J.P.Roos and Anna Rotkirch
University of Helsinki
Department of Social Policy
Habitus, Evolution and the End of Social Constructionism
Paper to be presented in Working Group 21 “Teori och metodutveckling”,
Nordic Sociology Conference Reykjavik, 15-17August 2002
Presently there is a consensus among the social scientists
that society is something that exists only through spoken and written communication
and agreement between people. It is being continuously constructed so that
the moment we do not construct our society, it disappears. All that
is real is constructed, to paraphrase Marx. When writing this, we happened
to receive a just published research report emanating from the national
pensions board, discussing different models of social policy in Europe.
Its methodological chapter tells us happily that ”reality is socially constructed”
with reference to Michel Foucault and Berger-Luckmann (see Niemelä
- Salminen 2002, 19). Social scientists have gladly appropriated the “results”
of philosophy, which seem to support the linguistic turn and give credence
to ideas that truth and reality are mere figments of our imagination (e.g.
Rorty, (vulgarised) Wittgenstein, (vulgarised) Foucault). In our own country,
Finland, a recent book advocating a marriage between pragmatism and constructionism
tells innocent sociologists that “tables, stars, electrons, people, academic
disciplines, or any other things do not have more substance than numbers”
Thus a plastic, flexible view of society and human beings has replaced
fixed causal models. Society is seen as absolutely social and malleable,
in practice isolated from natural processes (or affecting the natural processes
more than vice versa). Social scientists are themselves part of society
and unable to make independent, objective observations. Social or natural
facts have a minor role in research. Among evolutionary theorists, this
has been called the Standard Social Science Model (Tooby & Cosmides
1997, Wilson 1998). In this view, human beings are either born as a ‘blank
slate’ and consciousness, habits and skills develop purely from social
interaction, or the human psyche is understood as conforming to psychoanalytical
ideas of development.
This kind of constructionism is a relatively new concept in social
sciences. When the senior author (JPR) began his career in the end of 1960's
- when Berger-Luckmann (1966) had just been published - the central argument
was about the differences between social and natural sciences and the so-called
hermeneutic-phenomenological approach had only started its victory march
through the social sciences. During this process one can say that most
social scientists have renounced the causal model and the possibility of
objective observations as a basis of sociological research and social decision-making.
At the same time, such biologically based concepts as “instincts” lost
their validity for social scientists (see e.g. Gerth-Mills (1954), for
whom “instinct” was still a valid concept). Nature became something
unchanging and absolutely external which had little relevance to society,
and therefore to the social sciences. Today, this idea uneasily coexists
with view that even nature is socially constructed (see Eagleton 2000 for
a critique of such one-sided reductionism.). The idea of a strong interaction
between innate and acquired properties and of a causal precedence of various
biological properties, or the view that many of our social activities can
be traced back to hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, is strongly
reprehensible for social scientists.
Social constructionism is assumed to give the social scientist maximum
freedom and autonomy from all kinds of external restrictions. For instance,
Risto Heiskala (2000) argues that if you have to choose between a social
constructionist explanation and a biological explanation, you should choose
the sociological unless the biological is absolutely proven, as that is
supposed to give you more freedom to change. Note that this is not necessarily
true: if everything is seen as completely free and unstructured, there
is no possibility for cumulative theory-building or creative development
based on previous structural rules. This a priori rejection of biological
knowledge also means that social scientists have turned a blind eye towards
the enormous accumulation of knowledge and theoretical advance which has
taken places in the life sciences concerning the evolution of man, nature
of consciousness, language etc.
However, as the famous hoax by Alan Sokal revealed, there is already
a strong undercurrent against the prevailing constructionist and postmodernist
tendencies. Sociologists seem to be rather alone in their counterintuitive
views concerning the “social construction of reality”, even though for
some of them this seems to be the only possible alternative (see eg. Hacking
1999, Corcuff 2000). As social scientists, we believe that we are bound
by reality: truth is not something we can construct at will and even interpretations
can be better or worse. We should try to weave the net of reality, slowly
and persistently. Society is not a collective illusion, kept alive only
by our common agreement. Sociologists have been told to sit on the shoulders
of the giants (Weber, Marx, Durkheim etc) but this is futile unless we
also use the work of the ‘ants’ - empirical scientists who collect facts/details
- and build a common hive. The more cumulative social science becomes,
Today, there are several possible alternatives to constructionism: critical
realism, peircean pragmatism, philosophical phenomenology, various (psychological)
theories of development or action, as well as what interests us here: a
return to Edvard Westermarck and his evolutionary sociology. All these
alternatives are already being pursued and it is clear that under the surface
of constructionist consensus a lot is happening (see the recent article
in favor of evolutionary sociology by the President of the American Sociological
Association, Massey 2002).
