The focus of my primary source blog is the term Habitus, that was coined by the French philosopher, sociologist, and anthropologist. One of his primarily work focused on the dynamics of power in society. Habitus is a mechanism for operation of power in society as it refers to a mental construct consisting of a set of social expectations within a particular group. Habitus is a learned social concept, it is not an individual concept, as mentioned in class and many of the readings, it is an unconscious practical logic (Farnell, 2000: 399). I believe it is an important concept to dwell upon as it presents an anomaly of perspective depending on space and place.
Habitus is constantly interconnected to structure and agency where both rest within the Habitus, shaping one another. Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their free choices while the structure is formed by peoples view of the world and how we experience it. Habitus is defined as a “socially constituted system of cognitive and motivating structures…in which the agent’s interests are represented without consciousness or will” (Dornan, 2002: 306). Beginning with the concept of Habitus, it first originated in tandem with the porto-structural anthropology of Durkheim and Mauss and the post- Sausserian structural anthropology of Levi-Strauss (Lizardo, 2004: 376). It is composed of two aspects, the perceptual and classifying, and the practical action. The first of the two is connected to the earlier scholar mentioned; whereas, the second is practical and does not connect well with social theory lineages, as it moves beyond Hussar’s phenomenology (Lizardo, 2004: 379)
The concept of Habitus is guided by historical knowledge as it came from earlier approaches; it follows the past processes as it guides and shapes the future. An example mentioned in class was the analogy of the chair. There is a purpose for the chair. People sit on it with their two feet facing downwards. From a very young age, you are taught to stand straight in an upward position. Furthermore, you are given toys and various other things that help you unconsciously understand how to do things or react to certain objects. It is not something that is consciously taught but guided by the society in which we live. In lieu, many other factors and situations in time and space allow for us to react in similar ways. There may be circumstances that ask for you to act in particular ways. Depending on the culture one is from individuals will act in similar ways as an automatic response. It may look bizarre to some, but entirely acceptable to others. However, if a particular person acts out of the norm, then it is seen as strange because most people from the same culture do things in a shared pattern.
Concerning an archaeological setting, another example is that of the Berber House. The house is fundamentally divided by the homologous opposition. Space itself is divided into male and female, fire and water, dark and live and many other patterns of activities that are all in opposition with one another (Sewell, 1992, p. 14). These are all examples of underlying schemas. Bourdieu argues that the mental structure that constructs the world of objects themselves are built in the practice according to the same structure (Sewell, 1992, p. 14). As a result, Bourdieu’s theory of practice recognizes that the reproduction of schemas are what he calls Habitus (Sewell, 1992, p. 15). The Berber house article (1970), mentions that “Man is the lamp of the outside and woman the lamp of the inside” these are set stone and passed down as traditions that one follows (Bourdieu, 140). Thus, there is no questioning about the different spaces and why they are fundamentally divided in such ways. However, it is unconsciously accepted that there are certain modes of living within the Kabyle house. Furthermore, the unquestioned tradition is not broken but continued culturally across time.
Community’s habits can be shaped by the past circumstances that were handed down through different generations through the use of wisdom and sayings (Ucko and Layton, 1999: 7). Habits thus enable people to endure changing situations because they have a set of learnt common principles that help them during their unforeseen circumstances. These practices may sometimes leave its mark on the landscape. An example is if there is an environmental crisis, but because of the availability of one’s habitus they population can survive the circumstance. The community as a whole may have built a structure, or there is evidence left from the environmental crisis at a given point in time then future populations can look at the structure from the past and adapt to the crisis in similar ways. There is a transfer of knowledge over successive generations as the patterns of reference become habitual, and archaeologist is also able to learn from the habits and structure (Ucko and Layton, 1999: 12).
Habitus produces practice and representation, and it implies a sense of one’s place, but also a sense of place of others (Bourdieu, 1989: 9). It produces practices and representations that are objectively differentiated. Therefore, it implies that there are agents that classify themselves, through their choice and things that suit their position and status in society (Bourdieu, 1989:19). There is a sense of social space associated with the symbolic power. Therefore, nothing classifies a way in which one classifies themselves. Hence, the practices and positions in social space can be identified through our habitus as we can obtain and correspond to these practices and have the common sense to understand the different views and how it works across the social space.
Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Berber House or the World Reversed.” Social Science Information 9, no.2 (1970):132-141.
Bourdieu, Pierre. “Social space and symbolic power.” Sociological theory 7, no. 1 (1989): 14-25.
Dornan, Jennifer L. “Agency and archaeology: Past, present, and future directions.” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 9, no. 4 (2002): 303-329.
Farnell, Brenda. “Getting out of the habitus: an alternative model of dynamically embodied social action.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 6, no. 3 (2000): 397-418.
Lizardo, Omar. “The cognitive origins of Bourdieu’s habitus.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 34, no. 4 (2004): 375-401.
Sewell Jr, William H. “A theory of structure: Duality, agency, and transformation.” American journal of sociology (1992): 1-29.
Ucko, Peter J., and Robert Layton. “The archaeology and anthropology of landscape.” Shaping Your Landscape. London [ua]: Routledge (1999).