Friday, October 2, 2009

218. Deconstructing the Postmodern Condition 18 -- Tradition

Main Entry: tra·di·tion
Pronunciation: \trə-ˈdi-shən\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English tradicioun, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French tradicion, from Latin tradition-, traditio action of handing over, tradition Date: 14th century
1 a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) b : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
2 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
3 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
4 : characteristic manner, method, or style


Bourdieu re-elaborated the concept of habitus from Marcel Mauss—although it is also present in the works of Aristotle, Norbert Elias, Max Weber, and Edmund Husserl—and used it, in a more or less systematic way, in an attempt to resolve a prominent antinomy of the human sciences: objectivism and subjectivism. Habitus can be defined as a system of dispositions (lasting, acquired schemes of perception, thought and action). The individual agent develops these dispositions in response to the objective conditions it encounters. In this way Bourdieu theorizes the inculcation of objective social structures into the subjective, mental experience of agents. For the objective social field places requirements on its participants for membership, so to speak, within the field. Having thereby absorbed objective social structure into a personal set of cognitive and somatic dispositions, and the subjective structures of action of the agent then being commensurate with the objective structures and extant exigencies of the social field, a doxic relationship emerges.

Habitus and Doxa

Doxa are the learned, fundamental, deep-founded, unconscious beliefs, and values, taken as self-evident universals, that inform an agent's actions and thoughts within a particular field. Doxa tends to favor the particular social arrangement of the field, thus privileging the dominant and taking their position of dominance as self-evident and universally favorable. Therefore, the categories of understanding and perception that constitute a habitus, being congruous with the objective organization of the field, tend to reproduce the very structures of the field.

Bourdieu thus sees habitus as the key to social reproduction because it is central to generating and regulating the practices that make up social life. Individuals learn to want what conditions make possible for them, and not to aspire to what is not available to them. The conditions in which the individual lives generate dispositions compatible with these conditions (including tastes in art, literature, food, and music), and in a sense pre-adapted to their demands. The most improbable practices are therefore excluded, as unthinkable, by a kind of immediate submission to order that inclines agents to make a virtue of necessity, that is, to refuse what is categorically denied and to will the inevitable.
from Pierre Bourdieu, Wikipedia

So. You can take your pick. If you want to drive yourself crazy with abstruse, complex, easily misinterpreted, and all too easily academicized, analyses of the human condition, you can spend days, weeks, months and years reading Weber, Elias, Mauss, Bourdieu, not to mention Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Althusser, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, etc. For myself personally, I happen to have a weakness for this kind of thing. But just in case you, gentle reader, do NOT -- and how could I blame you? Then why not go with that first definition, the one right at the top? Just think of it as: tradition. Why not? It's basically all the same thing, no?

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