This post is a short account of Bourdieu's The Logic of Practice, touching on some of the ideas that resonated with me, and some of the possible implications for me as a teacher.
Central to the book is the concept of habitus, which are:
Systems of durable dispositions... principles which generate and organise practices... They are 'regulated' and 'regular' without being in any way the product of obedience to rules...
Bourdieu described the habitus as 'embodied history, internalised as second nature'; it is what determines our perceptions, thoughts and actions, and leads us to subscribe to the mechanistic, to structuralism, to erroneously ascribe cause and effect where there is only correlation.
How might a better understanding of the habitus effect our views of transformation, and education? In this passage, Bourdieu quotes Emile Durkheim, explaining why transformation is so difficult to effect:
Our past personae predominate in us, since the present is necessarily insignificant when compared with the long period of the past because of which we have emerged in the form we have today... [This] constitutes the unconscious part of ourselves.
The habitus generates, and is generated by, what we call common sense, what is considered sensible, or reasonable. Bourdieu uses the term 'regulated improvisation' to describe our limited actions within the habitus. Is it possible, or even favourable, to try to break the regulations of the habitus? If so, how?
We acquire the schemes of the habitus through mimesis, the 'practical translation of actions that go without saying', manifest in 'our ways of standing, speaking and walking, and thereby of feeling and thinking'. The embodiment aspect of the habitus is critical:
The body believes in what it plays at.. It does not represent what it performs, it does not memorise the past, in enacts the past, bringing it back to life. What is 'learned by the body' is not something one has... but something that one is.
This brings to mind the embodiment thesis of cognition; to what extent is what is learned 'learned by the body'? What might be the implications of this for us as teachers? How does what is learned in the classroom become what one is, one's identity?
Symbolic capital is described by Bourdieu as the 'power to secure recognition of power', the level of credence held by an individual. The model of gift exchange provides the basis for understanding symbolic capital:
A man possesses in order to give. But he also possesses by giving. A gift that is not returned has become a debt, a lasting obligation; and the only recognised power - recognition, personal loyalty or prestige - is the one that is obtained by giving. In such a universe there are only two ways of getting and keeping a lasting hold over someone: debts and gifts, the overtly economic obligations imposed by the usurer, or the moral obligations and emotional attachments created and maintained by the generous gift... The 'way of giving', the manner, the forms, are what separate a gift from straight exchange, moral obligation from economic obligation.
How are gifts exchanged in your relationships with friends? With colleagues? With students? Bourdieu goes on to describe the association between the exchange of gifts and 'symbolic violence':
It would be wrong to see a contradiction in the fact that violence is here both more present and more masked... This coexistence of overt physical or economic violence and the most refined symbolic violence is found in all institutions characteristic of this economy and at the very heart of social relations... symbolic violence, gentle, invisible violence, unrecognised as such, chosen as much as undergone, that of trust, obligation, personal loyalty, hospitality, gifts, debts, piety, in a word, of all the virtues honoured by the ethic of honour, presents itself as the most economical mode of domination...
To what extent do we as teachers make use of symbolic violence in our relationships with colleagues and students? Do you engender trust and loyalty in order to get people to do what you want them to do?
Not me, I hear you say. Perhaps, though, you are willing to employ charisma, which Bourdieu describes as:
A dimension of all power, that is, another name for legitimacy, a product of recognition, mis-recognition, the belief by virtue of which persons exercised authority are endowed with prestige.
To what extent do we use symbolic violence to effect what we want? To what extent is it undesirable?