Pierre Bourdieu: Habitus, Capital and Field

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  • Topic: Sociology, Pierre Bourdieu, Social capital
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  • Published : December 7, 2010
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Pierre Bourdieu was an acclaimed French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher, who is still noted today as being one of the most prominent and influential intellects in recent years. He is famous for his contributions to many subjects and areas, and much of his work is still considered today as being classics. His work is considered to be some of the most innovative and groundbreaking bodies of theory and research in contemporary social science. He is still prominent today for his many great contributions to the field of sociology, and though he has many revolutionary concepts, this essay will focus on three; Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital and field, and a key sociological factor these concepts help to explain. These three concepts have been continually developed throughout all of Bourdieu’s work. Habitus

Habitus is one of Bourdieu’s landmark concepts, and is considered one of his greatest contributions to the field of sociology. Habitus is a sociological concept that has been in use for many years; even Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, was familiar with the concept and developed his own theory on the concept of habitus. The concept has been adapted and reiterated by many prominent sociologists over the years, including Max Weber, Norbert Elias and Marcel Mauss. Mauss’ theory of habitus inspired Bourdieu; but Bourdieu developed the theory further and thus differences in the two concepts by the two different sociologists can be found. Mauss described habitus as the aspects of culture that are anchored in the body, or daily practises by individuals, groups, societies and nations. It is, according to Mauss, the set of habits, tastes and customs that lie beneath the surface of rational ideology. These habits and customs include most aspects of a person’s daily life, including speech and movement. Bourdieu was influenced by the work of these great and influential sociologists, however he developed his own theory that was different and arguably more developed than the other theories. Bourdieu classifies habitus as the dispositions an individual acquires in response to structures such as their family, class and the education they receive, and other conditions they encounter. He defines habitus as a "system of acquired dispositions functioning on the practical level as categories of perception and assessment or as classificatory principles as well as being the organizing principles of action" (1990, p. 13). It is the way people view the world and act in society based on the events they experience and their encounters in society. Individuals have no control over the matter; the culture and society we live in affects us and plays a major role in defining who we are. This means that habitus, the way we view and interpret the world is hugely affected by the society and culture around us, and by our class, gender, race, religious and political views, amongst others. As such, no person is ever totally individual and ‘free’; habitus influences every person to an enormous degree, and many people are never even aware of it. As such, habitus is neither completely voluntary nor completely involuntary. Habitus enables the individual to navigate their way in society and guides them in their choices, without ever being a strict set of rules to abide by. Capital

Capital, in sociological terms, is described as the assets an individual, group or society has in terms of economic wealth or possessions, or other assets that put the holder in a better position in society. Capital is inherited from the past and continuously created. Bourdieu largely distinguished between three different types of capital; cultural capital, economic capital and social capital. Bourdieu’s theory of capital played a prominent role in his work, and was developed continuously throughout his long career. Capital is an important concept as it helps to explain the difference in social status throughout the world, and how this inequality is repeatedly...
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