Nevertheless, as we all know, there has been an enormous debate which
created an almost absolute Berlin wall between (progressive) sociologists
and sociobiologists, or as they are now often called, evolutionary psychologists.
It started with the publication of “Sociobiology” by E O Wilson (1975)
and has continued with changing emphasis that (although it should be noted
that the discussion concerning sociobiology has been strictly anticonstructionist,
both sides of the debate are committed realists and want to ‘defend the
truth’). Ullica Segerstråle (2001) has in a recent book followed
the discussion and emphasized the permanence of the frontlines. It is important
to notice, however, that the developments in evolutionary biology have
been extraordinary since 1970's, so that the mostly speculative character
of sociobiology has been transformed into both empirically and theoretically
validated results. Many aspects of sexuality, parenthood, use of language
in communication, emotions, even logical reasoning have been given a plausible
evolution theoretical explanation of which sociologists are normally completely
unaware or refuse to take into account. In fact, it is ironical that even
as sociologists increasingly believe that “laws of nature” are socially
constructed, the selfsame laws have taken over great parts of the sociological
and social psychological playground - usually with more scientific and
empirical evidence. (E.g. Wilson 1998, Pinker 1994, Hrdy 1999.)
From a sociological perspective, the ideological ‘wall’ shadows the
fact that the field of research in human evolution has great ideological
and theoretical differences. For instance, some scholars of genetic inheritance
have searched for differences between human ‘races’ and nations and like
to emphasize the genetic heritability of relatively fixed properties (such
as intelligence), while evolutionary psychologist are more interested in
the universal traits that are common to all human beings (such as eye sight
or the emotion of love) (Cosmides & Tooby 1997, 15).
Much evolutionary writing has been made from a male and sexist perspective
(for recent examples, see Ridley 1993, Browne 1998), but many of the most
prominent voices today are explicitly pro-feminist (Hrdy 1999; Richards
2000; Miller 2001; Zuk 2002). All this “noise” notwithstanding, the advance
of evolutionary theory in the social and biological sciences has been enormous.
It shows, in our view quite convincingly, that our culture and our society
are not so autonomous and self-sufficient as we like to believe. Neither
are human behaviour or social interaction randomly or “freely” constructed.
Acknowledging this should not mean that social determinism is exchanged
for biological determinism. What is needed is serious theoretical and empirical
work in order to confront and integrate the insights of evolutionary research
with existing sociological knowledge. - as difficult as it may be, given
the enormous prejudice against reductionism, genetic determinism, racism
etc. (Indeed, the anxiety and rejection that has been caused by such evolutionary
ideas as that of the ‘selfish gene’ is a reaction so strong and pertinent
that it may well be formed by human evolution (Miller 2000, 135-137; cf
Sarmaja (2001) on the evolution of the feeling of disgust.).)
In this paper, we will attempt to develop the concept of habitus of
Pierre Bourdieu in the direction of evolutionary socilogy. First, however,
a short discussion of the type of claims about human nature we think sociology
needs to take into account and how it differs from conventional sociological
writing about nature today.
Basic principles of evolutionary theory
Most European sociologists probably agree that the
human body has developed through Darwinian natural selection. In secular
understandings of human behaviour, the boundary between the standard social
science model and evolutionary psychology is about the extent to which
evolutionary processes can explain modern human beings (Richards 2000,
54-5). To most sociologists, the invention of technology and language has
created an autonomous social reality, which has then evolved independently
from human biology (eg Kaufmann 2000). In this quite dualist understanding
our bodies evolved, but our minds are socially constructed.
By contrast, in evolutionary theory the processes of natural selection
have affected not only our bodies but also our emotions, character traits,
choice mechanisms, forms of cooperation, etc. In this view, all usual and
often occurring human behaviour has evolutionary roots, which are then
showing more or less great variations in various societies. Or as Marlene
Zuk puts it with regard to sexuality,
“/An evolutionary perspective/ is not so different form the sociological
attitude about homosexuality and gender having many manifestations in various
cultures, but it acknowledges that organisms, both humans and non-humans,
are biological entities, and any attempt to explain sexual behavior, even
in its broadest sense, must be rooted in their biology.” (Zuk 2002, 183)
Even this moderate statement is too radical for much of social sciences.
