Works by title

Pierre Bourdieu

The logic of practice

Tr. by R. Nice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press1990 [1980].


On habitus

Because they tend to reproduce the regularities immanent in the conditions in which their generative principle was produced while adjusting to the demands inscribed as objective potentialities in the situation as defined by the cognitive and motivating structures that constitute the habitus, practices cannot be deduced either from the present conditions which may seem to have provoked them or from the past conditions which have produced the habitus, the durable principle of their production. They can therefore only be accounted for by relating the social conditions in which the habitus that generated them was constituted, to the social conditions in which it is implemented, that is, through the scientific work of performing the interrelationship of these two states of the social world that the habitus performs, while concealing it, in and through practice. The 'unconscious', which enables one to dispense with this interrelating, is never anything other than the forgetting of history which history itself produces by realizing the objective structures that it generates in the quasi-natures of habitus. As Durkheim (1977: 11) puts it:

`In each one of us, in differing degrees, is contained the person we were yesterday, and indeed, in the nature of things it is even true that our past personae predominate in us, since the present is necessarily insignificant when compared with the long period of the past because of which we have emerged in the form we have today. It is just that we don't directly feel the influence of these past selves precisely because they are so deeply rooted within us. They constitute the unconscious part of ourselves. Consequently we have a strong tendency not to recognize their existence and to ignore their legitimate demands. By contrast, with the most recent acquisitions of civilization we are vividly aware of them just because they are recent and consequently have not had time to be assimilated into our collective unconscious.'

this is altogether a cooptation of Durkheim rather than an attempt to incorporate what makes his writings on education powerful. Durkheim argued repeatedly against making sociability (and social reproduction) dependent on habits. It is dependent on the enforcement of rules through institutions (Varenne 1995). Durkheim seems to have assumed that participation does produce habits--as in this quote, or perhaps better, in the first part of the quote, since, by the end, Durkheim is talking about the "collective unconscious" and may, in the early part, have been talking about someting more akin to Jung's archetypes than about early socialization. Altogether Durkheim may be more interested in the "most recent acquisitions" or which "we are vividly aware." Thus the need to educate since we cannot rely on socialization.

The habitus – embodied history, internalized as a second nature and so forgotten as history – is the active presence of the whole past of which it is the product. As such, it is what gives practices their relative autonomy with respect to external determinations of the immediate present. This autonomy is that of the past, enacted and acting, which, functioning as accumulated capital, produces history on the basis of history and so ensures the permanence in change that makes the individual agent a world within the world. The habitus is a spontaneity without consciousness or will, opposed as much to the mechanical necessity of things without history in mechanistic theories as it is to the reflexive freedom of subjects 'without inertia' in rationalist theories.

Thus the dualistic vision that recognizes only the self-transparent act of consciousness or the externally determined thing has to give way to the real logic of action, which brings together two objectifications of history, objectification in bodies and objectification in institutions or, which amounts to the same thing, two states of capital, objectified and incorporated, through which a distance is set up from necessity and its urgencies. This logic is seen in paradigmatic form in the dialectic of expressive dispositions and instituted means of expression (morphological, syntactic and lexical instruments, literary genres, etc.) which is observed fn the intentionless invention of regulated improvisation. Endlessly overtaken by his own words, with which he maintains a relation of 'carry and be carried', as Nicolai Hartmann put it, the virtuoso finds in his discourse the triggers for his discourse, which goes along like a train laying is own rails (Ruyer 1966: 136). In other words, being produced by a modus operandi which is not consciously mastered, the discourse contains an 'objective intention', as the Scholastics put it, which outruns the conscious intentions of its apparent author and constantly offers new pertinent stimuli to the modus operandi of which it is the product and which functions as a kind of 'spiritual automaton'. If witticisms strike as much by their unpredictability as by their retrospective necessity, the reason is that the trouvaille that brings to light long buried resources presupposes a habitus that so perfectly possesses the objectively available means of expression that it is possessed by them, so much so that it asserts its ireedom from them by realizing the rarest of the possibilities that they necessarily imply. The dialectic of the meaning of the language and the `sayings of the tribe' is a particular and particularly significant case of the dialectic between habitus and institutions, that is, between two modes of objectification of past history, in which there is constantly created a history that inevitably appears, like witticisms, as both original and inevitable.

