- Series: Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology (Book 16)
- Paperback: 255 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st English Ed edition (June 30, 1977)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 052129164X
- ISBN-13: 978-0521291644
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology) 1st English Ed Edition
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'[Outline of a theory of practice] can be highly recommended as a complex and often beautifully written piece of philosophical literature.' The Times Higher Education Supplement
'Few bodies of work are so systematic, so comprehensive, so creative, so fertile as Bourdieu's. Few theorists glide so adroitly between levels and styles of analysis, and few reach so keenly to the heart of so many analytic issues.' American Journal of Sociology
A translation of the study in which Bourdieu develops the theory for his empirical work, based on fieldwork in Kabylia, Algeria.
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To illustrate his point, Bourdieu begins with analyzing the practice of giving gifts. Gift-giving is not an "exchange" in the capitalist sense, and indeed it would offend the giver if the receiver of a gift immediately reciprocated with a gift of equal value. There is a cultural structure through which the exchange is mediated, and the reciprocal gift-giving must be delayed an appropriate amount of time. Likewise in marriage, the length of time between the request of a daughter for marriage and the parental consent may be drawn on to structure social (power) relations. A negative reply should be immediate, but withholding the "yes" allows the parents of the daughter to potentially draw some benefit from their temporary position of power.
In capitalist societies governed by state structures, however, the reproduction of social relations is more objectified (in the "economy", which is too narrowly defined in academic analysis, according to Bourdieu's view), which allows dominant groups to reproduce their dominance without as much conscious effort. Rather than gift giving or symbolic exchange (sacrifice of time), dominance is reinforced through rather less personal practices such as investment in markets or sending a child to a top educational institution to ensure that dominance is passed down. Violent or self-recognizing dominance gives way to more subtle forms of exploitation and dominance.
All of this theory is supported by Bourdieu's fieldwork in Kabylia (northern Algeria), and he shows how certain practices that in the West would be considered strictly cultural rather than economic in fact fall within a broader economy that encompasses not only the accumulation of money, but also accumulation of different forms of power. This reshapes the concept of economy to encompass various forms of power (such as academic knowledge) that are more symbolic, but are also shaped by the "habitus," leading us to question the ways in which social relations and dominance reproduce themselves unconsciously in our society. Bourdieu suggests that "habitus" explains such observable phenomena as generational conflict, since structures change over time, making the "habitus" of one generation differ somewhat from that of their parents or children.
Bourdieu's explication of the concept of "habitus" is interesting and potentially useful for later work of socio-economic analysis, but attempt to build or contribute to such a far-reaching theory through one cultural case study raises some questions. Firstly, based on observed phenomena in one culture, Bourdieu is postulating an unobserved and unobservable phenomenon that reproduces itself unconsciously in every culture, which I would say is more "speculation" than "theory," even theory in outline form and building on the work of Aristotle, Durkheim, and others. Secondly, since "habitus" is unconscious, I suppose it must be observed by an outsider, as Bourdieu observed the workings of the "habitus" in Kabylia. If the "habitus" relies on unconscious structures within our minds, does naming the habitus and bringing its workings to our consciousness do away with the efficacy of the "habitus" itself for those with enough education (symbolic capital) to think through Bourdieu's theories (can we become conscious of our own "habitus," or is the concept simply a screen or mystification Bourdieu uses to explain specific behaviors that do not appear economically rational)? And related to this, how does "habitus" contribute to understandings of social revolution or even minor forms of resistance to conventional social structures? Somehow this concept of an unconscious force seems to allow Bourdieu to become conscious of the fundamental workings of social reproduction and power in society at large. By implying that actors are not conscious of the effect of structures on their own social reproduction, this conceptualization implicitly gives power to Bourdieu's own analysis as an anthropoligical/sociological observer.
Finally, "structures" are not observed phenomena, but their outlines are discerned from behaviors (practices) and statistics (so may appear different at different scales of observation). This means that invisible social structures are observed through behaviors of those who have supposedly internalized them. Two of the elements at stake (structures and their internalization) are unobservable in Bourdieu's methodology (later studies of culture and the brain have revealed more in this regard), leaving us to theorize two elements based only on behavioral practices and the durability/ubiquity of these practices in time and space. I am not entirely convinced that the concept of "habitus" in itself contributes much more to social theory than the simple statement that our genetics and our socialization overlap in the shaping of our behaviors, although the term may be useful as a shorthand for this type of concept. I find exploring the concept of "habitus" somewhat productive, though: at what scale do "structures" around us shape our everyday behaviors, and to what degree are they internalized? How does the internalization of family structures differ from the internalization of national values, and how do these change over time? Instead of a "theory," I think Bourdieu's work in "Outline of a Theory of Practice" is more useful as a starting point to question and investigate specific scales and forms of internalization or ways in which behaviors are shaped by political/spatial/social structures around us, as well as ways in which rationality and interests intersect with more socially structured decision-making. I find the work of Michel de Certeau and Henri Lefebvre relevant in this regard.
As far as Bourdieu goes, at least this work opens up the debate or a basis for further research, which is why I give it three stars. Perhaps if it used some more evidence from various cultures (comparative analysis of the internalization of structures) to support its speculation, or could give an outline of how the "habitus" could become knowable or observable, it would be more helpful. In sum, this book made me think a lot and was useful in helping me to flesh out in my mind concepts of knowledge and of economy.
The bottom line: I would recommend reading other books or articles by Bourdieu over this one. You can get a good summary of some of his work by reading "The Forms of Capital" or "The Social Space and the Genesis of Groups," both of which I believe can be found free online.