What is Habitus?

A sociological concept, habitus is the culmination of ways in which individuals make meaning of their world and their place in it. People of similar backgrounds with regard to geographic location, economic class, religion and education will likely share similarities in their world view. This makes sense, as many of their experiences would overlap or be very much alike. Therefore, such a philosophy extends beyond an individual’s self perception to greater implications for larger, complex social groups. In essence, an individual will shape his or her future based on the habits, manners, moral beliefs, feelings and intuitions gained from past collective experiences. This approach can be quite complex. Let’s take a closer look at its components and ramifications in order to grasp a better understanding.

History of Habitus

Though the concept has been in existence since the days of Aristotle, it was brought to the forefront of modern thought by sociologist, Pierre Bordieu, whose work in this area of sociological study spanned several decades beginning with his 1967 postface to Gothic Architecture and Scholasticsm by Erwin Panofsky. Scholars of the 20th century who briefly explored the notion before Bordieu made it a cornerstone of sociological framework include Norbert Elias, Marcel Mauss, Max Weber, Giles Deleuze and Edmund Husserl.

Components of Habitus

Bordieu’s theory builds upon components of work by Noam Chomsky and Jean Piaget regarding the concepts of history and human memory. Under the umbrella of habitus, Bordieu proposed that a certain behavior, custom or belief became ingrained in the fabric of a culture’s core structure when the population could no longer recall its origins. This is an example of societal habitus. The concept can also be seen on an individual level in which a person’s social history acts upon him or her to influence the behaviors, choices and actions taken in the present. Therefore, each individual’s habitus is different; no two will be the same. There are, however, four components that make up what is known as one’s social field, or various realms, in which a person interacts. These fields can include life aspects such as career, academics, church or fiend group.

The four components identified by Boudrieu to exist within a field are:

  • Social capital – consists of peers, groups of friends, members, etc.
  • Cultural capital – refers to things such as knowledge, experience and networks (professional, academic, etc.)
  • Economic capital – comprised of money earned, property owned, potential earning ability, etc.
  • Symbolic capital – points to distinctions awarded to a person such as a title, honor, accomplishment or expertise

Each field contains its own dynamics within it in which those involved play out various power relations that are built on habitus and its components.

Impact of Habitus on Sociological Analysis

The ways in which sociologists analyze contemporary societies has been influenced heavily by Bourdieu’s theory of habitus. It is known and expected that researchers will examine subjects through their own lens of habitus. What is important is that these professionals are aware of this fact in order to remove their own bias as much as possible from their study results. Bourdieu’s theory has become most crucial to this aspect of contemporary sociological study.

The concept of habitus is one that is quite complex. It holds a number of dimensions that influence both the subjects of sociological study and the professionals performing the analysis.

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