July 2014

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For colleagues who may be interested in current research advances which may affect how we understand and practice agency and community within the current field of economic social relations, this inter-disciplinary theoretical conception may be informative. The problem which may be relevant to any settings of structured social organisation (a society, or the relations between two communities with economic and social ties, an organisation, a group, eg the economic and political elites within a field of economy-society) is that there most of our action is based on habits, which were seen in sociology as automatically reproduced, learnt responses, which do not bear a potential to critically change a practice (for the better) or allow individuals to engage in moral reflection of how to improve a practice (and themselves, as citizens and virtuous human beings). Instead, more or less we are inclined to act in ways which reproduce our past habits and past relations. This may mean that within an economic field of social relations agency is viewed in a sadly deterministic way, i.e. not bearing a dynamic possibility to enable further moral and cognitive development of the agents, nor a NEW experience of praxis and agency which dialogues on how all hope to improve the common good in a way which both the weaker and the stronger parties of economic relations prosper and grow. However, my view is more optimistic, insofar as we consider a revised view on habits, which would bring Aristotle closer to sociological thinkers, mainly Bourdieu. This opinion article critically analyses Bourdieu’ s concept of habitus as unconscious action seen to be blocking human freedom and learning which reproduces  social bonds rather than frees the person to learn and practice new habits responsibly based on their evolving biography and social responsibilities and phase of cognitive development. The main concern with Bourdieu’s sociological origin of habitus brought forth in this short theory article published in a journal with a focus on inter disciplinary research advances in human neuroscience, is that despite its merits, it views human action mainly driven by an outside-in internationalisation of learnt habits unreflectively (despite our cognitive illusion that we act thoughtfully and reflectively). Perhaps this explains indeed why the entire social world has not been able to abandon the idea of war as a means of solving disagreements between human communities despite the traumatic experiences of humankind along centuries, especially the 20th one, so this perspective would force to take for granted that we cannot change much in the thoughtfulness and practical wisdom capacity, and overall moral and cognitive capability of agents who co-enact economic relations to act beyond a utilitarian way which legitimizes as “ normal” a defensive, narrowly self-interested kind of agency. Even when Bourdieu argues his theory is not presuming action as purely reproductive of a certain given (current)  status quo, it still considers that individual habitus is “an active residue of (one’s) past” (Swartz, 2002: 63S). The problematic consequence is that it theoretically misses to account for the possibility for human freedom -which can be appreciated by reference to Aristotle, for example, although explaining Aristotle is outside the scope of this article.  To help address this limitation in Bourdieu’s understanding of habitus, this article tries to show here that, in the frame of a dialogical conception, and supported by psychological findings, habitus can be compatible with the social basis of human freedom and learning.



Full reference:  Akrivou, K. & Todorow L. (2014). A dialogic conception of Habitus: Allowing human freedom and restoring the social basis of learning; Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8: 432.  Published online, 17 June 2014,  doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00432



Dr Kleio Akrivou

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