Symbolic and Structural Approaches to Place

Pierre Bourdieu


Bourdieu's notion of habitus (from

Habitus: systems of durable, transposable dispositions. It is the principle of generation and structuring of practices and representations.

Structure: is conceived as the structure of the consequences of human practices. It should not be reified. On the other hand, because of the existence of the habitus, actors are not as free-will actors.

The habitus produces practices which tend to reproduce the regularities immanent in the objective conditions of the production of their generating principle. As both a cognitive and a motivating structure.

Habitus or dispositions are, in some sense, the internalization of the objective structure. The causal relationship is: the habitus, as a product of history, produces individual and collective practices, and hence history, in accordance with the schemes engendered by history. Habitus and structure mutually produce each other, and the dispositions and the social positions are mutually congruent, the dialectic relations.

Bourdieu's habitus may be understood as a system of schemes of perception and discrimination embodied as dispositions reflecting the entire history of the grup and acquired through the formative experiences of childhood. The structural code of the culture is inscribed as the habitus and generates the production of social practice. Social practice may then be analysed to reveal teh nature of the habitus through the relations of homology observed between the various elements that constitute the unity of culture.

Roy Nash, "Bourdieu, 'Habitus', and Educational Research: Is It All Worth the Candle?"

...Bourdieu is attentive to the mute and simultaneously eloquent symbolizations and institutionalizations formed in social practice, and to the wordless acts of granting social status. He directs his attention mainly to the practice of action, at the center of which is the body: as a natural thing, this is essentially formed by society, but not in the sense of a superficial formation. Instead, it is caused by conformity, by social institutions, through which the body makes itself part of the society. The construction of social orders takes place in social practice, not in the mind of an agent. The regularity of society and of social agents originates in physical action. From their first days of life, people cultivate movements, perform them regularly, and, by way of habit, form from these movements goal-oriented actions with intentional structure -- and ultimately, social skill, practical knowledge, dispositions, and patterns of perception and judgment. Through countless daily acts, the body gives itself (and preserves) its inner and outer posture, its characteristics and way of appearance, its unconscious reactions and intentional actions. In this process it produces, through its own activity and under the influence of the social environment, a "habitus". . .

Typically, this process of incorporation takes place on a level beneath language. Many social regularities are not expressed linguistically but are
directly learned, often without knowledge, from models and examples. The acting person is subject and object of a "social mimesis." The assimilation of the social person is one of the most important reasons for the belief in the social order. Actually, the acting person has contributed to the creation of this order, which has become a part of the acting person, just as he or she has become a part of the order. On the other hand, the structure of rules in the social world is only made regular and normative in that it is reproduced again and again in the same or a similar way through the actions of the agents. In this way, it reaches an agreement -- designated as "homology" or "prestabilized harmony" by Bourdieu -- of the social agents and the space in which they act.

Through numerous examples, Bourdieu shows how social class, origin, education, and occupation institutionally shape the body so profoundly that it becomes a visible, integrated, and functioning part of institutions. Social institutions are therefore extremely active; they are formed in concrete acts which, owing to their character of sensouous performance, allow them to appear credible and reliable. Especially in professions anchored in strong institutions -- such as doctors, pastors, officers, and judges -- the authority of the respective institutions is produced and demonstrated through physical acts. Not only does the agent relate to the world intentionally, but also vice versa -- the individual is moved by the social world and is formed by the "intentionality" of the institutions.

In social practice, the effects of the involved agents intersect with each other on many levels. The body becomes institutionalized, the institutions become embodied. The agent has internalized the society, and society is reproduced over and over again in the agents' actions. Symbolic orders blanket natural conditions and are manifested in them.

Gunter Gebauer, "Habitus, Intentionality, and Social Rules: A Controversy Between Searle and Bourdieu"


1. How does someone who is used to having authority (police officer, business leader) walk?

2. How do men and women differ, in the ways they sit? In the ways they walk? How do they "take up space" differently?

3. What are the social-spatial (e.g., bodily, movement-oriented) habits of those who do not have power? Those who have a subordinate place in society? Those who are foreign (or you, when you are in a foreign place)?