perception of the social world andtherefore is itself the product of internalisation of the division into social classes, (Grusky,2001: 503). By looking at habitus as a system of models for the production of practices and asystem of models for the perception and appreciation of practices, you see its operationsexpress the social position in which it is constructed. As a result, the habitus producespractices and representations which are available for classification, which are objectivelydifferentiated; but they are immediately perceived as such only in the case of agents whopossess the code, the classificatory models necessary to understand their social meaning.Therefore habitus implies a 'sense of one's place' but also a 'sense of the other's place',(Bourdieu, 1990: 131).So you see for Bourdieu the argument is that the habitus is the site of the interplaybetween structure and practice. It is on the basis of habitus that Bourdieu defines social
 
3groups including social classes, since those who occupy similar positions in the socialstructure will have the same habitus. The problem is that while positions and practices can beobserved directly, habitus cannot, (Calhoun, 2002: 261).So now we know a little about the habitus and how it relates to everyday society Inow turn to the field which was seen by Bourdieu as that of relations rather than that of structures, this means that a field is a network of relationships among the objective positionswithin it. These relationships exist apart from an ind
ividual’s consciousness or 
will; they arenot interactions or inter subjective ties among individuals. You see the occupants of positions may be either agents or institutions, and they are constrained by the structure of thefield. There are a number of semiautonomous fields in the social world such as the artistic,religious and higher educational fields. All of these fields have their own specific logic andall generate among the actors a belief about the things that are at stake in that field, (Ritzer,2008: 532). Broadly speaking, a field is a domain of social life that has its own rules of organization, generates a set of positions, and supports the practices associated with them.Like players in a game, participants in social fields occupy different positions, (Calhoun,2002: 262). So while practice tends to shape habitus, habitus, in turn, serves to both unifyand generate practice. Although habitus is an internalized structure that constrains thoughtand choice of action, it does not determine them, therefore there is a sort of logic behindeverything people do; it is the logic of practice, (Ritzer, 2008: 532). So a person'seffectiveness or capital whether it is social, economic, or cultural within a particularinstitutional field results from the degree of asymmetry or conflict between the field and theirhabitus. Bourdieu explored the cultural and power dynamics of countless, interlinked, socialfields, he was consistently concerned to expose ideological legitimating myths, (Scott, 2009:50). While it may be difficult to separate class from status in conventional terms, Bourdieulike Weber who insisted on the distinction and believ
ed that it’
s key to understanding the role

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