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Habit, place  and  value:  utilizing  Bourdieusian  theory   Andrew  Branch   Some   thoughts   on   the   relevance   of   Pierre   Bourdieu’s   work   to   an   understanding   of   how  Southend-­‐on-­‐Sea  and  its  surrounding  areas  are  demarcated  along  class  lines.      

Club  Critical  Theory,  Railway  Hotel,  17  April  

Bourdieu’s  work  is  challenging,  both  because  of  the  rigour  with  which  he  expressed   his  theoretical  insights,  acquired  through  the  systematic  evaluation  of  phenomena  -­‐   often  by  utilizing  an  ethnographic  methodology  and  in  doing  so  addressing  the  epis-­‐ temological  questions  such  a  methodology  gives  rise  to  -­‐  and  because  of  the  breadth   of  its  ambition:  this  son  of  a  French  rural  postal  worker  wanted  his  philosophically-­‐,   sociologically-­‐   and   anthropologically-­‐informed   research   to   resonate   with   a   wider   audience,  beyond  the  confines  of  academia.  This  seems  a  rather  old-­‐fashioned  aspi-­‐ ration   in   the   contemporary   moment,   not   least   because   a   retreat   into   theoreticism   has  become  arguably  a  safer  option  at  a  time  when  funding  for  research  concerned   to  investigate  social  injustice,  rather  than  sustain  careers,  is  under  threat.  But  divorc-­‐ ing   theory   from   practice   is   to   risk   a   descent   into   subjective   idealism,   to   de-­‐ contextualize  individual  bodies  by  forgetting  that  one  of  the  most  important  legacies   of  Marx  is  his  recognition  that  people  make  their  own  history  but  not  in  conditions  of   their  own  choosing.  Bourdieu's  appeal,  then,  rests  on  what  you  want  critical  theory   to  achieve.   This   means   that   Bourdieu   is   a   materialist,   understood   in   the   Marxian   tradition   to   mean  that  our  starting  point  in  making  sense  of  social  relations  between  humans  is   to   think   about   the   ways   in   which   such   relations   are   structured   in   a   profit-­‐oriented   market  economy,  such  that  the  basic  resources  required  for  sustaining  life  are  differ-­‐ entially  allocated,  are  fought  over.  Thus  people  differentially  experience  inequalities  


