Bourdieu's framework

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Work on structure, habitus, social space, practice.

Interested in relations, on more levels than just the economic, and argues that how people interpret and make sense of their relations matters (this is the subjective element).

Interested on power struggles.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London, Routledge.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). ‘The Forms of Capital’. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Capital. J. G. Richardson. New York, Greenwood Press: 241-58.

Bourdieu, P. (1972, trans. R. Nice, 1976). Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

The Forms of Capital

Bourdieu favors a nurture rather than a nature argument. He states that the ability and talent of an individual is primarily determined by the time and cultural capital invested in them by their parents. Similarly, Bourdieu argues that "the scholastic yield from educational action depends on the cultural capital previously invested by the family" (244) and "the initial accumulation of cultural capital, the precondition for the fast, easy accumulation of every kind of useful cultural capital, starts at the outset, without delay, without wasted time, only for the offspring of families endowed with strong cultural capital." (246) Based upon these assertions, it appears that cultural capital regulates and reproduces itself in a similar fashion as habitus.


Bourdieu sees power as culturally and symbolically created, and constantly re-legitimised through an interplay of agency and structure. The main way this happens is through what he calls ‘habitus’ or socialised norms or tendencies that guide behaviour and thinking. Habitus is ‘the way society becomes deposited in persons in the form of lasting dispositions, or trained capacities and structured propensities to think, feel and act in determinant ways, which then guide them’ (Wacquant 2005: 316, cited in Navarro 2006: 16).

Habitus is created through a social, rather than individual process leading to patterns that are enduring and transferrable from one context to another, but that also shift in relation to specific contexts and over time. Habitus ‘is not fixed or permanent, and can be changed under unexpected situations or over a long historical period’ (Navarro 2006: 16):

Habitus is neither a result of free will, nor determined by structures, but created by a kind of interplay between the two over time: dispositions that are both shaped by past events and structures, and that shape current practices and structures and also, importantly, that condition our very perceptions of these (Bourdieu 1984: 170). In this sense habitus is created and reproduced unconsciously, ‘without any deliberate pursuit of coherence… without any conscious concentration’ (ibid: 170).

‘The conditionings associated with a particular class of conditions of existence produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them. Objectively “regulated” and “regular” without being in any way the product of obedience to rules, they can be collectively orchestrated without being the product of the organizing action of a conductor.’ (Bourdieu 1990: 53)

Particular forms of social condition produce particular forms of habitus. The habitus is in turn not so much a content as a set of principles, principles which are embodied, expressed in the hauteur of the aristocrat or the stance of the peasant.

Rather than a focus on particular contexts in which principles can be employed, the emphasis is on the way in which a similar set of principles is employed across contexts, is ‘applied, by simple transfer, to the most dissimilar areas of practice’ (Bourdieu 1986: 175).

The focus on practice is clearly attractive to those developing the notion of communities of practice (Wenger 1999: 281 note 6), but we need to recognize that for Bourdieu habitus is prior to practice and regulates it. This seems to give problems for conceptions that privilege the development of modes of operation through practice. If habitus, as Bourdieu has it, is acquired at an early stage in an unconscious fashion and is resistant to change, then the issue is the interaction between habitus and practice, rather than its creation through practice.

long distance


Beyond the notion of material assets to capital that may be social, cultural or symbolic (Bourdieu 1986: cited in Navarro 2006: 16). Can be accumulated and transferred from one arena to another (Navarro 2006: 17).

Cultural capital – and the means by which it is created or transferred from other forms of capital – plays a central role in societal power relations, as this ‘provides the means for a non-economic form of domination and hierarchy, as classes distinguish themselves through taste’ (Gaventa 2003: 6). The shift from material to cultural and symbolic forms of capital is to a large extent what hides the causes of inequality.

In Distinction (1986), in which he shows how the ‘social order is progressively inscribed in people’s minds’ through ‘cultural products’ including systems of education, language, judgements, values, methods of classification and activities of everyday life (1986: 471).

Simbolic capital and its relationship to literacies: which kind of literacies are privileged in each setting? which literacies are the ones that are included, recognized?


the idea of ‘fields’, which are the various social and institutional arenas in which people express and reproduce their dispositions, and where they compete for the distribution of different kinds of capital (Gaventa 2003: 6). A field is a network, structure or set of relationships which may be intellectual, religious, educational, cultural, etc. (Navarro 2006: 18). People often experience power differently depending which field they are in at a given moment (Gaventa 2003: 6), so context and environment are key influences on habitus:

Bourdieu (1980) accounts for the tensions and contradictions that arise when people encounter and are challenged by different contexts. His theory can be used to explain how people can resist power and domination in one [field] and express complicity in another’ (Moncrieffe 2006: 37)

Fields help explain the differential power

A field is a setting in which agents and their social positions are located. The position of each particular agent in the field is a result of interaction between the specific rules of the field, agent's habitus and agent's capital (social, economic and cultural).[1] Fields interact with each other, and are hierarchical (most are subordinate of the larger field of power and class relations).

Instead of analyzing societies in terms of classes, Bourdieu uses the concept of field: a social arena in which people maneuver and struggle in pursuit of desirable resources.

According to this rules activity develops in the field, which works like a market in which actors compete for the specific benefits associated to it. This competition defines the objective relationships between participants through factors like the volume of capital they contribute, their trajectories within the field or their ability to adjust to the rules inherent to the field. The extent to which participants are able to make an effective use of the resources they are endowed with is a function of the adaptation of their habitus in this specific field. The habitus is the subjective system of expectations and predispositions acquired through past experience.

The operative capital in each field is the set of resources which can be used to obtain an advantage within it. Therefore capital is a factor of the field dynamics, as well as a byproduct of the field which doesn't exist outside of it. Different species of capital perform in different fields, which in turn are defined by the power balances exerted by the capital.

In education, fields of in-school and out-of-school. The big field of out-of-school. Across several micro settings.

social space

The social space is a field of forces -- the system of relations, alliances, and power struggles. His vision of social space is NOT one that is (necessarily) static, but instead constantly infused with power struggles.

positions are at the same time relations : domination follows from the ability to utilize this capital

  • Social space has multiple dimensions (ex economic, educational, cultural, powerful, etc) These dimensions can usually be categorized as a form of Capital.
  • "...constructed on the basis of principles of differentiation or distribution..." This mean that how
    much and what kind of the particular capital one has is the basis for sorting along the dimensions.
  • " the set of properties active in the social universe under consideration, that is, able to confer
    force or power on their possessor in that universe." 

The dimensions are the elements that give power (education, money, social contacts, etc) in general, these elements form types of CAPITAL. The four general types of capital that PB points out in this article are:

  • Economic Capital: How much money one has.
  • Cultural Capital: The systems of value and meaning a person can draw on, what counts as 'good' for a group. (the main distinction is between high and low culture for PB, thus the difference between a person who listens to Garth brooks and goes to the bowling alley every weekend versus a person who reads Shakespere, drinks fine wine, and goes to the museum all the time).
  • Social Capital: The set of relations one can draw on: who you know that MATTERS.
  • Symbolic Capital. : the extent to which one has the power to institute, to NAME, to define who is who. Symbolic power rests on RECOGNITION.

PB argues that each of these types of capital is transformable (to some extent) one to the other.  Thus if you have enough money you might get to know a new set of important people, etc.