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Habitus refers to the lifestyle, values, dispositions and expectations of particular social groups that are acquired through the activities and experiences of everyday life. In other words, the habitus could be understood as a structure of the mind characterized by a set of acquired schemata, sensibilities, dispositions and taste. The particular contents of the habitus are a complex result of embodying social structures—such as the gender, race, and class discrimination embedded in welfare reforms—that are then reproduced through tastes, preferences, and actions for future embodiment. The habitus can be seen as counterpoint to the notions of rationality that are prevalent within other disciplines of social science research, as it relativizes the notion of an actor's 'best interest' through attention to the cultural definition of 'best'. It is perhaps best understood in relation to the notion 'field', which describes the dialectical relationship between individual agents (habitus) and the contextual environment (field).
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 Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu elaborates on the notion of Habitus by explaining its dependency on history and human memory. For instance, a certain behaviour or belief becomes part of a society's structure when the original purpose of that behaviour or belief can no longer be recalled and becomes socialized into individuals of that culture.
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. 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, Gilles Deleuze, 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 (Bourdieu 1990:66-67) — in that way it can be said to operate beneath the level of rational ideology.
According to Bourdieu, habitus is composed of:
[s]ystems 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.
The term has also been adopted in literary criticism, adapting from Bourdieu's usage of the term. For example, Joe Moran's examination of authorial identities in Star Authors: Literary Celebrity in America uses the term in discussion of how authors develop a habitus formed around their own celebrity and status as authors, which manifests in their writing.
Scholars researching habitus
- Philippe Bourgois - an anthropologist who incorporates the concept of "habitus" into much of his work with injection drug users in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Saba Mahmood - USA
- Loïc Wacquant - United States scholar who 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).
- Stephen Parkin - United Kingdom sociologist who considers the "habitus" construct as an explanatory mechanism for the production of drug related harm in drug using environments located in public settings in "Habitus and Drug Using Environments: Health Place and Lived-Experience" (published by Ashgate in August 2013)
- Heinrich Wilhelm Schäfer - Center for the interdisciplinary research on religion and society (CIRRuS) at Bielefeld University (Germany)
- Malcolm Dunn UK - doctoral thesis that applies habitus theory to proto-chivalric Honour codes.
- Loren Ludwig, USA - musicologist researching the way that instrumental chamber music allows for the cultivation and experience of habitus by its players.
Body habitus (or "bodily 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. For example, "Marfanoid bodily habitus".
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- Hilgers, Mathieu. 2009. Habitus, Freedom and Reflexivity 'Theory and Psychology' Vol. 19 (6), pp. 728–755
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- Rimmer. Mark. 2010. Listening to the monkey: Class, youth and the formation of a musical habitus 'Ethnography' Vol. 11 (2), pp. 255–283
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