in provision,  with  their  worldview  consequently  informed  by  their  embodied  experi-­‐ ence:   I   am   therefore   I   think.   Thus,   ‘[F]or   philosophers,   one   of   the   most   difficult   tasks   is   to   descend   from   the   world   of   thought   to   the   actual   world.'   (Karl   Marx   and   Friedrich  Engels,  The  German  Ideology,  1845).     If  Bourdieu’s  work  is  in  dialogue  with  Marx’s,  it  is  also  in  dialogue  with  Weber’s  and   in   this   respect   both   sociologists   shared   an   interest   in   the   symbolic   forms   group   status-­‐seeking   takes:   the   economy   of   culture   is   therefore   also   of   importance,   with   social   class,   as   one   example   of   social   stratification,   being   made   through   both   the   competitive  struggle  for  resources  and  through  cultural  practices  which  accrue  sym-­‐ bolic  status  through  the  acquisition  and  exchange  of  legitimated  value.  This  means   that  our  starting  point  must  be  to  understand  how  the  human  body  acquires  its  hab-­‐ its   in   a   particular   environment   at   a   particular   historical   juncture.   Bourdieu,   in   this   sense,  shares  Deleuze’s  distaste  for  the  subject  as  a  consciously  motivated,  rational   actor;  a  rejection  of  the  liberal  fantasy  of  the  universal  ‘family  of  man’.  For  Bourdieu,   the  subject  (or  the  posthuman  body  without  organs  for  Deleuzians)  is  always  struc-­‐ turally  positioned  but  their  engagement  with  the  world,  their  contingent  and  contex-­‐ tualized   being,   although   habitually   framed   as   a   result   of   inheriting   particular   struc-­‐ tural  inequalities,  is  not  determined:  agency  here  -­‐  the  ability  to  self-­‐reflexively  act   and  resist  -­‐  is  necessarily  embodied.  If  you’re  into  labels,  it  makes  no  sense  to  iden-­‐ tify   Bourdieu   as   a   structuralist   or   post-­‐structuralist;   his   work   confounds   the   limita-­‐ tions   each   category   gives   rise   to.   His   nuanced   reading   of   how   class   is   formed   and   embodied   confounds,   too,   those   who   see   such   a   categorizing   category   only   as   lin-­‐ guistically  constituted.     Such  relations  at  this  juncture  are,  I  think  we’d  all  agree,  antagonistic.  We  need  to   acknowledge,   for   example,   the   logical   resentment   of   the   economically   dominated   towards  those  in  possession  of  excessive  wealth  (especially  when  inherited)  and  mo-­‐ bile   enough   to   evade   their   societal   obligations.   There   is   class-­‐derived   resentment   and   incomprehension,   too,   in   the   embodied   process   of   experiencing   how   value   is   either  conferred  or  withheld  in  our  culture  -­‐  how  it  is  legitimated  -­‐  beyond  its  mone-­‐ tary   manifestation:   how   our   tastes,   cultural   preferences   and   educational   ‘choices’   are   enacted   such   that   this   enactment   is   less   the   consequence   of   conscious   choice   but  rather  second-­‐nature  habit.  Here  culture  plays  an  important  role  in  dividing  so-­‐ cial   groups,   as   it   is   the   sphere   in   which   our   status   and   value-­‐claims   are   exercised.   This  is  Bourdieu  in  dialogue  with  Weber  as  he  wants  to  recognize  that  each  of  us  are   not   voluntary   subjects   in   which   our   phenomenological   engagement   with   the   world   takes   place   outside   of   specific   social   relations   that   are   both   material   and   symbolic   in   form.   Let   me   try   to   examine   a   little   further   this   theory   of   the   body   as   the   starting   point   for   understanding   how   we   affectively   experience   the   world   by   summarizing   Bourdieu’s   three   linked   concepts   -­‐   habitus,   field   and   capital   -­‐   and   illustrating   their   relevance   by   thinking   about   how   we   inhabit   and   experience   Southend   and   its   sur-­‐ rounding  areas.   Habitus   For  Bourdieu,  we  acquire  dispositions,  regulating  how  we  act,  through  our  inherited   practice.  Because  they  are  embodied  dispositions  -­‐  acquired  in  specific  environments  


-­‐ they   are   by   definition   unknown   to   us   through   consciousness;   taken-­‐for-­‐granted.   At   best,   we   become   only   semi-­‐aware   of   them   (the   enactment   of   a   kind   of   proto-­‐ consciousness)   when   we   are   located   in   new,   alien   environments.   Try   to   recall   how   you   first   felt   and   reacted   when   you   found   yourself   in   a   new   environment   (a   new   school  or  university;  a  new  town  or  new  job;  a  new  social  circle)  and  particularly  how   you  felt  when  those  new  environments  were  imbued  with  an  authority  unfamiliar  to   you  but  which  framed  what  seemed  plausible  to  you.  I  have  italicized  ‘felt’  here  be-­‐ cause  I  want  to  move  away  from  the  idea  of  feeling  as  conscious  reflection  (emotions   in  this  sense  might  be  viewed  as  the  social  coding  of  feelings)  to  feeling  understood   as   embodied   reaction:   how   we   feel   in   these   situations   is   important   and   in   this   sense   ‘being’  is  an  affective  social  experience  between  actors.  Habitual  behaviour,  then,  is   felt   as   such   only   when   it   is   made   known   as   a   consequence   of   it   being   interrupted.   Here,  Bourdieu  is  in  dialogue  with  the  work  of  the  phenomenologist,  Merleau-­‐Ponty.       My  own  experience  of  this  sense  of  disorientation  is  mirrored  in  the  unease  of  some   of  the  students  I  teach,  for  whom  being  located  in  a  new  environment  (a  university)   is   unsettling   and   troubling   given   the   absence   of   familiar   markers:   a   different   ‘lan-­‐ guage’  is  spoken;  new  codes  of  communication  are  expected;  entitlements  are  pre-­‐ sumed   and   different   values   are   presumed   and   valorized.   How   do   students   express   this  embodied  unease?  They  are  often  tongue-­‐tied;  they  stick  to  patterns  of  behav-­‐ iour  they  are  more  familiar  with  and  their  general  comportment  signals  an  unsettled   disposition.   Of   course,   perhaps   I   am   alert   to   these   dispositional   practices   because   at   some  deep  level  they  resonate  with  me:  I  can  locate  my  own  residual  class  habitus  in   them.  Habitus  then,  for  Bourdieu,  is  both  a  structured  structure  (our  habitual  behav-­‐ iour   is   embodied   history)   and   a   structuring   structure   (our   inherited   dispositions   frame  our  practice).  It  is  generated  and  generative.     Habitual  comportment;  out  of  place   A  clip  from  Mathieu  Kassovitz’s  film,  La  Haine  (1995)  

