Cleft habitus is a concept developed by French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It is the idea that one’s habitus, dispositions towards thinking, feeling, and acting which are mainly the result of one’s socialisation that come to fit with a certain field, might be split due to experiences of social mobility. The working-class (wo)man might not feel comfortable in the more middle-class milieu of the university (although that is increasingly changing), thinking “this place is not for the likes of me”, because it is not the field congruent with their habitus. A cleft habitus might experience enough of both milieus to simultaneously feel a sense of belonging and being out of place in both.
Bourdieu said those with cleft habitus would experience a “hysteresis effect”, a persistent anxiety and unease about their social position. For Bourdieu, this was the result of being from a peasant family in rural France who went on to become a world-renowned academic working at one of the most prestigious institutions in Europe. Although his doubtless achievements gave him access to an upper-class lifeworld that most from his background could never hope to ascend to, he could never fully shed his background, his primary habitus, and so never truly fit in with his peers. Conversely, being the upwardly socially mobile success he was, he could no longer properly fit in with those from his own background. This experience is what it means to have a cleft habitus.
I grew up experiencing varying movements through social space that have arguably left me with a cleft habitus. From a working-class background, I managed to go to university and, although academically successful, haven’t had the right capitals or dispositions to mobilise that success into real social mobility. However, my academic success and the changes to my habitus through accommodation and assimilation of habits and dispositions learned at university, I am not as able to connect with those from my own class background, the class position of which I am still arguably inhabiting.
Although the hysteresis effect has such obvious negative connotations, it is not without some arguable advantages. Being constantly aware of one’s social position, although sometimes anxiety-inducing helps one be more persistently aware of how one’s experiences effect our thinking, hence our writing. Although Bourdieu eventually wrote from the ivory tower, it was not meant for him and so he was more able to question it’s legitimacy and functioning. To read more about what a cleft habitus is and an analysis of my own personal experiences, click here.
This blog aims not to simply be it’s own discussion, but get readers thinking more, particularly about how their social position effects their thinking, thinking about how they think and why they think that way, being what Bourdieu called “reflexive”. I hope you the reader find all the articles thought-provoking, informative, and useful. Thank you for visiting and don’t hesitate to contact the editor(s) if you have any questions, complaints, requests, or if you would like to contribute an article.
Tom Roscoe (click to email)
Dylan S Yoki