This durably installed generative principle of regulated improvisations is a practical sense which reactivates the sense objectified in institutions. Produced by the work of inculcation and appropriation that is needed in order for objective structures, the products of collective history, to be reproduced in the form of the durable, adjusted dispositions that are the condition of their functioning, the habitus, which is constituted in the course of an individual history, imposing its particular logic on incorporation, and through which agents partake of the history objectified in institutions, is what makes it possible to inhabit institutions, to appropriate them practically, and so to keep them in activity, continuously pulling them from the state of dead letters, reviving the sense deposited in them, but at the same time imposing the revisions and transformations that reactivation entails.

note the functional, universalistic, argumentation

  • there are products of collective history
  • their functioning is conditioned on durable, adjusted dispositions ... constituted in the course of an individual history
  • these dispositions is what makes it possible to inhabit the institutions
  • work is needed to inculcate these dispositions
  • without this work the reproduction of the institutions would not be possible. They would die.
  • though the work of reactivation imposes revisions and transformations
Bourdieu then expands by emphasizing further the fucntional need for individual incorporation

Or rather, the habitus is what enables the institution to attain full realization: it is through the capacity for incorporation, which exploits the body's readiness to take seriously the performative magic of the social, at the king, the banker or the priest are hereditary monarchy, financial capitalism or the Church made flesh. Property appropriates its owner, embodying itself in the form of a structure generating practices perfectly conforming with its logic and its demands. If one is justified in saying, with Marx, that 'the lord of an entailed estate, the first-born son, belongs to the land', that 'it inherits him', or that the 'persons' of capitalists are the 'personification' of capital, this is because the purely social and quasi-magical process of socialization, which is inaugurated by the act of marking that institutes an individual as an eldest son, an heir, a successor, a Christian, or simply as a man (as opposed to a woman), with all the corresponding privileges and obligations, and which is prolonged, strengthened and confirmed by social treatments that tend to transform instituted difference into natural distinction, produces quite real effects, durably inscribed in the body and in belief. An institution, even an economy, is complete and fully viable only if it is durably objectified not only in things, that is, in the logic, transcending individual agents, of a particular field, but also in bodies, in durable dispositions to recognize and comply with the demands immanent in the field.

In so far – and only in so far – as habitus are the incorporation of the same history, or more concretely, of the same history objectified in habitus and structures, the practices they generate are mutually intelligible and immediately adjusted to the structures, and also objectively concerted and endowed with an objective meaning that is at once unitary and systematic, transcending subjective intentions and conscious projects, whether individual or collective. One of the fundamental effects of the harmony between practical sense and objectified meaning (sens) is the production of a common-sense world, whose immediate self-evidence is accompanied by the objectivity provided by consensus on the meaning of practices and the world, in other words the harmonization of the agents' experiences and the constant reinforcement each of them receives from expression –individual or collective (in festivals, for example), improvised or programmed (commonplaces, sayings) – of similar or identical experiences.

The homogeneity of habitus that is observed within the limits of a class of conditions of existence and social conditionings is what causes practices and works to be immediately intelligible and foreseeable, and hence taken for granted. The habitus makes questions of intention superfluous, not only in the production but also in the deciphering of practices and works.' Automatic and impersonal, significant without a signifying intention, ordinary practices lend themselves to an understanding that is no less automatic and impersonal. The picking up of the objective intention they express requires neither 'reactivation' of the `lived' intention of their originator, nor the 'intentional transfer into the Other' cherished by the phenomenologists and all advocates of a `participationise conception of history or sociology, nor tacit or explicit inquiry ('What do you mean?') as to other people's intentions. `Communciation of consciousnesses' presupposes community of cunconsciouses' (that is, of linguistic and cultural competences). Deciphering the objective intention of practices and works has nothing to do with 'reproduction' (Nachbildung, as the early Dilthey puts it) of lived experiences and the unnecessary and uncertain reconstitution of an 'intention' which is not their real origin.