Field   For   Bourdieu,   the   social   field   (think   of   field   as   a   metaphor   for   space   and   place)   is   made   up   of   overlapping   sub-­‐fields:   of   education   (and   the   disciplines   within   it);   of   forms  of  media  production;  of  popular  culture;  of  formal  politics  etc.  and  these  sub-­‐ fields   are   in   turn   constituted   by   their   own   sub-­‐fields.   This   mapping   recognizes   that   although   the   social   world   is   organized   in   terms   of   the   unequal   distribution   of   power,   it   is   also   a   dynamic,   ever-­‐changing   world   and   thus   potentially   politically   unstable.   Marx  defined  Western  modernity  as  a  moment  in  which  ‘all  that  is  solid  melts  into   air’  and  this  insight  is  useful  in  terms  of  making  sense  of  the  dynamism  and  states  of   flux   that   constitute   the   neo-­‐liberal   epoch   we   are   currently   living   through.   But   within   this  social  world  there  are  forms  of  privilege  and  inequality  -­‐  forms  of  social  injustice   -­‐   that   seem   to   be   rather   effective   at   reproducing   themselves.   How   can   this   be   so?   Why  do  certain  bodies  habituate  themselves  such  that  particular  forms  of  injustice   (starvation,  homelessness,  poverty,  economic  insecurity  and  violence,  both  physical  


and symbolic  in  form)  are  tolerated?  For  Bourdieu,  the  metaphor  of  field  allows  us  to   understand  how  hierarchies  are  able  to  establish  themselves  and  seek  reproduction:   but  ‘orthodox’  fields  were  heterodox  at  their  moment  of  inception  and  thus  sites  of   competing  interests  and  consequently  struggle  (think  about  how  the  field  of  British   higher   education   is   hierarchically   structured   in   order   to   sustain   privilege   and   per-­‐ petuate   disadvantage   to   those   for   whom   the   natural   habitus   best   disposed   to   em-­‐ bodying  its  values  and  codes  is  alien;  think  too  about  how  media  studies  as  a  rela-­‐ tively  new  field  of  inquiry  is  derided  by  dominant  ‘traditional’  academic  fields  seek-­‐ ing  to  maintain  their  own  privilege).  I  have  written  about  these  tensions  using  British   first-­‐wave  punk  as  a  case  study  if  you’re  interested  in  a  more  detailed  account  (see   my  website  for  details).     Perhaps   the   best   way,   then,   to   conceptualize   the   Bourdieusian   field   is   to   envisage   the   spaces   and   places   in   your   own   life   where   your   membership   is   either   assumed   as   a   given   or   from   which   you   have   self-­‐excluded   on   the   basis   that   such   spaces   and   places  are  ‘not  suitable’  or  ‘not  for  people  like  me’.  This  can  be  a  painful  process,  re-­‐ quiring  as  it  does  recognition  of  forms  of  resentment  towards  the  dominant.  I’m  re-­‐ minded  of  the  mother  who  told  me  in  passing  -­‐  it  was  a  self-­‐evident  truth  to  her  -­‐   that   her   three-­‐year   old   daughter   was   not   ‘academically-­‐minded’   and   just   needed   a   school  where  she  could  be  happy.  Perhaps  at  an  intuitive  level  she  had  this  form  of   self-­‐exclusion  in  mind.  Diane  Reay  has  written  extensively  about  the  class-­‐bias  of  the   British   education   system.   And   perhaps   those   working-­‐class   people   who   infiltrated,   for  example,  the  established  fields  of  academia  (Richard  Hoggart  and  Raymond  Wil-­‐ liams)   of   literature   (James   Kelman)   of   avant-­‐garde   film   (Lynne   Ramsay)   of   popular   journalism  (Julie  Burchill)  of  television  drama  (Dennis  Potter)  managed  to  do  so  be-­‐ cause   they   learned   through   the   acquisition   of   new   habits,   through   education   and   circumstance,  to  resist  such  forms  of  exclusion  and  thus  challenged  what  was  natu-­‐ rally  expected  of  them.      