In a recent and much-cited work about the concept of nature, Darwin or
Darwinism is not even mentioned in the index (Rofe 1995). In that and other
works, ‘nature’ is something apart from human behaviour and assigned a
monolithic, static and restricted role. For instance, Terry Eagleton (2000,
2001) emphasizes in his essay the interaction between nature and culture.
Nevertheless, both the human body and the natural environment are treated
only as material objects of the physical world, which should not be ignored.
“It is unclear what it means when it is claimed that giving blood or
Mont Blanc are somehow cultural things. It is true that our concepts of
giving blood and of Mont Blanc, with all their different meanings, are
cultural, but this a mere tautology, for what else could a concept be?”
(Eagleton 2001, 114)
The biological evolution of human beings has taken place from 6 million
to 100 000 yeas ago. Depending on an ability or aptitude, various traits
have developed at a different time. Our eyes have evolved as a function
of light conditions of the earth during millions of years whereas participant
fatherhood would seem to be “only” two million years old (Tooby&Cosmides
2001,12) The ‘environment’ during which a specific feature developed is
called the environment for evolutionary adaptedness, EEA.
The human practices that were selected by evolution are those that
helped maximize the number of surviving progeny. Such practices include
what is usually understood as ‘natural selection’, ie overcoming environmental
dangers and risks. However, sexual and parental selection also played a
crucial role (Miller 2000; Hrdy 1999). Female (and male) choice for sexual
partners and female choice of infants probably shaped the way adults and
babies look and behave, although many of those properties are not directly
needed for survival (eg male breast hair or infant chubbiness).
To return to Eagleton, his essay notes that culture and nature are
intertwined but still bypasses the essential idea of Darwinist evolution
- the logic of innate abilities. Thus he can approvingly refer to an author
who says that New Yorkers are as close to the nature as primitive tribes,
because cultural and social is also nature. Here he again bypasses the
basic proposition of evolution theory, namely, that the evolutionary adaptive
environment where our social behaviour has been developed was the prehistoric
gatherer-hunter society. Thus primitive people (or Nordic summer cottage
living) are actually much closer to nature and the natural environment
of human beings than for instance New York (and this also shows in the
existence of panic or eating disorders related to “unnatural” social situations).
An evolutionary adaptive practice - which we here refer to as innate
behavioral dispositions, or aptitudes of action - is a descriptive, not
a normative term. Love, rape, solidarity, infidelity or lying are all innate
aptitudes for emotion and action, but this does not mean that they are
automatically morally acceptable. An adaptive practice can be non-adaptive
in the modern world (eg our preference for sweets), or compete with other
practices (over-eating vs. need to be fit).
Evolutionary adaptive practices can be both conscious and unconscious.
For instance, it has been profitable for women to restrict the number of
her children in order to improve the chances of their survival. The different
ways of doing this range from intentional actions (even killing or abandoning
weak children) to instinctive ones, such as long breast feeding that prevents
Many types of behaviour have also developed for a specific purpose,
but are used for other things, which may have or have not become adaptive
in their turn. Writing and reading are paradigmatic examples of behaviour
that have not evolved evolutionarily. (This explains, for instance, why
people who read and write all day long still tend to dream very little
of such activities, whereas evolutionarily adaptive practices - responses
to different threats - are much more common in dreams (Revonsuo 2000).)
Finally, one should not mix evolutionary function with content. For instance,
some behaviour may have been selected because it attracted mates (eg talking),
but that does not mean the behaviour itself always is or feels ‘sexual’
(Miller 2000, 274-275).
Eagleton correctly criticizes the illusion already referred to above
that nature is problematic because it is more difficult to change it. He
takes example of the destruction of the rain forests, which is relatively
easy with modern machines, while such cultural phenomena as sexual discrimination
are much more difficult to change. However, here Eagleton forgets that
the evolutionary explanation of the origin of sexual discrimination by
way of different sexual and parental strategies gives a very plausible
explanation for the “permanence” of sexual discrimination. To work against
this inequality is however not “unnatural”; it simply helps to know the
basic reasons and mechanisms. To take into consideration innate models
of activity is therefore different from accepting nature as a fact.
