Habitus (sociology)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Habitus ( Latin for "behaved", from habere "to have") describes the appearance or manners of a person, the totality of their preferences and habits or the nature of their social behavior . By Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu , "Habitus" was further developed into a sociological term on the basis of their philosophical knowledge . Since then, the term has also spread to other scientific disciplines .


The predecessor of the term is the term hexis ( ἕξις ) used by Aristotle in Nicomachean ethics , derived from a root word for "have" or "possess" in the sense of a fixed habit of action or (ethical or physical) basic attitude. Thomas Aquinas uses the terms habitus corpus , habitus activus and habitus operativus , the latter being quite close to Bourdieu's term.

Habitus and habitualization


In sociology , the term “habitus” was developed into a technical term by Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu . Because of their studies in philosophy , both were familiar with the development of the habitus concept since ancient times. Based on this understanding of the term, they developed their habitus terms independently of one another.

  • For Elias (1897–1990), Habitus has been a central conceptual concept in his process sociology since his basic work On the Process of Civilization from 1939 . As "social habitus" he describes habits in thinking, feeling and acting that are common to members of a figuration (synonymous with "social personality structure": the psychological characteristics common to the members of a group) and as "personal habitus" the individual that develops from it Personality structure. Until the new edition in 1969, however, this work was relatively little known. Just like other process-sociological terms, the habitus term is not conclusively defined by Elias in the classical sense, but developed and further developed (see Basic Terms of Process Sociology ).
  • According to Bourdieu (1930–2002), “habitus” refers to the entire appearance of a person. B. the lifestyle , the language , the clothes and the taste . The use of the term was first proven in 1962 and the systematic development of the term from 1967.

A person's rank or status in society can be read from their habitus . However, it is also quite possible that a person with a habitus appropriate to the social class descends or ascends to a lower or higher social class due to various influences. The habitus does not change (at least in the short term).


Both Elias and Bourdieu use the concept of habitus to describe the psychosocial development of people as a reciprocal forming and being formed that no longer requires any further theories and concepts. The separate conception of the individual and society, which is usually the basis for the concept of socialization, is "misleading". Elias describes the development of the personal habitus as a lifelong process of personal psychogenesis , as sub-processes in the long-term process context of the psychogenesis and sociogenesis of a society . Bourdieu describes the habitus as a generative generation principle of forms of practice and behavioral strategies.

Similar concepts

In this sense, older sociologists have already examined habitus forms without using the term - as in 1899 Thorstein Veblen described " demonstrative consumption " in The Theory Of The Leisure Class . In 1925 at the latest, Otto Rühle used the term “habitus” literally in The Soul of the Proletarian Child when he combined Marxism with Alfred Adler's individual psychology .

Cultural anthropological and psychoanalytical approaches, which take into account the influence of social structure on the development of social personality, are e.g. T. the habitus concept. The habitus as a “system of internalized patterns” generates a selection of culture-typical and class-specific thoughts, perceptions and actions that appear to individuals as their own, but which they share with the other members of their respective class.

Erich Fromm's theoretical considerations and empirical studies on the character of society are an example of an approach comparable to the habitus concept in terms of cognitive performance. Also the "social character" shall serve as a link between the individual psychic structure and socio-economic conditions , fulfills the function of domination security below the consciousness of people who apparently volunteered to do what they should do for functional reasons.

Habitus and social practice

For Bourdieu, “habitus” initially encompasses the objective categorization of members of certain social classes within social structures and, furthermore, a subject-related concept of internalizing collective dispositions . The habitus is a generating principle of forms of practice and behavioral strategies of a social actor . With regard to one of the three central structural categories of society, the social class, the expression of the habitus depends, among other things, on the participation in social goods. Economic, cultural , social and symbolic capital play a decisive role in this.

In order to clarify how habitus works, one must first understand what Bourdieu means by “ generative grammar ”, and secondly one must understand habitus in the social context , particularly in relation to the three central categories of society - social class , gender and social Field - consider.

