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Cultural Studies: Representation and Identity

Pierre Bourdieu

Starting Question:
  • How do we analyze the position of literature in society?  Or your chosen work in its society?
  • What are the social determinants of the identities you study? How do we define and describe their 'life stories' or ours?
  • How do you describe the 'habitus' of the author you analyze?
Main Ideas:
To radically contextualize a cultural product (e.g. a literary text), Bourdieu sees it as a product of an author's trajectory and strategies in his/her personal and class (collective) habitus in the field of cultural production which, in turn, is placed in the field of power.  While delineating the complicated interactions (homologous and antagonistic) in this field, Bourdieu tries to avoid seeing the author as either plastic man or autonomous man, or society as social machines or an aggregate of individual behaviors.

I.  Bourdieu's approaches to sociology and his main ideas  
2. Habitus & Social Practices  

3. the Field of Cultural Production  

I. Bourdieu's approaches to sociology and his main ideas: 

  his theory of cultural field: radical contextualization-- taking into consideration

  • works themselves--seen within the space of available possibilities and their historical development;
  • producers of works in terms of their strategies and trajectories, based on their individual and class habitus, as well as their objective position within the field; 
  • the structure of the field
  • the field within the broader field of power.  (Johnson 9)
  • See examples of  the spaces of original possibles "The Field of Cultural Production" pp. 31-32.
  • p. 34 avoid the separation of internal and external analysis.  
  His analysis of social practices emphasizes four aspects: (including consideration of both statistical results and personal account, both rules and improvisations.)(Jenkins p. 68)
  1. statistic pattern as basic reality,
  2. problematizing what people say,
  3. improvisory and strategic nature of practice (vs. governed by rules),
  4. diachronic analysis.
His views on class distinction and taste: (Johnson 2)
    1. systems of domination find expression in virtually all areas of cultural practices and symbolic exchange, including such things as preferences in dress, sports, food, music, literature, art and so on, or, in a more general sense, in taste.
    2. "taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier.  Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinction they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed" (B qtd in Johnson 2).
    3. Although they do not create or cause class divisions and inequalities, 'art and cultural consumption are pre-disposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences' and thus contribute to the process of social reproduction.  (e.g. Art works in art gallery or exhibited in rich people's living rooms.)
Structure, Habitus(ͦsߺA ) & Social Practices 

  Habitus: Bourdieu's definition and explanation --

    A. definition:

    0. Habitus -- a set of dispositions which generate practices and perceptions;
                   -- original meaning: a habitual or typical co
    ndition, a state or appearance, particularly of the body.  Bourdieu's: a combination of 1) disposition, 2) generative classificatory schemes (Jenkins p. 74)

    1) disposition
    1. habitus is "inside the heads" of actors
    2. only exists in, through and because of the practices of actors and their interaction with each other and with the rest of their environment

    3. signify the deportment, the manner and style in which actors 'carry themselves': stance, gait, gesture.
    2) generative classificatory schemes

    --  the practical taxonomies which . . . are at the heart of the generative schemes of habitus, are rooted in the body.  .

    "Structure, Habitus & Social Practices"
    the "system of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them.  Objectively 'regulated' and 'regular' without being in any way the product of obedience to rules, they can be collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organizing action of a conductor." (B qtd in Johnson 5; The Logic of Practice 53; Polity Reader p. 96)

      [ Johnson's explanation:  durable -- last through the agent's lifetime;
      transposable -- they can generate activities in multiple and diverse fields of activity.

      structured structures -- they inevitably incorporate the objective social conditions of their inculcation.]

      2. acting as a system of cognitive and motivating structure. Polity Reader p. 97

      3. "This system of dispositions -- a present past that tends to perpetuate itself into the future by reactivation in similarly structured practices, an internal law through which the law of external necessities, irreducible to immediate constraints, is constantly exerted--is the principle of the continuity and regularity which objectivism sees in social practices without being able to account for it; and also of the regulated transformations that cannot be explained either by . . .  mechanistic sociologism or by . .  .spontaneist subjectivism" (B qtd in Johnson 6; The Logic of Practice 54; Polity Reader 98).

B. Its operation: 1. dialective between structure and habitus: as the product of the previous conditions and experiences, it is "generative": "...the habitus is an infinite capacity for generating products--thoughts, perceptions, expressions and actions--whose limits are set by the historically and socially situated conditions of its production,

2. the products cannot be unpredictable novelty, nor mechanical reproduction of the original conditioning. (Polity Reader 98-99) --> It tends to generate "all the 'reasonable, 'common-sense' behaviors (and only these) which are possible within the limits of these regularities," (Polity Reader 99)

3. e.g. gender categories and performances; witticism (101) both "original and inevitable."