Life stories and modular abilities
Thus an evolutionary perspective agrees with Eagleton (2001) and many
others in that the evolution of human species presupposes education and
culture. In all human activity the innate and learned, ‘natur’ and ‘culture’
are intertwined. But evolutionary thought stresses that also these two
aspects are in reality inseparable, they are not identical and do not follow
the same rules. Zuk (2002, *) takes the example of a violin player. It
is ridiculous to debate about what is making the music – the violin or
the player. Nevertheless, when comparing two violinists performing the
same peace of music one can well discuss whether differences are due to
the player’s skills or to the instrument.
In the same way, we know that language is both innate and learned.
We can also analyse which structures of language acquisition are innate
and universal and which are culturally specific. In Pinker’s (1994) view,
language is largely a “natural” process in which the child leans to speak
because he or she has been wired to do so and where language develops,
not because of imitation and repetition but because of innate rules that
the child uses as a response of social interaction. This claim rests on
studies of children in exceptional situation, such as those learning sign
language with parents who can hear, or slave children in boats where the
language of communication was extremely primitive. In both cases children
“create” the language and make it much more complete and functional than
the original model. The point is that children have innate rules
according to which the language develops. This means that language, this
social artefact par excellence, which has become so central even in social
science, is never only a social construction..
This goes even more for non-verbal communication which even more heritable.
Thus the wide-spread thought that only when we express something in language
we produce society, is seriously erroneous. Semiosis does have its
uses, but it does not produce society. (Ironically, preference for language
and spoken thought is a middle class phenomenon and can partly be explained
from and evolutionary perspective (it is connected to sexual selection
and social status), Miller 2001).
Another popular example among evolution theory is the Wason-test (see
Cosmides&Tooby 2001) where the same problem presented in different
forms, highly abstract or a problem concerning a social contract leads
to completely different results. Our brains have evolved to solve social
contractual problems, reveal attempts at deception, but not for logical
deduction. It is possible for us, but not “natural”. Learning usually takes
place through concrete examples.
A final, important example is the life story (see also Roos 2002).
The going position is that autobiographies (here we are assuming that “graphy”
does not refer to writing only) have been born with Rousseau’s Confessions.
In the beginning, Rousseau tells us that he is embarking on a project which
nobody else before him has done, and this claim has been since taken at
face value. It is based on the belief that not only written life stories,
but individuality and a conception of singular life has developed only
in connection with modernisation of society and entails a completely new
relationship of the individual to her or his life. Previously, this view
goes, it would have been impossible to present an autobiography in the
sense of a coherent life story, only disparate memoirs connected to the
Nevertheless, there are two reasons why this is not so, one internal
and one external. The internal reason is narrativity - the fundamental
principles of narration that have existed long before written language
was created. The external reason is the fact that we do not seem to have
any difficulty to understand extremely various autobiographies. Take an
autobiography of a concentration camp inmate in Auschwitz or an autobiography
of a woman belonging to a man-eating tribe. Both represent experiences
are totally foreign to a modern, Nordic educated person living a protected
and risk free life, but both nevertheless completely understandable for
us and open our eyes to very different situations in life.
Why is this so? From the perspective of evolutionary theory the explanation
is quite clear. We all have universal abilities and aptitudes which have
remained unchanged a very long time and that frame our emotional reactions,
the nature of our interactions (life in a concentration camp might actually
be quite close to life in very hostile surroundings, where it is impossible
to find food and where only very close persons can be trusted and anybody
else can be a mortal danger).
The idea that a life story becomes possible only in the end of the
eighteenth century Europe is in this light absurd. On the contrary, there
is good reason to think that our forefathers in the African savannah or
North European cave, long before they started to write, have been telling
stories about their life. Maybe the distinctions between life of a group
and one’s individual life were not so clear cut, but the rudiments of life
story must have existed at least during the past 50 000 to100 000 years.
The telling of life stories probably helped not only information exchange,
but also sexual success. Or, as Geoffrey Miller suggests,
“Within minutes of boy meets girl, boy and girl typically know each
other’s names, geographical origins, and occupations. ... Language made
each individual’s entire history a part of their ‘extended phenotype’ in
courtship. Like our body ornaments, our pasts became part of our sexual
displays. ... sexual selection could favour any mental trait that tended
to produce an attractive past.” (Miller 2000, 362-364.)
