Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus

The analysis of the relationship between space and theory would help this project to go beyond the discipline of geography and to build a theoretical framework that would unpack the effectivity of Berlin as a social space.

The concepts of practice and habitus by the French theorist Pierre Bourdieu are key theoretical approaches to understanding place. The concept of habitus is absolutely central to Bourdieu’s work. It is the link between objective social structures and individual action and refers to the embodiment in individual actors of systems of social norms, understanding and patterns of behavior. Habitus is both the product and the generator of the division of society into groups and classes. It is shared by people of similar social status but varies across different social groups (Painter, J.). John Thomson’s (1991) explanation of the formulation states that habitus is a set of dispositions that incline agents to act and react in certain ways. Habitus gives individuals a sense of how to react in specific satiation, without continually having to make fully conscious decisions. It is this ‘practical sense’, often described as a ‘feel for the game’, that Bourdieu’s theory of practice seeks to understand. Habitus represents embodied dispositions and is generates and is generated through practice.

Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu

Bourdieu’s theories of habitus and cultural capital explain not only how but why there has been a move towards a European identity. Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and cultural capital can help us gain a greater understanding of both why this identity is desirable and how one should attempt to construct it and allows us to see people’s attachment to nation as learned and habituated being open to modification and reconstruction through reflexive agency and educational practices (Pollmann, 2009). The mistake in reading Bourdieu is to assume that he is concerned with habitus as a product of class experience alone. Certainly, for him, each agent’s habitus is formed by their class, but also by their gender and their own occupational field. We can reasonably talk of a working-class habitus but also of a farming habitus, a military, scientific or an artistic habitus. Bourdieu represents a powerful analysis of the high culture of modernism but that his social theory also contains certain problematic omissions.


He also develops the concept of the ‘social space’. He argues that social groups are formed in and distributed across social space. However, it is clear that he intends this concept to be understood heuristically as a space in thought and not immediately translatable to what he calls ‘geographical space’, from which he says social space should be clearly distinguished:

“We can compare social space to a geographic space within which regions are divided up. But this space is constructed in such a way that the closer the agents, groups or institutions which are situated within this space, the more common properties they have and the more distant and fewer.”

“It is true that one can observe almost everywhere a tendency toward spatial segregation, people who are close together in social space tending to find themselves, by choice or by necessity, close to one another in geographic space; nevertheless, people whoare very distant from each other in social space can encounter one another and interact.” (Bourdieu, 1989: 16).

Bourdieu’s arguments on space, division and social interaction are applicable to the situation in divided Berlin in the past. However, one of the focuses of the project will look to find out if Bourdieu’s theories are relevant to Berlin nowadays.


Sources: Crang, M.; Thrift, N.(2000) “Thinking space”

London: Routledge

Farrell, L. “Pierre Bourdieu on European identity”- <http://www.spr.tcdlife.ie/seperatearticles/xxarticles/theoryidentity.pdf&gt;

Bowler, B. (1999) “Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory of culture”- <http://www.variant.org.uk/pdfs/issue8/Fowler.pdf&gt;

(Eva Spirova)




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