Advances regarding human action and learning with an inter-disciplinary research lens by Dr. Kleio Akrivou

For colleagues who may be interested in current research advances which may affect how we understand and practice learning and the role of agency and community in the class (involving all co-participants as a human community of practice), this inter-disciplinary theoretical conception may be informative. The problem which may be relevant to any settings of structured social organisation (a classroom, an organisation, a group) 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. Instead, more or less we are inclined to act in ways which reproduce our past habits. This may mean that within a classroom learning can be viewed in a deterministic way, i.e. not bearing a dynamic possibility to enable further moral and cognitive development of both the learners and the lecturers.

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 students moral development within the classroom or through a degree programme. 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

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