The objective homogenizing of group or class habitus that results from homogeneity of conditions of existence is what enables practices to be objectively harmonized without any calculation or conscious reference to a norm and mutually adjusted in the absence of any direct interaction or, a fortiori, explicit co-ordination. The interaction itself owes its form ti the objective structures that have produced the dispositions of the interaction, agents, which continue to assign them their relative positions in the interaction and elsewhere. 'Imagine', Leibniz suggests (1866c: 548), `two clocks or watches in perfect agreement as to the time. This may occur one of three ways. The first consists in mutual influence; the second is to appoint a skilful workman to correct them and synchronize constantly; the third is to construct these two clocks with such art and precision that one can be assured of their subsequent agreement.'

It is fascinating that Bourdieu should turn to a 17th century philosopher. Had he turned to 20th century science or technology, he would have had to face that it is a principle of time/space that two watches can never be in perfect agreement--unless they exchange information about each other either directly (through direct influence) or indirectly (through a third person/object that corrects both. Why human society should not be under similar constraints (given what we also know about the limits of learning) is something that Bourdieu systematically refuses to address--though he is not beyond ridiculing what he calls next "naive art-ificalism"--leading of course to his recurrent attacks on ethnomethodology, the field in sociology that emphasizes precisely the constitutive reality of art-fullness)

So long as one ignore the true principle of the conductorless orchestration which gives regularity, unity and systematicity to practices even in the absence of any spontaneous or imposed organization of individual projects, one is condemned to the naive artificialism that recognizes no other unifying principle than conscious co-ordination. The practices of the members of the same group or, in
differentiated society, the same class, are always more and better harmonized than the agents know or wish, because, as Leibniz again says, 'following only (his) own laws', each 'nonetheless agrees with the other'. The habitus is precisely this immanent law, lex insita, inscribed in bodies by identical histories, which is the precondition not only for the co-ordination of practices but also for practices of co-ordination. The corrections and adjustments the agents themselves consciously carry out presuppose mastery of a common code; and undertakings of collective mobilization cannot succeed without a minimum of concordance between the habitus of the mobilizing agents (prophet, leader, etc.) and the dispositions of those who recognize themselves in their practices or words, and, above all, without the inclination towards grouping that springs from the spontaneous orchestration of dispositions.

It is certain that every effort at mobilization aimed at organizing collective action has to reckon with the dialectic of dispositions and occasions that takes place in every agent, whether he mobilizes or is mobilized (the hysteresis of habitus is doubtless one explanation of the structural lag between opportunities and the dispositions to grasp them which is the cause of missed opportunities and, in particular, of the frequently observed incapacity to think historical crises in categories of perception and thought other than those of the past, however revolutionary). It is also certain that it must take account of the objective orchestration established among dispositions that are objectively co-ordinated because they are ordered by more or less identical objective necessities. It is, however, extremely dangerous to conceive collective action by analogy with individual action, ignoring all that the former owes to the relatively autonomous logic of the institutions of mobilization (with their own history, their specific Organization, etc.) and to the situations, institutionalized or not, in which it occurs.

Sociology treats as identical all biological individuals who, being the Products of the same objective conditions, have the same habitus. A social class (in-itself) – a class of identical or similar conditions of existence and conditionings – is at the same time a class of biological individuals having the same habitus, understood as a system of dispositions common to all products of the same conditionings. (p. 56-58)



Practical belief is not a "state of mind," still less a kind of arbitrary adherence to a set of instituted dogmas and doctrines ("beliefs"), but rather a state of the body. Doxa is the relationship of immediate adherence that is established in practice between a habitus and the field to which it is attuned, the pre-verbal taking-for-granted of the world that flows from practical sense. (p. 68)

The State

In modern societies, the State makes a decisive contribution towards the production and reproduction of the instruments of construction of social reality. As an organizational structure and as an authority regulating practices, it exerts a. permanent action of formation of durable dispositions, through all the constraints and disciplines that it imposes uniformly on all agents. In particular, in reality and. in people's minds it imposes all the fundamental principles of classification - sex, age, `competence', etc.- through the imposition of divisions into social, categories -- such as active/inactive - which are the product of the application of cognitive `categories', which are thus reified. and naturalized. It is the source of the symbolic efficacy of all the rites of institution, those which are performed through the functioning of the educational system, which, between those it selects and those it eliminates, sets up durable and often definitive symbolic differences, universally recognized within the area of its authority (p. 175).

(Bourdieu on ethnomethodology)

December 2006 [2003]