The Psychic Landscape of Social Class & My Cleft Habitus | Part 10: The Paradoxical Temporality of Reflexivity & The Continuity of Class

In the last article, we began to discuss how the field of a habitus also consists of the habitus of other people. Fields then, like habitus, are in a constant state of flux relative to each other yet, in a way, tend towards homeostasis due to the existence of a primary habitus. In fact, in a more recent exegesis of habitus, one of Bourdieu’s closest peers, Wacquant in “A concise genealogy and anatomy of habitus” (2016) in The Sociological Review, theorised habitus in such a way that I have encouraged readers to employ, understanding habitus in a way that I have criticised others for failing to– habitus never exists independently but as a pillar of the Bourdieusian toolbox wherein to take any idea without the others, the entire theory crumbles. Further, the point of using the Bourdieusian tools is to help understand the (re)production of social relations and structure- indeed, to use these tools without looking at their relatives and the general movement of things, we would simply be taking a picture of the world and describing it.

Continuing from the last article, social mobility causes a structural effect on habitus which we have explained means a structural effect on the field it inhabits, as well as the emotional effects experienced subjectively by the individual. So far, we have focused on these individualised negative effects, such as hysteresis but these are essentially just negative versions of reflexivity. In other articles, I have explained reflexivity as the result of habitus field incongruence which forces a person to reflect on their beliefs about their practices. Although we have explained how reflexivity can be a painful experience, Bourdieu sought for everyone to be more reflexive, even though his understanding of it was somewhat paradoxical.

Reflexivity is paradoxical because it can only really be temporary, almost like a mode of habitus as it adjust to it’s new field, or is socially mobile in such a way that it moves into a more congruent field. The cleft habitus is the paradoxical result of when this process seemingly fails and a person seems both congruent and incongruent simultaneously. Bourdieu understood himself this way in his auto-socio-analysis, that his key insights into the functioning of the social world were the result of his social mobility. He abhorred many of his intellectual peers for their arrogance and the heterodoxia (common belief) that understanding of the world could only be gained from the outside, from their ivory towers of academia. However, he understood that paradoxically, he could only understand this was incorrect, and that also those who tried to understand from within, because of his social mobility. Moreover, he was now in those very ivory towers looking from another theoretical outside in, attempting to explain that his understanding would not be possible if not for his being in that position, paradoxically simultaneously agreeing with his peers and disagreeing.

This paradoxical understanding led Bourdieu to theorise reflexivity as temporal, a kind of active mode which is triggered by habitus and field incongruence that reveals to a person the unwritten rules of the field they inhabited. However, this moment would always be temporary as once the incongruence is solved, practice becomes stable. Where these practices are harmful or abnormal, the result is what we may label things like mental illnesses, criminal behaviours, or other things which depend on the scale of the field they are being compared with- but this idea is beyond the scope of this series.

The main point here is that after reflexivity, habitus and field become more or less congruent, thus practices are stabilised, meaning that the person does not reflect on those practices, calling into question their beliefs about those practices which can only come into sight when one is unable to practice them stably. Like a fish that could think might only reflect upon the existence of water after they are taken out of it. Indeed, the fish might later decide that being in the water is better for obvious reasons, but because the fish is now aware of this being more of a choice, we might say the fish is more free than a fish in the exact same position except for the fact of it having experienced otherwise.

Returning to our following of Friedman’s article on social mobility’s effects on social practices, his research shows that usually mobility is not clear cut like in the previous analogy. Another key aspect of Bourdieu’s theory is that it is relational and continuous. Although there must obviously be bifurcations between classes for us to be able to recognise differences at all, the line between middle-class and working-class, for example, is nothing like the obvious point at which water becomes air in our analogy.

The fact that class is continuous and, in cases such as those nearer the start of Friedman’s article, mobility is slow, allows habitus more time to adjust itself to the new field and avoid the disruptive effects of hysteresis. Further, Friedman agrees that the idea of upwards social mobility being a more common belief of working-class men could afford such a habitus with extra protection against such effects as such a trajectory is considered possible.

Another source of psychological self protection Friedman finds people use in order to avoid the negative reflexivity is to affirm their class origins with a sense of pride which allows them to imagine themselves as proof of such narratives of possibility, or for some, re-affirming their origins allows them to retain their identity so they don’t have to confront the fact that they have changed- especially if such mobility is seen as a form of class treachery in their original field.

This latter point also explains why some participants of Friedman’s research that it seemed could have been more socially mobile, chose not to be. These choices, as Friedman points out, reflect the habitus also being resistant to change as it will probably induce “a confrontation between the dispositions formed in primary socialization [sic] and those demanded by their destination”. Moreover, even if it could be argued that their rationalisations for their choices are confabulated to protect themselves, the fact of class differences in ways of being and talking, manners and tastes, are evidence of embodied cultural capital. And when considering how these manners and tastes etc., are inherited similarly to class, we see how it makes sense to call them forms of capital.

Another point here, which will be returned to later in this series, is how beliefs or doxa, here act similarly to capitals. Some forms of knowledge, whether commonly understood or bodily knowledge of actual practices, can already be understood as forms of capital. Here though, the belief in a narrative of social mobility (or lack thereof) or belief in one’s deserved social destination seems to act like a capital- it is inherited via one’s field, integrated into habitus, and to some extent determines the limits of habitus and field congruence. Note this line of thinking about how beliefs influence habitus will be useful in future for thinking about symbolic power.

Friedman’s article continues by looking at what he labels “’Moments’ of individual hysteresis” (p. 138), times in people’s live in which, like we have discussed, one’s habitus becomes incongruent with the field it’s in. Where Reay’s research talked about the general psychic landscape of social class in school and how the primary habitus of a working-class person integrates the doxa of self-limitation regarding social mobility, Friedman looks at the emotional experiences, again negative, of those who grow up experiencing both fields. For some, the experiences of mismatch are simply enduring painful memories of bullying, or lingering guilt about the feelings one has towards one’s own origins, usually represented by their immediate family, and hysteresis effects subsided as the new field and habitus incongruence resolved itself by the person changing trajectories or habitus investment. For a minority, usually those who continued to be upwardly socially mobile, the hysteresis effect seemed unending and the constant being in 2 incongruent fields, produced in them 2 respectively incongruent habitus in a single person- people with a split habitus.

In the next article, we will continue discussing the idea of a split habitus which should be easier to understand more now that we have a greater understanding of both habitus and field. We will continue to look at Friedman’s article about the cleft habitus and it’s relation to reflexivity, perhaps drawing again on my own experiences and reflexive practices that have led to my current social trajectory, position, and interests.


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