C. Methodological Implications:
1. Between objectivism and subjectivism, one has to return to practice, "the site of the dialectic of the objectified products and the incorporated products of historical practice, of structures and habitus" (Polity Reader 96)

2. conditioning of history:

-- The dispositions "inculcated by the possibilities and impossibilities, freedoms and necessities, opportunities and prohibitions inscribed by the objective conditions" generate dispositions compatible with these conditions, and pre-adapted to their demands. The most improbable practices are therefore excluded. (97)

-- history = past conditions related to the present conditions (p. 99) "practices cannot be deduced either from the present conditions ...or from the past conditions...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 the scientific work of performing the interrelationship of these two states of the social world that the habitus performs ...(99-100)
-- "the anticipations of the habitus, practical hypotheses based on past experience, give disproportionate weight to early experience
-- the habitus, a product of history, produces individual and collective practices in accordance with the schemes of history
-- the habitus is the active presence of the whole past of which it is a product
-- " thru the habitus, a present past tends to perpetuate itself into the future by reactivation in similarly structured practices
-- " the habitus is not consciously mastered and contains an 'objective intention' which outruns the conscious intentions of its apparent author

3. Habitus: Embodiment of institutions
-- two objectifications of history--in bodies and in institutions

-- "the king, the banker or the priest are hereditary monarchy, financial capitalism or the Church made flesh." (101)

Habitus -- two kinds: class habitus and subjective habitus.   Habitus as embodied in individuals, and the habitus as a collective and homogeneous phenomenon, mutually adjusted for and by a social group or class.
-- " the members of a same group or class, being products of the same objective conditions, share a habitus and the practices of these members are better harmonized than the agents know or wish"
-- "objective homogenizing of group or class habitus" -- three ways -- (103) a. mutual influence; b. correction by a skillful workman; c. constructed to assure subsequent agreement.

-- the agents' corrections and adjustments -- presupposes mastery of a common code;
-- the mobilizing agents--whose habitus has to be compatible with the dispositions of those who follow (103)

*Between class habitus and singular habitus (104-105) "Each individual system of dispositions is a structural variant of the others."
(110) Habitus and Power Relations: "The relation to what is possible is a relation to power; and the sense of the probable future is constituted in the prolonged relationship with a world structured according to the categories of the possible (for us) and the impossible (for us), [...] The habitus is the principle of a selective perception of the indices tending to confirm and reinforce it rather than transform it..."

  B's view on social practices
  1. not consciously organized
  2. fluid and indeterminate  (Jenkins p. 71)
  3. strategizing  --"specific orientation of practice" (Johnson 17); not completely conscious or unconscious.  
      • strategies:  the continual interactions between the disposition of the habitus and the constraints and possibilities of reality.  
      • "As a product of the habitus, strategy is not based on conscious calculation but rather results from unconscious dispositions towards practice.  It depends on the position the agent occupies in the field and on what Bourdieu calls that sate of the 'legitimate problematic"  (Johnson 17-18)  
      • The notion of strategising, to encompass the fact that actors do have goals and interests, is also designed to locate the source of their practice in their own experience of reality --their practical sense of logic.  . .(Jenkins 72)
  • e.g.. a decision-making
    1. a shadow or reflection of what the habitus is doing. . .
    2. an option which is part of the repertoire of the habitus, not . . . an autonomous or chosen process
   the Field of Cultural Production--or economic world reversed. 
between the agent and the field 
  1. trajectory: "describes the series of positions successively occupied by the same writer in the successive states of the library field, being understood that it is only in the structure of a field that the meaning of these successive positions can be defined." (B "principles of a Sociology of Cultural Works" qtd in Johnson 18) 
  2. The trajectory is one way in which the relationship between the agent and the field is objectified.  It differs from traditional biography in that it does not search . . . for some sort of 'original project' that determines and unified all subsequent developments in a writer's life.  It concerns, rather, the objective positions successively occupied in the field." (Johnson 18)
  3. Symbolic forms (e.g. novels) constitute another way in which the relationship between the agent and the field is objectified.  
The Literary field: a field of positions and position-takings.  p. 34
two kinds of hierarchy based on the economic or symbolic/autonomous principles: 
"the heteronomous principle of hierarchization . .  .is success. . . The autonomous principle of hierarchization . . . is degree of specific consecration (literary or artistic prestige), i.e. the degree of recognition accorded by those who recognize no other criterion of legitimacy than recognition by those whom they recognize."(38-39) 

autonomous = following its own logic; with audience who are the other producers.

relative autonomy:  (39)
1. ". .  .the more autonomous it is, i.e. the more completely it fulfills its own logic as a field, the more it tends to suspend or reverse the dominant principle of hierarchization.

2. whatever its degree of independence, it continues to be affected by the laws of the field which encompasses it, those of economic and political profit"

3. The more autonomous the field becomes, the more favorable the symbolic power balance is to the most autonomous producers and the more clear-cut is the division between the field of restricted production . .  .and the field of large-scale production..  .

4. systematic inversion of the fundamental principles of all ordinary economies: that of business. .  . that of power . .  .that of institutionalized cultural authority.

5. specific capital: at a given level of overall autonomy, intellectuals are, other things being equal, proportionately more responsive to the deduction of the powers that be, the less well endowed they are with specific capital.  (41)


Question: Is the heteronomous principle definitely favorable to those who dominate the field economically and politically?   Does the more autonomous field always tend to invert the existing power structure or insist on a clear division between the field of restriction and that of mass production?   



  1. Bourdieu, Pierre.   The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature.   Randal Johnson, intro & ed.   Cambridge, Polity P, 1993. "Introduction" 1-28; "The Field of Cultural Production" 29-73.
  2. Jenkins, Richard.  Pierre Bourdieu.  NY: Routledge, 1992.