The famous list presented by Steven Pinker concerning all that
is NOT socially constructed, but according to Pinker a “modular” part of
a person’s habitus, which is activated at given moments, concretizes in
an extreme way the situation of social sciences vs. evolutionary psychology:
1. Intuitive mechanics
(we are supposed to know that movement is linear, that one moving thing
affects another if it hits it etc)
2. Intuitive biology
(we can distinguish living from non living, we understand intuitively
how plants and animals work)
3. Numbers and counting
4. Mental maps of large areas
5. Choice of habitat, preference for safe and information-rich, productive
6. Danger, emotion of fear, phobias for heights, poisonous and predatory
7. Food, what is good to eat
8. Contamination, including feeling of disgust, intuition about contagion
9. Monitoring of one’s own well-being, recognition of emotions of sorrow,
happiness, moods of contentment and restlessness
10. Intuitive psychology, prediction of other people’s behaviour, lies
11. A kind of mental Rolodex, individuals relatives, status, exchange
of services, weighting of different abilities
12. Self-concept, self-analysis and self-presentation
13 Sense of justice, rights, duties
14. Kinship, nepotism, allocation of parenting effort
15 Love sex, jealousy, fidelity, desertion
(Pinker 1994, 465-466, cf Cosmides-Tooby 1997)
It is clear that even if only half of this list would be true, it would
have revolutionary consequences to modern constructionist sociology. Yet
most of it seems to be empirically provable through child research and
ethnographic research. And it does not contain even all of the relatively
undisputed results of evolutionary theory, such the avoidance of incest
(the so-called Westermarck effect), which has been proven by secondary
analysis of a series of studies of primitive tribes. Nor does Pinker list
dreams, which are also nowadays explainable from an evolutionary perspective.
It is always possible that the evolutionary explanations are revealed
as erroneous and mistaken. An example of a mistaken theory of evolutionary
thought is for example the central role of men as family supporters in
early tribal societies. Recent research indicates that the women, both
in childbearing age and after menopause, were probably much more important
in food provision while hunting was more connected to power, status and
sexual selection than to securing food (Hrdy 1999). This has been shown
by observing hunter-gatherer societies and apes in a systematic way and
testing hypotheses based on extensive empirical material.
In most cases, however, even though we cannot always know how things
were, we can still be absolutely certain that at least the constructionist
alternative is not possible (i.e. we may know that something has existed
long before cultural transmission evolved). We human beings do not live
in a postmodern state of insecurity and pure choice or pure relationships,
in which a new kind of risk consciousness has done havoc to our time conception
so that we cannot have any expectations concerning the future or connections
to the past, but live only in the present, with a totally new sense of
self and of others (see e.g. Bauman 2002).
Bourdieu from an evolutionary perspective
In our discussion of some basic principles of evolutionary theory, we
have not taken into consideration the more complicated and open aspects
of human evolution: is evolution still going on, where does it take place
(in genes, in individuals, in whole species or on all of these levels),
what aspects have evolved because of mere chance instead of natural selection,
how do genes actually influence human action etc. We wish to emphasize
that it is precisely the interaction of “culture” and “nature” which has
led to the fact that human beings are extremely adaptive and many sided
- thanks to their aptitudes of action created by evolution.
What would be a social science like which would take into account the
innate dispositions, habitudes and activities, i.e. which would accept
the evolutionary principles also in the case of human beings? In
our view, there is already a theory, which is potentially suitable for
evolutionary thought, namely the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Above, we
already likened Pinker’s use of “modular innate traits” to a person’s habitus,
one of the key concepts in Bourdieu’s theory, defined as the structured
structure, which is both dispositions of action and incorporated habits.
Bourdieu has been often accused of many of the same things as the sociobiologists
and he himself has liked to emphasize the natural science quality of his
work: looking for exact causes, striving for exact determination of cause
and effect, etc, speaking of fields and their forces like some kind of
laws of nature etc.