The  marking  of  space  and  place:  graffiti  daubed  on  the  exterior  of  The  Grand  Hotel,  Leigh-­‐on-­‐Sea  in   response  to  its  acquisition  by  Michael  Norcross,  cast  member  of  scripted  reality  show,  The  Only  Way   is  Essex  (Lime  Pictures,  2010-­‐).  Who’s  being  marginalized  here  and  why?  


Fields are  important  and  dynamic,  then,  because  they  constitute  the  space  in  which   we   are   able   to   either   naturalize   our   inherited   privilege   or,   more   optimistically,   ac-­‐ quire  some  limited  forms  of  entitlement  through  the  rupturing  and  re-­‐constituting  of   our  habitus.  How  might  we  understand  entitlement  here?    

The  Expulsion  from  No.  8  Eden  Close  (2012)     Grayson  Perry’s  visualization  of  the  reculturation  of  habitus    

Capital   If  the  concepts  of  habitus  and  field  are  inextricably  linked  for  Bourdieu,  the  acquisi-­‐ tion  of  capital  is  the  way  in  which  we  can  make  best  sense  of  how  value  might  be  ex-­‐ tracted  from  our  habitual  behaviour  in  particular  fields.  Here  capital  is  defined  as  the   forms  of  familiar  knowledge  which  are  legitimated  as  holding  value:  there’s  a  lovely   moment   when   Bourdieu   talks   about   how   skillfully   cutting   a   hedge   or   executing   a   beautiful   rugby   manoeuvre   are   of   equal   complexity   to   the   solving   of   a   mathematical   equation:   all   three   require   field-­‐specific   forms   of   knowledge,   which   may   be   func-­‐ tional  or  aesthetic  in  form,  but  only  the  latter  might  be  recognized  as  holding  legiti-­‐ mated  value;  an  aestheticized  aesthetic.      

A  functional  aesthetic:  Dennis  Bergkamp’s  ‘feel  for  the  game’  


Capital can  take  many  forms:  linguistic,  educational,  cultural,  social  and,  ultimately,   economic.   The   first   four   forms   can   be   subsumed   under   ‘symbolic   capital’   and   thus   exchanged  for  economic  capital.  Think  here  about  how  Southend  manages  its  educa-­‐ tional  provision  (grammar  versus  catchment);  how  cultural  capital  is  divided  largely   along  class  lines  in  the  town  (particular  clubs  are  seen  as  either  ‘alternative’  and  ‘bo-­‐ hemian/artistic’  or  ‘chavvy’  and  ‘tacky’)  or  how  social  capital  -­‐  whom  you  know  and   how  such  contacts  may  prove  useful  (‘networking’)  -­‐  is  exercised  time  and  again  as  a   way  of  managing  and  containing  privileged  access.     Competing  for  educational  capital   An  unintended  illustration  of  the  resentment  of  middle-­‐class  parents  fearful  of  losing  their  claim  on   educational  privilege.  At  no  point  in  the  local  media  coverage  were  parents  at  Friars  School  asked   about  their  views.  

