The Psychic Landscape of Social Class & My Cleft Habitus | Part 4: Some Reflexions & Notes on Habitus, Luck & Biological Capital

In the last article, I began to look at some of my childhood experiences of home and education. I moved around a fair amount meaning my experience of school was inconsistent and my relationship with my parents was bad but I was fortunate to experience some stability and inherit certain (valued) values from my grandparents. At the end of the article, I wrote that in this one I would explain these experiences in terms of the different forms of capital. Before that, I would like to insert some reflections I’ve had while thinking about this series.

As mentioned in part 2 of this series and the long article In Defense of Bourdieu, reflexivity is about breaking free of dogma, an ideal state to strive towards yet often elusive. Reflexivity requires us to break with the illusion of the game, sometimes enabling us to see its rules, and is often forced upon us from the outside. Being reflexive means being conscious in a way that makes our normal practice, however much it felt like we were consciously doing it before, seem like unconscious. This is one of the keys to understanding habitus as the preconscious dispositions and practices which we routinely engage in during daily life. The new practice can lead to a return to the field from which the habitus broke and continued stability, be assimilated or accommodated by the habitus, or in much rarer cases, habitus is subject to a “hysteresis effect”.

The hysteresis effect will be explained in more depth as this series continues but for now, imagine this as a more persistent and disruptive incongruency between a person’s habitus and the field it’s engaged in. Usually the habitus and field are quite harmonious in their actions upon each other but when the habitus fails to stabilise with the field it is in, it can become a site of spontaneity and creativity, or distress and anxiety. The latter case is particularly noticeable in situations which produce what Bourdieu called the “habitus clivé” or “cleft habitus”. Like Bourdieu, I experienced significant social mobility, although not as pronounced as him, being the extraordinary parvenu he was. The experience of social mobility is usually accompanied by the hysteresis effect, which perhaps in Bourdieu’s case afforded him the creativity and insight to develop his amazing theoretical contributions to sociology, but also left him with his cleft habitus- the anxiety, self-doubt, and discomfort that reflected it. In my case, perhaps my cleft habitus reflects my BPD, as also discussed in the second article in this series.

Surprisingly, reflecting on this series has relieved some anxiety which I had expected it to exacerbate. Analysing the tension between my individuality and society produced a kind of anxiety which came from mistakenly believing in an actual separation between myself as an individual and the and the collective antagonistic nature of the rest of society. Looking again at this relationship in this new self analysis has helped relieve some of this anxiety by reminding me about the tension as being of aims and compromises rather than complete adversity. Understanding this reality allows one to make more realistic goals so not get depressed about failure because one can see when a goal isn’t possible according to the conditions I face. In other words, understanding the social conditions of my goal making has enabled me to consider the conditions of their possibility and so how realistic they are or not.

Further to this, I have found a greater meaning for this article series and how it connects to my wider research goals. By analysing how I came to acquire the scholastic disposition and become academically successful we can look at the structures which led to this, so policy can encourage these types of results. Also, by seeing setbacks we can change policy to stop them happening in the future. Looking at the individual case of my own life here is a good example of seeing the connections between private troubles and wider social issues or, In other words, using what C Wright Mills called the sociological imagination.

Returning to the series, I think it is also important to note the implications of what we might call luck and also the types of capital, which seem rarely mentioned in mainstream sociologies, which are transferred biologically rather than socially. Indeed, if something can be considered a form of capital in the Bourdieusian sense because it can be converted or exchanged into economic captial, then there is a biological form of capital passed on even more directly hereditarily; i.e. DNA.

Discussion of biological capital probably warrants its own post however so I’ll return to that later. For now, consider that this biological transfer is, although stochastic and probabilistic, it is not absolutely deterministic. This slight indeterminacy is also present in our chances to successfully convert or exchange other forms of capital. This “luck” or “chance” factor is something I shall develop further in the upcoming book The Social Determinants of Freedom as what might seem like a kind of cop out to a more accurate method of analysis, but some indeterminacy is always present in social scientific analyses. Whether it is because our statistical techniques can never give us 100% certainty (if they did, we would have hard laws rather than statistical probabilities), human errors, or all the other kinds of problems associated with human research, we always face margins of errors which I think should count this luck factor.

Considering biological capital and luck, we can partly explain my class mobility as resulting from, what we can call here, the bad luck of abusive/neglectful parents which contributed to my mental health problems, and risking extreme arrogance, perhaps my academic success despite setbacks as described in the previous article is explained by inheritance of certain genetic dispositions towards that kind of success.

I hadn’t planned on writing as much as I have so far with this post and am still somehow employed at my supposedly temporary job around which I don’t find much time to write, so I’m leaving this here for now. In the next article in this series I will continue discussing my capitals and social trajectory before returning to reflections on reading Diane Reay’s article on the psychic landscape of social class.


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