Bourdieu is often seen, however as a pure constructionist whose views
are fully in line with modern sociology (see eg Corcuff 2000, Rahkonen
1999). When Bourdieu discusses fields and power, the agents are often seen
as constructing the field by themselves and just losing sight of this,
lacking reflexivity. In one of his last books, La domination masculine,
the descriptions are explicitly constructionist: femininity and masculinity
are socially constructed, there is nothing natural in the original distinctions
made by the Algerian kabyls whom Bourdieu studied long ago and who presented
a division of north and south, good and bad, strong and weak, dry and wet,
male and female. (Bourdieu 1998, see the chapter Social construction of
At the same time, Bourdieu is extremely critical against the postmodernist
constructionism, especially its French variants. Thus he submits Latour
and Woolgar under a really violent critique in his latest, posthumous volume
Science de la science et reflexivité. (Bourdieu 2001, see also Bourdieu
& Wacquant 2001). In fact, in this work Bourdieu formulates very
clearly his opposition to « idealistic » constructionism :
« La science est une construction qui fait emerger une decouverte
inrreductible à la construction et aux conditions sociales (sic)
qui l’ont rendue possible (Science is a construction which makes possible
discoveries which cannot be reduced to the construction or to the social
conditions which made it possible)» In Bourdieu’s view the solution
is a « realistic rationalism » which holds that scientific
constructions are the condition of arriving at the « real »,
a discovery (Bourdieu 2001, 151).
The theoretical setting in Bourdieu’s work could be described by saying
that he treats people sociologically essentially from an evolutionary point
of view, i.e. as agents who do what they do on the basis of given social
modules (habituses) instinctively and according to certain rules. Bourdieu’s
terminology can be usefully compared with that of Richard Dawkins who uses
“conscious” terminology (strategy, interests, profits) in a context where
everything is based on predetermined, largely unconscious activities where
profits accrue to those who best are adapted to the rules of the field.
For Bourdieu, social laws were independent, objective forces, which
could be subverted only when we know how they work (he could even describe
his own tastes as precisely those of his own class and social group, i.e.
a highly educated person with a petty bourgeois, rural background) and
subverted socially, not trough individual action.
The essential difference to evolution theory is quite simply that Bourdieu
keeps all this strictly inside the borders of sociology. No non-sociological
influences are, in a sense, included in Bourdieu’s theory (with the exception
of philosophy and ethnology, i.e classical sociology)..
To our knowledge, Bourdieu did not make a reference to evolutionary
psychology, except in a derisive manner. Society produces the body, domination
and subordination. Thus, in Domination masculine, the male domination is
portraid as purely social. Already the sexual division in a physical sense
is understood as an arbitrary, social construction. Male domination structures
are arbitrarily created and mythically strengthened. The terminology, male
power over women, are all evolved inside society, historically but not
biologically (“Ce programme social de perception incorporé
s’applique a toutes les chose du monde, et en premier lieu au corps lui-meme,
dans sa realité biologique” Bourdieu 1998, 16) In other words, an
evolutionary basis of such differences in habits and activity aptitudes
that would be expressed as clearly sexual differences is completely out
On the other hand, thematic and symbolic differences are central, so
that the origin of concepts and conceptual systems are discussed at length.
Words are magic (and even women use a male terminology in speaking of sexually
less worthy men as soft, hanging). Even such physical differences as those
between sexual organs are a social construction. Linguistic terminology
is given great importance. For instance, Bourdie draws far-reaching conclusions
of the French expression “serrer la ceinture”, although it does not have
sexual connotations in all languages (the same expression in Finnish only
relates to hunger).
Bourdieu liked to use the term “symbolic violence”, with which
he means a continuous process of reproduction where domination is reproduced
through physical and symbolic violence. Just this kind of conception would
fit quite well to evolution, although that obviously was outside Bourdieu’s
horizon. He is a good example of the situation, where it in a sense is
a question of honour for sociology not to bring anything in outside one’s
own discipline, but to think that sociology should be able explain to everything.
This is unfortunate in Bourdieu’s case, because his system is like made
for an analytical inclusion of elements from evolutionary theory. And even
more unfortunate is that Bourdieu, like many other sociologists, refers
freely to psychoanalysis as a basis for some of his sociological interpretations
concerning identity, while the much more plausible and scientific explanations
from evolution theory remain completely foreign for him. The numerous references
of Bourdieu to Nancy Chodorow for instance do not prevent him to place
all his interpretations inside sociology. Virility is a relational concept,
the function of which is to show other men and subordinate women because
men are afraid of women and themselves (Bourdieu 1998, 59)
In terms of evolution theory, this explanation can be accepted as a
proximate cause. But there is also an ultimate cause for the fact that
males have developed such a psychic structure. This ultimate cause is that
it has been in the interest of a male to produce as many offspring with
such women whose survival potential is greatest. In addition, it is important
to make sure that the offspring is really that man’s and nobody else’s.
