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Habitus is a complex concept, but in its simplest usage could be understood as a structure of the mind characterized by a set of acquired schemata, sensibilities, dispositions and taste [1]. The particular contents of the habitus are the result of the objectification of social structure at the level of individual subjectivity. Hence, the habitus is, by definition, isomorphic with the structural conditions in which it emerged.

The concept of habitus has been used as early as Aristotle but in contemporary usage was introduced by Marcel Mauss and later re-elaborated by Pierre Bourdieu.


Origin of concept

Loïc Wacquant wrote that habitus is an old philosophical notion, originating in the thought of Aristotle, whose notion of hexis ("state") was translated into habitus by the Medieval Scholastics. Bourdieu first adapted the term in his 1967 postface to Erwin Panofsky's Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism.[2] The term was earlier used in sociology by Norbert Elias in The Civilizing Process (1939) and in Marcel Mauss's account of "body techniques" (techniques du corps). The concept is also present in the work of Max Weber and Edmund Husserl.

Mauss defined habitus as those aspects of culture that are anchored in the body or daily practices of individuals, groups, societies, and nations. It includes the totality of learned habits, bodily skills, styles, tastes, and other non-discursive knowledges that might be said to "go without saying" for a specific group[citation needed] -- in that way it can be said to operate beneath the level of rational ideology.

Habitus in Bourdieu's social theory

Bourdieu re-elaborated the concept of habitus from Marcel Mauss and extended the scope of the term to include a person's beliefs and dispositions. He used it, in a more or less systematic way, in an attempt to resolve a prominent antinomy of the human sciences: objectivism and subjectivism.

In Bourdieu's work, habitus can be defined as a system of durable and transposable[3] "dispositions” (lasting, acquired schemes of perception, thought and action). The individual agent develops these dispositions in response to the determining structures (such as class, family, and education) and external conditions (fields) they encounter. They are therefore neither wholly voluntary nor wholly involuntary.

The habitus provides the practical skills and dispositions necessary to navigate within different fields (such as sports, professional life, art) and guides the choices of the individual without ever being strictly reducible to prescribed, formal rules.[4] At the same time, the habitus is constantly remade by these navigations and choices (including the success or failure of previous actions).

Describing neither complete determination by social factors nor individual autonomy, the habitus mediates between “objective” structures of social relations and the individual “subjective” behavior of actors. In this way Bourdieu theorizes the inculcation of objective social structures into the subjective, mental experience of agents.

In Bourdieu's theory, agency is not directly observable in practices or in the habitus, but only in the experience of subjectivity. Hence, some argue that Bourdieu’s project could be said to retain an objectivist bias from structuralism. Further, some critics charge that Bourdieu's "habitus" governs so much of an individual's social makeup that it significantly limits the concept of human agency. In Bourdieu's references to "habitus" it sometimes seems as if so much of an individual's disposition is predetermined by the social habitus that such pre-dispositions cannot be altered or left behind.

Defenders of Bourdieu argue that such critics have misunderstood and exaggerated the conservative extent of "habitus" in Bourdieu. Bourdieu allows agency its location within the bounded structures of society and self. And, Bourdieu advocates a method for researchers to include diverse cultural voices in their work.[5]

Body Habitus

Body habitus is the medical term for physique, and is defined as either endomorphic (overweight), ectomorphic (underweight) or mesomorphic (normal weight). In this sense, habitus can be understood as the physical and constitutional characteristics of an individual, especially as related to the tendency to develop a certain disease.[6]

Scholars researching "habitus" in the field

  • Loic Wacquant - USA (Berkeley Page)studies the construction of the "pugilistic habitus" in a boxing gym of the black ghetto of Chicago in Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer (2004) and in "Habitus as Topic and Tool" (2009).
  • Saba Mahmood - USA
  • Anthropologist Philippe Bourgois - USA (incorporates the concept of "habitus" into much of his work with injection drug users in the San Francisco area. [1])
  • Karl Maton, University of Sydney, Australia - builds on both Bourdieu's concept of 'habitus' and the related concept of 'code' from Basil Bernstein in the sociology of education, see [2])


  1. ^ Scott, John & Marshall, Gordon (eds) A Dictionary of Sociology, Oxford University Press, 1998
  2. ^ Review of Holsinger, The Premodern Condition, in Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature 6:1 (Winter 2007).
  3. ^ Bourdieu, Pierre, Outline of a Theory of Practice, 1972
  4. ^ Calhoun, Craig (ed) Dictionary of the Social Sciences, Article: Bourdieu, Pierre, Oxford University Press, 2002
  5. ^ See Bourdieu 'Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste', Chapter 3
  6. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th Ed) Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003

Further reading

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc J.D. Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. The University of Chicago Press.
  • Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process.
  • MacLeod, Jay. 1995. Ain't No Makin' It. Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.
  • Maton, Karl. 2008 'Habitus', in Grenfell, M. (ed) Pierre Bourdieu: Key concepts. London: Acumen Press.
  • Mauss, Marcel. 1934. "Les Techniques du corps",[3] Journal de Psychologie 32 (3-4). Reprinted in Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, 1936, Paris: PUF.
  • Wacquant, Loïc. 2004. Body and Soul. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wacquant, Loïc. 2004. “Habitus.” Pp. 315-319 in International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology. Edited by Jens Beckert and Milan Zafirovski. London: Routledge.


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