What is a Habitus?

Habitus is influenced by social capital, the network of relationships an individual has.
Habitus is influenced by social capital, the network of relationships an individual has.

Habitus is a system of a personified character and tendencies which determines how an individual identifies the social world around them and responds to it. Habitus is a physical embodiment of the cultural capital to all our deeply embedded characters, skills, and habits which an individual possesses because of their personal experiences. This system represents the way personal history and group culture shapes the mind and body. This concept describes our current personality based on our situation and the people who influenced us while we were growing up. Habitus consists of our interests, thoughts, beliefs, understanding of everything around us and tastes. Habitus is created through socialization through education, family, and culture. According to Bourdieu, this concept has the likelihood to affect our actions and also construct the social world, and various external factors can influence it.

Origin of Habitus

The term ‘’habitus’’ dates back to thousands of years ago to ancient Greece during the time of Aristotle. Although the concept was coined into a common term in sociology by Pierre Bourdieu in 1967, it was introduced into contemporary usage by Marcel Mauss and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Bourdieu used the concept to deal with the sociological issues of agency and structure. Bourdieu expounded the concept while borrowing ideas on generative and cognitive schemes from Jean Piaget and dependency on human memory and history from Noam Chomsky. Mauss described the concept as the specific cultural aspects which are anchored in our daily practices of groups, nations, and individuals.

Factors Affecting Habitus

Bourdieu refers to the four social species of capital which are linked with habitus and also play a key role in the structuring process of the concept. The species capitals are social capital, cultural capital, economic capital, and symbolic capital. Economic capital refers to the economic assets an individual has. Social capital is the circle of friends and people around you while cultural capital is your experience, knowledge, and connections in life. Symbolic capital is the prestige, honor, and various recognitions relative to an individual.

How Does Social Capital Affect Habitus?

Social capital is defined as the exact circle of friends we keep, the groups of people we work and live with, the corporate memberships we hold, and our social networks. Bourdieu splits the society we live into different spheres of actions which he refers to as fields. Within the fields, power relation always plays out with every power structure relating to a specific field. Whether the field is scientific, religious, medical, political, or academic, and each field has its structure of internal power. Each field has its code of conduct which every member must abide by, and this helps shape our character while at work, school, or at home.

How Does Cultural Capital and Economic Capital Affect Habitus?

Cultural capital is made up of the social assets of an individual which promote their social mobility in the society. These assets include a way of dressing, education, style of speech, and intellect. Cultural capital provides one with a higher advantage in attaining a social status within the society. This helps mold the habitus of an individual and makes one behave like the people in their social class in the community. Education changes our culture and sharpens our mind when it comes to decision making and how we perceive the world around us. In our society, we are defined by what we own. The more cash, properties, and assets we have, the higher the social class we occupy. Education could change us and make it easier to climb the social ladder and even acquire some assets which can change our status in the society. Cultural and economic assets are related, and they shape our character and personality.

How Does Symbolic Capital Affect Habitus?

Symbolic capital is the recognition a person gets after doing something worth being recognized, for instance a war hero after saving lives while serving their country as a solder. One can also be recognized as a pioneer in their field of study or as a researcher after attaining higher educational qualifications. The honor or recognition makes one a role model to some students who look up to them and start emulating them. The symbolic capital can impact and influence others in the social group.

Can Two People Have the Same Habitus?

Bourdieu viewed the external and internal worlds as inter-dependent spheres and because of the fluid nature of habitus no two individuals can have the same habitus. Besides, we are all raised differently and have different experiences in life while growing up, so having the same personified characters is impossible even for siblings.

Is Habitus Constant or Dynamic?

Bourdieu states that habitus is fluid and it is remodeled with every new experience we go through in life. While young, our personified character and how we view the world is determined and profoundly affected by our parents and siblings. They determine our characters since they play a significant role in our upbringing and as toddlers, we copy everything our parents do and practice what we are taught. Once we are of age and go to school, we meet other students from different cultures and to adapt what we learn from them. Children start copying each other’s behavior, and once they identify with a specific group of friends, they start acting and behaving like them. Eventually, peer pressure kicks in, and a child picks up all the good and bad habits that mold them into adulthood. In a place of work, an individual holds a specific position because of their habitus (past performance and credentials among other achievements). Therefore when it comes to promotions, the human resource department considers their past performance both socially and culturally to determine who is promoted. Every experience changes our habitus, and this determines our position in the society. The older we get, the more experiences we gain which shapes our character and make it possible for us to fit perfectly in every step of life. Out of the four social species of capital, economic capital is the foundation that perpetuates and facilitates other forms of social capital. Once the symbolic, social, cultural, and economic capital are accumulated, they could be passed on to future generations.


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