However, these two explanations are not necessarily exclusive, or even
in contradiction with each other. Together, they would make many strange
qualities of the Kabyle society understandable, whereas Bourdieu now has
to resort to truly metaphysical explanations (the distribution of labour
between sexes determines biological differences, e.g. the penis ) or to
question-begging or circular explanations (men are controlling women because
they are afraid of them (Bourdieu 1999,59) “for legitimate behavior, there
are only circular definitions”, cited in Kaufmann 2001, 138)).
Habitus I and Habitus II
Jean-Claude Kaufmann has in his book Ego (2001) presented and interesting
critical evaluation of Bourdieu’s habitus. He points out the attempt of
Bourdieu to get rid of the ordinary habit, the French habitude, and select
the concept of habitus, which represented a sort of empty table. In the
case of both ‘habit’ and ‘habitude’ it is a question of a “quasi-nature”,
in the centre of the theatre of reproduction (Kaufmann 2001, 138)? In this
sense habitus is also the opposite of life politics, where people are supposed
to make freely strategic policy choices concerning their own lives..
Kaufmann distinguishes between two habitus theories, one general and
one particular. The general theory, “Habitus I”, presents habitus as a
generative principle of practices. Here the habitus has an independent
autonomous status, which comes close to metaphysics. In this perception
of the habitus, Kaufmann notes that Bourdieu sometimes even uses the habitus
in the third person, as ‘he’ who is or is not. Habitus I can be found mainly
in Sens pratique (Bourdieu 1980) and other early Kabyle studies.
A second theory of habitus, habitus II presents several, layered habituses,
a sort of Calder mobile in which every specific field has its own habitus.
Habitus II does not generate practices in the manner of habitus I. Instead,
the field determines the habituses. The emphasis is therefore on how social
structures influence individual bodies and habits.
Habituses may therefore be very different and variable. The schemes
relative to habitus may vary, so that the generic habitus and the specific
habitus may get into conflict. The essential difference between these two
is that in the general theory of habitus (I), habitus organize structures,
which generate practices, while in the specific theory of habitus (II),
habitus itself is generated by the structures. To avoid this, Bourdieu
often speaks about habitus as a structuring structure, but in Kaufmann’s
view he still has to choose between either position, depending on the situation
and research object. In Domination masculine Kaufmann sees a total combination
of both theories at work, but so that in the end habitus I wins, simply
because Bourdieu uses the Kabyle material (Kaufmann 2001, 138-140).
In fact, habitus is a good example of a sociological concept, which
is not very reasonable/workable, if we are content with simply social science
explanations. We can speak of a “black box”, in which unity and permanence
of the person are contained (Corcuff 1999, 110). It tries to solve the
dilemma between structure and agency by the classic Münchausen method,
but this simply cannot work. Instead, in practice, it emphasizes either
structure or agency depending of the situation. The end result is tautological,
because no new elements are brought into the equation (it is underdetermined,
as econometricians say).
As an alternative, we could treat habitus as something between nature
and culture, as a meeting point of the two in the sense that habitus contains
both extremely permanent elements of human nature and the variability brought
about by cultural and social adaptation. In this view, the habitus I, or
the general habitus would consist of those structuring principles which
are largely innate dispositions. For instance, men and women have somewhat
different habituses from birth. The more specific habitus, habitus II,
would include the predominantly cultural and social influence, in the form
of class, education, taste, i.e., the classical sociological concepts,
which we can never dispense with.
This kind of combination of the theory of evolution and Bourdieu would,
in our view, constitute an important step forward in the process of regaining
the lost unity of explanation of human life sciences. (An aside:
in the recent Finnish translation of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologiae,
habitus is described as - quoting Aristotle – “dispositions organized according
to nature” (see 2002, 519), i.e. exactly this kind of conception!)
Habitus 1, the general theory would be evolutionary in nature whereas
habits II, the specific theory, would cover the mechanisms according to
which the general dispositions are transformed into field-specific dispositions.
I.e., deal with the eternal problem of seeing the relevance of the 100
000 prehistory of human beings with all the qualities o modern human beings.