1. Generative grammar : Based on Noam Chomsky's analysis of language processes, Bourdieu develops this side of the habitus. Noam Chomsky examined people's speech behavior and came to various insights. According to Bourdieu, the most important thing for understanding habitus is the assumption that social subjects have a system of generative structures that enable them to generate an infinite number of expressions and thus to react to every possible situation in life. This helped Bourdieu to construct the habitus as a generative grammar.

In connection with Noam Chomsky, it must be made clear that Bourdieu von Chomsky only adopted and developed this approach. Chomsky's assumption that speakers derive their personal speech from an innate universal grammar was rejected by Bourdieu. Bourdieu defines habitus as an acquired (not innate) and experience-dependent construction.

2a. Habitus and social class : The social class refers to the vertical inequalities of society and the unequal participation of social subjects in social goods. A distinction is made between several forms of capital that are of fundamental importance for the definition of classes. It is about economic capital, cultural capital, symbolic capital and social capital. The economic capital means the material resources that a social subject has at its disposal. The academic titles and acquired practices constitute cultural capital. Symbolic capital means prestige and recognition in society. Social relationships are the basis for social capital.

If a group of social subjects has similar preferences and is also in similar social circumstances, one observes certain similarities. According to Bourdieu, these common habitual structures are typical of a particular social class. The term "class habitus" describes these common habitual structures. The class-specific habitus can be reconstructed through the actions of social subjects belonging to a class. This makes the actions of the class members easy to understand and explain to other members of the group.

2 B. Habitus and gender : This structural category refers to the division of labor between women and men. This social structure can be found in every society.

According to Bourdieu, this fundamental structural category of society implies the relationship of domination. With the understanding of bisexuality and the emphasis on male rule, the relationship of rule in our modern society is particularly easy to understand. Bisexuality is a principle of distinction that is particularly pronounced among individuals from early childhood. This category is of great importance in the development of the habitus. Genders are constructed as polar opposite categories, not like a classification system. The gender-specific behavior is particularly deeply impressed in the habitus and has an intense influence on social behavior.

In connection with the gender category, Bourdieu uses the term symbolic violence . Symbolic violence means an indirect form of violence. Characteristic of symbolic violence is the unconscious consent of the ruled (women) to the prevailing concept of order. Both sides, the rulers (men) and the ruled (women), must have a system of behavior, a habitus, in which this relationship of domination is imprinted. So the question must be asked why in our modern society, too, equality between women and men has not taken place completely. Bourdieu explains this phenomenon with the fact that the habitus is so deeply “rooted” that it “pre-structures” the learned (patriarchal) behaviors and gender-specific behavior in the practice (or rather in the plural, the practices) of social life. This leads to the fact that women unconsciously accept the male system of rule and in turn actively reproduce it themselves.

2c. Habitus and social field : The social field refers to the functionally differentiated division of labor in society. According to Bourdieu, a social field is a field of forces in which those involved compete for power. The participants try to enforce their positions and representations. Bourdieu compares the social field to a game. Each social field has its own functions with specific principles that are typical for the social field. For the existence of a social field, the identification of the participants with this functional system is important - the participants make it their profession. The specific functioning and the principles typical for the social field are deeply impressed on the social subjects involved. They have become their nature and are stored in the habitus.

The habitus concept mediates between the fundamental / elementary living conditions and the practical forms of a social actor ( space of lifestyles ). Bourdieu traces fundamental living conditions in social space .

The habitus fulfills a double function:

Bourdieu speaks of the “structured structure” of the habitus in relation to the “opus operatum”. The second side of the habitus is referred to by Bourdieu as the “modus operandi”, it is the “structuring structure” of the habitus.

Opus operatum (work)

The habitus is determined by class , i.e. This means that living conditions are internalized as class-specific classification systems through adaptation, learning and conditioning processes. In everyday practice, collective, generative schemes and “ dispositions ” (basic attitudes) are incorporated.

The social origin and previous social history are of central importance for shaping the habitus. Mediated through early childhood development, the entire collective history of the family and the class also enters into the habitus. Not only class-specific language or values have a constituent function, but also, for example, the architecture, large and bright or narrow, dark rooms or the nature of the interior design have a formative effect on early childhood development.

