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Pierre Bourdieu And Anthony Giddens

The central problem in the work of the French sociologist/anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu and the British sociologist Anthony Giddens is the relationship between agency (the capacity of human subjects to engage in social action) and social structure. Both see social structure as including both patterns of distribution of material resources and systems of classification and meaning. In their works, social structure encompasses both the Marxian/Durkheimian and Lévi-Straussian senses of the phrase. Both share the insight that the social structure as such has no reality apart from its instantiation through the practices (Bourdieu) or actions (Giddens) of particular human beings. Those actions, in aggregate, create and reproduce the structure in which the actions are embedded.

The two theorists diverge, however, in their assessment of the importance of conscious intention in the reproduction of the social structure. Bourdieu labels the key concept for understanding the relationship between action and structure habitus (following Marcel Mauss [1872–1950]). The habitus consists of "systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures" (1977, p. 72). Quotidian practices—of work and leisure, of the design and use of space—communicate basic assumptions about such social categories as gender, age, and social hierarchy. Through practice, actors are socialized to particular embodied dispositions (their habitus). Like Raymond Williams's (1921–1988) "structures of feeling," the habitus does not determine particular actions, but orients actors to particular goals and strategies. Acting on their (socially determined) intentions, the improvised and contingent practices of social actors thus tend to reproduce the symbolic and material orderings of the social world. Since key aspects of the social order are naturalized through the discipline of the body, they are (or appear to be) beyond the social order itself, indeed becoming part of the taken-for-granted, "natural" order (in Bourdieu's system, doxa). Practices thus tend, regardless of the actor's intentions, to reinforce the claims of the powerful.

Although he prefers the term action to practice in his own work, Anthony Giddens is usually considered in discussions of practice theory. The key term in Gidden's work is structuration. Like Bourdieu, Giddens views social structure as encompassing both material and symbolic dimensions. Social structure, according to Giddens, is the product of action, "a stream of actual or contemplated causal interventions of corporeal beings in the ongoing process of events-in-the-world" (1979, p. 55). Agents (actors with the capacity to act and, moreover, the capacity to have acted differently in any given situation), thus, create structure. However, their agency is only meaningful insofar as they are constructed as subjects (in particular subject positions) in a given social structure. Structuration describes the essentially recursive quality of social process: the agent is produced by the structure, which is, in reality, no more than the objectification of past actions by agents.

The main difference between the accounts of Bourdieu and Giddens lies in the relative significance that each gives to the conscious intentions of social actors. For Giddens, actors are reflexive; they have the capacity to reflect on their actions and their identities, and to act according to their intentions. The reflexivity of actors is, indeed, an aspect of social action, and, thus, part of structuration. In the work of Bourdieu, conscious reflection on one's habitus is a possibility, but not a usual part of social process. For Giddens, in contrast, reflexivity is an essential and potentially transformative element of social process.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Positive Number to Propaganda - World War IiPractices - Practice Theory, Practice And Discourse: Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu And Anthony Giddens, Practice As Resistance: Michel De Certeau