Crucially, the habitus of every individual is really one whole habitus,
with habituses I and II mingled in unique and manifold ways.
After this, if would be easy to say that the general habitus generates
structures and is historically antecedent to any kinds of modern social
structures. Thus habitus is at the origin of any specific constellation
of fields. There are thus general properties that every field will have
to take into account, such as shame, loyalty, friendship, competition etc.
But if the field has to do with cultural modernisation, we can predict
which kinds of habituses and habitus dispositions are better adapted to
modern field structures on the basis of the knowledge we have of the “universal”
habitus propensities. As always, habitus is not completely malleable.
A counterexample often presented by critics of evolution theory is
that there is no universal family form but immense variation (eg Rose &
Rose 2001). We agree, but nevertheless the variation can often be better
explained starting from the basic habitus dispositions. For instance, there
is a logic which predicts a correlation between equality in decision-making
and family forms. (The more equal the society, the more probable is that
every man can get a woman, while hierarchical, undemocratic societies tend
to have males who have access to many women, and males with no women at
all, Ridley 1993).
Thus it is no longer as contradictory to say that social structures
define specific habituses in interaction with the general habitus. Social
structures have their own autonomy, history and internal logic (although
not as complete as sociologists prefer to think). There ARE (mostly) non-evolutionary
spheres of life, for instance in law, politics, taxation and the development
of the European Union.
Nikolas Rose (2001), a foucaldian theorist of life politics speaks
of “bare life” and “politics of life itself” meaning “natural”, non-social
human qualities (the bare life refers to Agamben’s nuda vita). This concept
reveals nicely the basic dilemma of constructionist social science: man
is thought to have permanent, non-social characteristics, which are not
sociologically relevant because they do not change. Of course it is a sociological
relevant problem to act upon these “bare” characteristics socially. But
if we include both nature and culture, body and mind, innate and learned
in the same habitus, then we can have a means to develop a dynamic and
to all sides open theory of human agency and dispositions.
Pragmatist sociologists, such as Kivinen and Ristelä (2000), look
for this kind of transcendence of “nature” and “society” by the Deweyan
concept of habit, which they see as disposition (luontumus) and actually
very close to the Bourdieusian habitus (169-173). We symphatize with this
view, although with the (major) reservation that the Rortyan tabular rasa
conception of human nature is not compatible with the deweyan habit or
the kind of habitus proposed by us.
Evolutionary theory teaches us that human beings do not have many generic,
non-social characteristics but that also the innate characteristics have
been developed in specific social situations and that their functioning
is impossible to understand when abstracted from this context. Learning
is not general learning but always situation specific, drawing conclusions
is also situation specific (cf the Wason test) and humans have learned
under evolution to use their capacities in specific contexts. These contexts
had originally to do with surviving, mating and partner selection, and
parenting. We have tended to overestimate in primitive partner selection
such capacities as force, ability to hunt etc. whereas the properly social
and interactive capacities, talking, intelligent communication, self-representation
and revealing of the other’s real nature (i.e. seeing through deceptive
representations), have been much underestimated. (For instance, it now
seems that the extraordinary evolution of human brain is connected mainly
with mating behavior and competition, Ridley 1993; Miller 2002.) This means
that there is no “bare” or “pure” life but even the society is in our genes,
in the nature. On the other hand we can never treat nature as something
permanent, fixed, but only as changing, both generally (evolution) and
specifically (in situational adaptation). The human ability to adapt and
to reflect is an evolutionary adaptation.
Arto Noro (2002, 59) recently tried to scare Finnish sociologists that
the alternative to “blinker sociology” (i.e. sociology which ignores the
”non-social”) is only economics without society or the savannah stage of
biologism. This is in our view misleading. If we abstract from economism,
the possibilities vary between a constructionist, restricted and narrow
sociology and a more realistic conception of society, which emphasizes
the interconnections of nature and society.
Still, one of the more fascinating things in evolution is the extreme
timelessness of the change and its unbelievable delays. Our general habitus
dates from at least 100 000 years ago, and the changes that have taken
place during the past 200 years (i.e. modernisation and postmodernity)
have not affected this fundamental habitus – although of course the strategies
and means open for us. To develop these strategies it helps to understand
the basic logic of how we function. The savannah stage is and will be the
starting point for the reality of being human, even though our present
reality cannot be reduced to the savannah people.
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