Bourdieu describes the habitus as a "coagulated life story". Social positions are internalized as dispositions.

Modus operandi (behavior)

The habitus is a generative production principle of social forms of practice.

The schemas of habitus form archetypes of classification and are the most fundamental principles of the construction and evaluation of the social world. Because this is experienced as being hierarchically structured, yes, it is incorporated, it is also perceived and evaluated as such.

The way of thinking, the view of the social world, the behavior and actions in social situations up to everyday actions are controlled and realized by the dispositions and classifications of the structurally adapted habitus. Dispositions that have arisen, incorporated learning acts do not only relate to the concrete learning situation, but also follow the generative principle of habitus and affect a multitude of action, assessment and perception situations .

The determination of the habitus determined by the class affiliation nevertheless offers space for an individual creative world design. In a theory of practice, Bourdieu combines socially structured forms of behavior with use-oriented strategies. In variable, never the same situations, the social actors fall back on permanent dispositions that are improvised, combined, and invented like the moves of a chess game. The habitus is thus “objectively” determined, but at the same time allows “subjective” individual action strategies in a space of possibilities .

The habitus includes:

  • a " system of permanent and transferable dispositions", which serve as the basis for creation and order for practices and ideas that manifest themselves in the spontaneity of the moment, that is, without knowledge and without consciousness in a person's practice;
  • incorporated, internalized, thus incorporated (incorporated) history , which has become nature and thus forgotten as such ;
  • a " socially constituted system of structured and structuring dispositions that is acquired through practice and is constantly geared towards practical functions";
  • Signs of the distinction of the individual classes , which is expressed, among other things, in a special clothing, language, taste or consumer behavior ;
  • Thinking and viewing the patterns of perception that justify the principles of judgment and evaluation;
  • The doxa is the tacit experience of the existing order that arises in the conformity of the habitus with the objective structures, not as an arbitrarily created and thus criticizable, but as a naturally given, self-evident state, and is thus understood as natural.

Bourdieu also uses the following terminology in this context :

  • “Language made body” means: Through the habitus ways of thinking and seeing become reified in the human body.
  • Practice means that the habitus permeates people every moment of their existence and narrows their scope of action, but leaves them possibilities of design within this framework.
  • Generative operator provides a generating connection between the structuring and the structured.

In modern industrial societies, according to Bourdieu, the individual social classes differ not only in their different powers of disposal over the means of production , but also in their "subtle differences" (cf. also The subtle differences ) in their habitus forms in the area of ​​lifestyles . These differences, the signs of distinction , relate e.g. B. on clothing, language, taste and consumer behavior.

For Bourdieu, habitus means the class-specific, unconscious but nonetheless precise adaptation of the dispositions, behavioral patterns and attitudes of a person to the respective social (surrounding) field . The entire action of individuals is determined by this habitus: The habitus translates objective social relationships into subjective, individual and class-specific practice. This practice is unconscious and yet precisely adapted to the social field, because the habitus only arises historically in response to a social field that has always been there. The habitus is therefore the product of a historical process. In it the objective necessities and possibilities of action of a class manifest themselves and are transformed into a subjective sense by means of a class ethos.


Hexis is the Greek version of the more well-known habitus = "behavior", "external form", "posture". Bourdieu uses hexis and habitus in different meanings. While he uses the term habitus to designate control mechanisms for mental attitudes and habits (for example art or music taste), he uses Hexis in relation to the physical dimension (for example gestures , facial expressions , posture, choice of sport).

