The Difficulty of Reproduction. Notes on the Notion of Habitus in Bourdieu

Despite all the efforts of Bourdieu by moving away from both the objectivism, as the subjectivism is relatively common to hear criticism that placed him in a position objectivist. For example:

Thus Bourdieu’s efforts to ‘trascend’ the opposition between objectivism and subjectivism in the end it seems to boil down to little more than lip service to the intention to transcend it combined with a decidedly objectivist slant in current practice (Van der Berg 1996: 219)

In this the concept of habitus is central: If the habitus is a disposition based on the circumstances of structural what place there would be action in this? Such an outcome would be structural, and the people just run the structure. There is a space for action, but this is relatively irrelevant. The habitus is a form of reproduction:

But in general the theory of Bourdieu may well be considered a theory of the morfoestasis, as the various social practices, to the extent that are governed by the habitus contribute to the reproduction of the social conditions of objective in which this has been produced. Somehow it is as if the habitus tends to its own reproduction through the practices of the agents (Aguilar, 2009: 20)

And in that playing space for the action does not seem to be very relevant, is something relatively trivial (‘no more than’ in the following quote from Martuccelli)

The habitus is the incorporation of a social space structured, thanks to which the history and the action of each agent is not more than a specification of the history and the collective structures of class (Martuccelli 2013: 112)

Even among those who emphasize the open character of the habitus (that is, remind the party that it is a structure of structuring) can not fail to mention their limitations in this regard. There is action, because the habitus does not determine, but she doesn’t innovate:

Without going into more detail on logical subtleties, it is evident that a thing is the contingency related practices, its non-determination, and other creative or innovative character. Our proposal is that the concept of habitus, rather than support the creativity of practices, the presupposes and contemplates as a possibility (Christian, 2011: 50)

In general, then the sociology of Bourdieu what that does is minimize the action, given that it focuses more on reproducing the structure (within certain limits, is not completely determined). Beyond the correctness of these views (can you explain Bourdieu the change or the creativity?), what interests us is rather to emphasize an element that many times is hidden in these discussions: The fact that reproduction involves an important job, that requires all the capacity of action of the agent. It may be true that the theory of the habitus, not the count of the dimensions by which it has been criticized, but it is necessary to insist on the role of action in it, a role that is not limited to occupy the ‘degrees of freedom’ which gives the structure.

In relation to their ethnological studies in Béarn (France) Nieto Calleja reminds us that:

Bourdieu proposes that the individual is a social agent driven by an interest, personal or collective (group, family) and why does their practice in the framework developed by their habitus. That is to say that, on the basis of a reduced set of some normative principles, which correspond to a social position and a material condition, the agent will develop the strategy that best fits their objectives, Applied to the field of kinship, this perspective allows us to show the people making crucial decisions for the marriages of their descendants; and by so doing, the agents determine, preserve or improve the social status of the family (Nieto Calleja, 2012: 484)

Richard Swedberg reminds us, in relation to the analysis of the purchase of the house in the Social Structures of the Economy that:

As the sales agent knows, most buyers dream of a house that is very far from what they can afford. If they are to end up with a house at all, they typically have to choose something that is quite different from their original vision. The sales agents, in short, have to convince the buyers to settle for less. They have to engage in what Bourdieu describes as ‘work of mourning’ (Swedberg 2011: 77)

In both cases the appointments should let us clear that in those situations that the actor is actually acting: you are Not limited to repeating a structure. For the actor there is a lot at stake (the children may not marry or marry ‘bad’, the house can not be sold or I can buy/ sell a bad house). From the perspective of the reproduction may not be very relevant (in any case the structure is reproduced), but such playback requires an actor who is performing a job that is difficult and requires your full attention.

What that shows us, then, Bourdieu, with all the faults that you may have your argument, is something that we should not forget: the reproduction of social life is a task that requires all the effort of the actors. And it is for this reason that the actor is an actor in the play. It is not strange to find sometimes authors (for example, within the sociology of French, is as you can interpret Dubet in the Sociology of Experience) for whom there is only action when it comes out of the tradition or of the reproduction, the actor is really an actor when you create something new. But that implies to trivialize the achievement in practice of the actions for playback.

In the end, it is from the point of view of the ‘structure’ that is trivial, what happens in those situations, but for the actors, what is at play is crucial (the difference between that ‘things go well’ or evil is central to them). It is curious, then, that sociologies that presumably defend the actor evaluate situations from the structural point of view, and lose sight of what is important to the actor.



Christian, Javier (2011) Habitus and Imagination, Revista Mexicana de Sociologíto 73, 1: 47-72

Martuccelli, Danilo (2013) Sociologies of Modernity. Santiago: LOM. Original 1999

Nieto Calleja, Raúl (2012) Pierre Bourdieu: Ethnologist, Sociologist and Anthropologist, pp 469-503 in the Treaty on the Methodology of the Social Sciences (De la Garza Toledo and Leyva (eds) Mexico: FCE

Swedberg, Richard (2011) ” The Economic Sociologies of Pierre Bourdieu, Cultural Sociology, 5, 1: 67-82

Van der Berg, Axel (1996) Is sociological theory too grand for social mechanisms? pp 204-237 in Social Mechanisms (Hedström and Swedberg eds) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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