The following is a guest post by Steve Vaisey.
Last Friday I was in the airport, coming back from a talk at Emory when I saw this tweet from Paula England.
At one level, I shared her pain. “Structured structures predisposed to serve as structuring structures” is not exactly the clearest phrase ever written. But, that said, I get a lot out of Bourdieu and I think this passage is a pretty good summary of the entire argument of the Logic of Practice.
So, foolishly, publicly, I claimed that, when rendered in plain English, this was actually a pretty good passage. Then, doubling down, I offered to try such a translation. A number of people expressed interest in seeing what I came up with, so here it is.
The structures constitutive of a particular type of environment (e.g., the material conditions of existence characteristic of a class condition) produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to serve as structuring structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representations which can be objectively “regulated” and “regular” without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them and, being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor.
The patterns that exist in a social environment (e.g., the surroundings that people live in because of their social class) create habitus. Habitus refers to a hard-to-change, widely applicable set of habits of acting, seeing, and talking that are learned from these patterns in our social environment and, through their repeated use, tend to recreate similar environmental patterns over time. These habits lead people to behave in regular and predictable ways even though they aren’t following conscious rules. People thus seem to be successfully pursuing goals even though they aren’t consciously pursuing them and even though they can’t articulate the steps necessary to achieve them. The end result is that social patterns get recreated over time as if someone were coordinating things even though no one is actually coordinating them at all.
I’m not 100% happy with this. It turns out I actually like “structured structures disposed to serve as structuring structures.” It’s strangely poetic. But it’s not very clear. I hope this rendering of Bourdieu makes one of his key ideas a little more accessible.
Steve Vaisey is Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University.