May 04, 2007

Pierre Bourdieu on The Logic of Practice

Belief and the Body

Practical sense is a quasi-bodily involvement in the world which presupposes no representation either of the body or the world, still less of their relationship. (66)

According to Bourdieu, a feel for a game is the idea of an encounter between habitus and field, between incorporated history and an objectified history. (habitus = physical type esp. as predisposing to disease(med); characteristic appearance, manner of growth etc. of a plant or animal). Feel for the game is what gives the game a subjective sense – a meaning a raison d’etre, but also a direction, an orientation impending outcome for those who take part and therefore acknowledge what is at stake. It gives the game an objective sense; one has a sense of ‘sensible’ practices, conditions of enactment, filled with sense and rationality. It is a consensual validation and a collective belief in the game and its fetishes.

Because native membership in a field implies a feel for the game in the sense of a capacity for practical anticipation of the ‘upcoming’ future continued in the present , everything that takes place in it seems sensible full of sense and objectivity directed in a judicious direction. (66)

What about questions of the aesthete caught in the instant or the idle spectator? Bourdieu writes: “This is exactly the effect produced by the novel when, aiming to be a mirror, pure contemplation, it breaks down action into a series of snapshots, destroying the design, the intention, which, like the thread of discourse would unify the representation, and reduces the acts and actors to absurdity” (67). The field is an arbitrary social construct.

One does not embark on the game by a conscious act, one is born into the game, with the game. (67)

The vocation is to the learning of a game as the acquisition of mother-tongue is to learning a foreign language. When learning one’s own language, one is not aware of its structural rules so much. The earlier the player enters the game, the less aware they are of the associated learning: they believe in the game. “Belief is thus an inherent part of belonging to a field.” It is not the pragmatic faith interrogated by Kant, but an arbitrary acceptance of an uncertain proposition for the purpose of action. It is a practical faith that debars those who would destroy the game. You cannot live another game – “You have to be born into it”. You cannot use other game sites like science to objectify the game, because it is from here that your own beliefs are generated.

Practical belief is a state of the body rather than a state of the mind. The Doxa is the relationship of immediate adherence that is established in practice between a habitus and a field to which it is attuned; it is the pre verbal taking for granted of world that flows practical sense.

Enacted belief, instilled by childhood learning that threats the body as a living memory pad, an automaton that leads the mind unconsciously along it and as a repository for the most precious values, is the form par excellence of the blind and symbolic thought. (62)

Practical sense converted into motor schemes causes practices – it is founded on the invisibility of common sense. Bourdieu writes: “It is because agents never know completely what they are doing that what they do has more sense than they know” (69). Social order takes advantage of disposition of the body and language, to function as depositories of deferred thoughts that can be triggered off at a distance in space and time simply by re-placing the body in an overall posture which recalls associated thoughts and feelings. E.g. collective ceremonial meetings or bodily expression of emotion. Bourdoieu is adamant that: “Symbolic power works partly through the control of other people’s bodies”(69). Arms and legs are full of numb imperatives (Proust). Fundamental principles of arbitrary content of culture inscribed on the body – how you eat or sit – become unconscious.

The cunning of pedagogic reason lies precisely in the fact that it manages to extort what is essential while seeming to demand the insignificant, such as the respect for forms and forms of respect which are most visible and most ‘natural’ manifestation of respect for the established order or the concessions of politeness, which almost always contain political concessions. (69)

Bourdieu suggests that there is opposition between male and female bodies in actions such as walking, eating, stance and that thier bodies are orientated in different directions such as towards ground or upwards. Bourdieu points to the division of labour in oil gathering; the man knocks down the olives, the woman stoops to pick them up. Socialisation instils a sense of equivalences between physical space and social space and between two movements in two spaces – rising/falling, straight/bent, dominance/humility.

The body language of sexual domination and submission has provided the fundamental principles of both the body language and verbal language of social domination and submission. (72)

This is grounded in the social and sexual division of labour. The relation to the body is inseparable from habitus, language and time. Practical mimesis is the relation of identification but has nothing in common with imitation, because it is an unconscious mimesis. “The body believes in what it plays at: it weeps if it mimes grief”(73). What the body learns is not knowledge; it is one, it is the subject. The body hexis speaks directly to the motor function. Every society provides structural exercises, which lend to transmit a particular form of mastery. Its verbal products are proverbs, sayings, gnomic poems, songs and riddles. Its objects are tools, the house and the village. Its practices are games, contests of honour, gift exchanges and rites. It includes temporal disciplines – the regulating of time and/or temporal distribution. Doing things outside the proper time is suspicious. The inhabited space of the house is the site of generative schemes, imposing integration of body space with cosmic and social space. It includes the contrasting centrifugal male space and centripetal female orientation. The male relationship to the body and sexuality is sublimination. It all defines sexual identity.


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Sontin

    Bourdieu is interesting. I will have to read more …

    17 May 2007, 00:37


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