Tuesday, April 24, 2007



Belief is a matter of the body: "To speak of 'ideologies' is to locate in the realm of representations [. . .] what in fact belongs to the order of belief, that is, to the level of the most profound corporeal dispositions" (Practical Reason 55). It is also therefore immediate. Bourdieu adapts and radicalizes Pascalianism. If for Pascal, belief arises from corporeal dispositions, for Bourdieu it is located in those dispositions themselves, and needs never rise to consciousness. Though praising Pascal's challenge to "all those who insist on seeing belief in terms of representations" (The Logic of Practice 49), Bourdieu argues that Pascal maintains a pre-eminence of consciousness over practice, "as if will and consciousness were the basis of the disposition which 'with no violence, art or argument makes us believe'" (49). For Bourdieu, however, dispositions are always primary: "what is essential goes without saying because it comes without saying" (Outline 157; emphasis in original). There is no prior decision, and so no wager. Institutions work directly on the body; social order produces no rationale so long as it needs none, and "the principles embodied in this way are placed beyond the grasp of consciousness" (94). Everything begins and ends at the level of the corporeal, as we are habituated to subjection. We are steeped in doxa, "the relationship of immediate adherence that is established in practice between a habitus and the field to which it is attuned, the pre-verbal taking-for-granted that flows from practical sense" (The Logic of Practice 68). Despite its immediacy, however, there is always some slippage between habitus and social order. Something always escapes. For as a deposit of the power relations that structure a given social field, habitus is always a residue, an embodied memory of a previous state of that field. And because fields are always in flux, in that their contours are determined only in the course of a permanent struggle between social agents and their continual position-takings, habitus and field are never fully synchronized. Hence the historicity of habitus, or rather what Bourdieu terms its "double historicity" in that it is both the product of history and the force that, by generating practice, produces history (Invitation 139; see also Outline 82). More fundamentally still, habitus generates time itself, for "time is what practical activity produces in the very act whereby it produces itself. [. . .] Time is engendered in the actualization of the act" (Invitation 138). History and time, in short, are also fully immanent: "the theory of practice condensed in the notions of field and habitus allows us to do away with the metaphysical representation of time and history as realities in themselves, external and anterior to practice" (138).

The historicity of habitus secures social reproduction, but also and at the same time allows for the possibility of resistance. It is because the practices it generates express dispositions structured by a previous state of the field, that habitus provides the continuity that ensures that historical structures are reproduced in the present. But the encounter between dispositions shaped by history and the field in its current state, and the inevitable slippage between the two, makes for unpredictable effects and so the possibility of a new history. Habitus ensures resonance, but also leads to dissonance. Hence the "hysteresis effect necessarily implied in the logic of habitus," which means that "practices are always liable to incur negative sanctions when the environment with which they are actually confronted is too distant from that to which they are objectively fitted" (Outline 78). Hysteresis can account for missed opportunities, for clumsy or unsuccessful practices by which an individual or group confirms, despite themselves, their social decline. Equally it can provide an embodied memory that serves as a resource or resistance, just as Paul Gilroy argues that the "structures of feeling which underpin black expressive cultures" derive from embodied memory both of "the once forbidden drum" and of "a terror which has moved beyond the grasp of ideal, grammatical speech" (The Black Atlantic 77, 76, 71). In either case, the gap that arises in the slippage between embodied structures and actual practices opens up a time for strategy. It is the strategic aspect of practice that means we can speak of a social game: though the playing field is never level, structured as it is by symbolic domination and unequal distributions of capital, still the result of each move is always partly in doubt. Time enables strategy, which in turn depends upon timing. As Bourdieu observes in his analysis of gift exchange, what counts is not some transcendent structure or invariable rules, but "the tempo of action" and "the interval between actions," such that a successful outcome is guaranteed only by the skilful management of time, by acting neither too precipitately nor too late (The Logic of Practice 106).

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