Examples habitus

Examples of aspects of habit are:

See also


  • Pierre Bourdieu: The social space and its transformations. In: The subtle differences - a critique of social judgment. Frankfurt am Main 1982, pp. 171-210.
  • Pierre Bourdieu: On the genesis of the terms habitus and field. In: The same: the dead grabs the living. Hamburg 1997.
  • Pierre Bourdieu / Loïc Wacquant : Réponses. Pour une anthropologie réflexive. Seuil, Paris 1992.
    • Translated into German by Hella Beister: Reflexive Anthropologie . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 978-3-518-58229-9 ; Another paperback edition: Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 978-3-518-29393-5 .
  • Norbert Elias: About the process of civilization . 2 volumes. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main.
  • Norbert Elias: The Society of Individuals. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 978-3-518-28574-9 .
  • Gerhard Fröhlich: Habitus and Hexis. The incorporation of the practice structures in Pierre Bourdieu. In: Hermann Schwengel, Britta Höpken (Ed.): Boundless Society? Volume 2/2: Ad hoc groups, forums. Centaurus, Pfaffenweiler 1999, ISBN 3-8255-0290-2 , pp. 100-102 ( PDF: 288 kB, 5 pages on ssoar.info).
  • Heike Guthoff: Critique of Habitus. On the intersection of collectivity and gender in academic philosophy. Transcript, Bielefeld 2013.
  • Beate Krais , Gunter Gebauer: Habitus. Transcript, Bielefeld 2002, ISBN 3-933127-17-3 .
  • Doris Märtin : Habitus. Are you ready to take the leap to the top? . Campus, Frankfurt 2019. ISBN 978-3593509839
  • Peter Nickl: Order of feelings. Studies on the concept of habitus. Meiner, Hamburg 2001 ( literary criticism ).
  • Tom Sparrow: A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu. Lanham 2013.
  • Loïc Wacquant: A Brief Genealogy and Anatomy of the Concept of Habit. In: Berliner Debatte Initial . Issue 4/2016, pp. 103-109.

Web links

  • Center for the Interdisciplinary Research on Religion and Society (CIRRuS): HabitusAnalysis. Bielefeld University, August 24, 2016, accessed on March 4, 2019.
  • Werner Zips, Matthäus Rest: Die Praxeologie Pierre Bourdieus: Doxa. In: Basics of social science ways of thinking. Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Vienna, January 27, 2010, accessed on March 4, 2019.

Individual evidence

  1. Tom Sparrow: A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu . Lanham 2013.
  2. Due to similar approaches and ways of thinking, their sociological concepts are similar in many aspects beyond the concept of habitus, but also show some differences. From 1976 to 1990 both exchanged by letter. The correspondence is in the German Literature Archive in Marbach am Neckar , but has hardly been evaluated so far. Cf. Inken Hasselbusch: Norbert Elias and Pierre Bourdieu in comparison. An investigation into theory development, terminology and reception. 2014, accessed July 4, 2017 .
  3. Norbert Elias: About the process of civilization. Sociogenetic and psychogenetic studies. 1. Changes in behavior in the secular upper classes of the West . Frankfurt a. M. 1997 (first edition: 1939).
  4. Norbert Elias: About the process of civilization. Sociogenetic and psychogenetic studies. 2. Changes in society, drafting a theory of civilization . Frankfurt a. M. 1997.
  5. Boike Rehbein: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieus . Constance 2006, p. 88 .
  6. Norbert Elias: Sociology and Psychiatry . In: Essays and other writings I. (=  Collected writings . Volume 14 ). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2006, ISBN 978-3-518-58453-8 , pp. 322 .
  7. This interpretation shows above all that the male order is so deeply rooted that it needs no justification. P. Bourdieu; L. Wacquant (1992): Reflexive Anthropology. Suhrkamp, ​​Ffm 1996 p. 208.
  8. "The habitus as a structuring and structured structure activates practical schemata in practices and thinking that have emerged from the incorporation of social structures - ontogenetically mediated by the socialization process - which in turn are reflected in the historical work of many generations (-... -) have formed. "(P. Bourdieu; L. Wacquant (1992): Reflexive Anthropologie. Suhrkamp, ​​Ffm 1996, p. 173)
  9. Norbert Elias : Studies on the Germans. Power struggles and habitus development in the 19th and 20th centuries. In: Collected Writings. Volume 11. Frankfurt / M. 1989/2005.
  10. Michaela Pfadenhauer: Profession, Habitus and Change. Frankfurt / M. 2009.
  11. Werner Helsper (Ed.): Student habitus : theoretical and empirical analyzes on Bourdieu's theorem of cultural fit. Wiesbaden 2014.