Youth  tribes,  (sub)cultural  capital  and  status-­‐seeking:  Junk  Club,  Southend-­‐on-­‐Sea,  mid-­‐nineties  (left)   and  Talk  of  the  South  nightclub,  same  period  (right)  

'Cool'  Leigh-­‐on-­‐Sea,  BBC  Essex,  March  2013   The  exercising  of  social  capital  and  marking  of  space  

A  bleak  picture?   In   conclusion,   Bourdieu’s   work   makes   for   sober   reading.   Whilst   it   recognizes   the   agency   of   individuals   -­‐   the   ability   to   ‘speak’   back   to   power   -­‐   it   insists   that   the   mo-­‐ ments   in   which   such   resistance   is   made   known   are   necessarily   localized   as   any   claim   to  universal  interest  presupposes  the  rational,  self-­‐knowing  subject  (Marx’s  proletar-­‐ iat   achieving   class-­‐consciousness).   Thus   those   who   operate   across   a   number   of   le-­‐ gitimated  fields  are  invariably  those  who  have  the  best  ‘feel  for  the  game’  and  are   thus  best  placed  to  win  it.  Our  habitual  behaviour  is  inclined  to  negate  change  until   our  fields  of  practice  are  disrupted.  But  perhaps  this  is  increasingly  what  is  happen-­‐ ing  in  our  contemporary  social  relations:  the  upheavals  that  mark  our  practice  may   just   offer   the   possibility   that   the   resentment   dominated   subjects   embody   is   made  


known to  them  through  the  disruptions  that  they  experience  to  their  habitual  com-­‐ portment.  In  this  sense,  resistance  through  the  acquisition  of  new  habits  -­‐  symboli-­‐ cally   realized   through   novel   forms   of   cultural   practice   -­‐   always   has   a   localized   and   group-­‐specific   dimension   but   it   is   at   this   moment   of   resistance   that   perhaps   those   already  displaced  and  disorientated  through  their  marginalization,  might  intervene.   Not  as  leaders  ready  to  establish  new  hierarchies  but  as  out-­‐of-­‐place  subjects  com-­‐ pelled  to  make  history  collectively,  motivated  by  an  ethical  commitment  to  eradicate   all  forms  of  symbolic  violence  and  economic  injustice.            

Heterodox  space:  where  new  habits  might  be  embodied  

Further  reading   Bourdieu  was  a  prolific  writer,  but  these  publications  are  a  good  place  to  start…     Bourdieu,  P.  (1977),  Outline  of  a  Theory  of  Practice,  Cambridge:  Cambridge  University  Press.     Bourdieu,  P.  (1984),  Distinction:  A  Social  Critique  of  the  Judgement  of  Taste,  London:  Routledge.       Bourdieu,  P.  (1991)  Language  and  Symbolic  Power,  Cambridge:  Polity.     Bourdieu,  P.  (1993a),  Sociology  in  Question,  trans.  R.  Nice,  London:  Sage.     Bourdieu,  P.  ([1992]1996),  The  Rules  of  Art,  trans.  S.  Emmanuel,  Cambridge:  Polity.  

If   you   want   more   of   an   overview,   Jeremy   Lane’s   Bourdieu’s   politics:   problems   and   possibilities  (London,  Routledge)  and  Pierre  Bourdieu:  a  critical  introduction  (London,   Pluto)  are  excellent  resources.             Note:  URLs  will  work  once  PDF  is  downloaded.  


CCT 17 april 2014 bourdieu  

Here's the text to support my talk at the inaugural Club Critical Theory event at the Railway Hotel, Southend-on-Sea. If you're interested...