Re: [xmca] ego, self, etc.

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Sat Feb 02 2008 - 01:04:07 PST

Thank you for your post, Martin. Here are a few questions to try to
coax you, and Paul and Andy, and others, to say some more on the
concept of habitus.

This sentence in your post, “Habitus is bodily, and the body resists
any reduction to either the subjective or the objective" strikes me as
a thought-provoking way to describe how the human body is a
simultaneous product of both the subjective and objective, an emergent
process of both the objective and subjective “realms” working together
to create a “body,” which of course includes the brain and everything
a human does. I can’t imagine anything human that could actually be
"reduced" to either the subjective or objective. Both must always be
factored in to understand human activities, and conversely, human
beings and their activities do not exist without both. Hence, the
body “resists” any reduction to the one or the other. Is this
interpretation consistent with the meaning of the quoted sentence, or
am I perhaps missing something?

You raise the issue of whether Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is
successful as an alternative to the Kantian view of subjectivity. My
own take on the Kantian view is it is based on what I would call a
mechanical notion of a rigid boundary existing between the subjective
and objective, in contrast to a dialectical notion of ongoing, complex
inter-transformations between the two interpenetrating “realms.”
Rather than a rigid boundary dividing the subjective from the
objective, with a human on the subjective side of this equation
looking over the fence at the objective side, the subjective and
objective work together to create human beings - body and mind and
everything in between. Only in abstraction can the subjective and
objective be separated into separate realms in reference to a human
individual. Does this take on the Kantian perspective vs a
dialectical view resonate with yours? On the issue of creating an
alternative, is there a way that you might modify the habitus/field
concept so it could be the basis of a genuine alternative to the
Kantian perspective?

Finally (I hope I am not asking too many questions in one post),
touching on Bourdieu’s concept of “field,” where habitus (what is the
plural of “habitus”?) exists within a field of agonistic struggle over
resources, where do the concepts of class and class struggle fit in?

- Steve

On Feb 1, 2008, at 3:23 PM, Martin Packer wrote:

> Steve,
> I'm not sure Bourdieu would have been keen on the definition of
> habitus as
> the anchoring of culture in the body. For one thing, I think he was
> trying
> to do without the concept of culture. His two major concepts were
> habitus
> and field, both deliberately 'thin' concepts which could be fleshed
> out in
> concrete investigations (I guess that is ascending to the
> concrete!). A
> social field is a distribution of resources, material and symbolic,
> within
> which an agonistic struggle takes place. (A somewhat gloomy vision,
> but the
> 21st century so far seems to support it. Bourdieu was himself a star
> rugby
> player as a young man, so he knew what he was writing about.)
> Habitus and field are defined relationally: habitus is a bodily
> comportment,
> a set of 'dispositions,' that one acquires from being in a particular
> 'position' in a social field (or more than one). ¨In short, he is
> defined by
> the position which he occupies in the space which his properties
> have helped
> to construct (and which also partly helps to define it)." Habitus is
> “inculcated,” “structured,” “durable,” “generative,” and
> “transposable.” My
> reading is that Bourdieu was proposing an alternative to the Kantian
> model
> of the human being as operating on the basis of subjective cognitive
> representations of an external objective reality, the model that
> Andy has
> been objecting to. Habitus is bodily, and the body resists any
> reduction to
> either the subjective or the objective. And habitus is the way that
> the body
> participates in social reproduction, not merely biological
> reproduction. The
> field, too, isn't defined purely objectively, as a collection of
> artifacts:
> it is the field as a player engages it, defined by the collective
> activity
> of struggle. (I think this comes from Merleau-Ponty, who writes of
> such a
> field in The Structure of Behavior.)
> But I think Bourdieu would have agreed with your proposal that habitus
> extends into tools. As I understand it, habitus includes a
> disposition to
> use tools in particular ways, and to use particular tools. And of
> course
> this includes language: habitus shows itself in accent, in style of
> speech,
> in the richness or impoverishment of ones linguistic resources. Not to
> mention that the habitual use of tools comes to shape the body using
> them.
> I'm not completely convinced that habitus provides an adequate
> alternative
> account of the human subject - alternative to the Kantian one, I
> mean. It
> doesn't seem to have room for some of the complexities of, for
> example,
> Hegel's account of the unfolding of the subject. On the other hand,
> Bourdieu
> did write (in Homo Academicus) "The university offers much scope for
> self-deceit and the gap between experience and objective reality. It
> encourages all forms of splitting of the ego." This (which may not
> be a
> verbatim quote) suggests that the concept of habitus had for him more
> complexity than is often attributed to it. (It also suggests that the
> university is just as gloomy a place as the rest of the world!)
> Martin
> On 2/1/08 3:38 AM, "Steve Gabosch" <> wrote:
>> Responding to Mike's comment: yes, that article does link well with
>> the notion of habitus. The description by the Dictionary of
>> Anthropology, that habitus as the "anchoring" of culture in a human
>> body, could be restated along the lines that habitus is the
>> *extension* of culture into a human body, into human bodily forms and
>> movements. The idea that manual tools are in turn an extension of
>> human bodies suggests an interesting way of viewing habitus - as
>> culture extending into a human body, and then becoming further
>> extended, as part of a particular body, into the tools that a human
>> uses. This way of looking at habitus reminds us that cultural
>> artifacts in use are not only extensions of culture toward a person,
>> moving from the outside toward the inside, but are also extensions of
>> bodies and brains, moving from the inside to the outside. In other
>> words, tools are not just external objects, and a "habitus" is not
>> just body movements and dispositions - it is also the actual manual
>> tools and artifacts a person is controlling, and can readily control.
>> In this way, we might think of a shirt, watch or knife, when ready to
>> use and/or in use, as part of a person's habitus.
>> The article in ScienceNow Mike Evans linked us to
>> reports on a study of neuron firings in macaque monkeys (they were
>> able to track 113 neurons at once) that revealed a very interesting
>> pattern of neuronal activity. The monkeys performed three related
>> but
>> physically different actions, yet in each case, the same neurons
>> (among those being being measured) fired off in the same order. The
>> three performed actions were picking up food by hand, picking it up
>> with pliers (the monkeys had been trained to do that) and picking it
>> up with reverse pliers, requiring the opposite hand motion to grasp
>> the food. The experimenters (led by Giacomo Rizzolatti, University
>> of Parma in Italy) conclude, according to the article, that the brain
>> regards manual tools, when being used, as a physical part of the
>> body.
>> Following this reasoning, the old saw "we are what we eat" might be
>> modified to "we are what we use."
>> - Steve
>> On Jan 31, 2008, at 4:54 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
>>> Hard not to link the idea of habitus being anchored in the body to
>>> the
>>> interesting article that Mike Evans sent us on tools earlier
>>> today. My printer is on the fritz, but that looked interesting.
>>> mike
>>> On 1/31/08, Steve Gabosch <> wrote:
>>>> Thank you for all these definitions, Andy. I have been finding
>>>> your
>>>> responses helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to discuss and
>>>> compare these complex terms; ego, self, identity, cogito, psyche,
>>>> spirit, consciousness, mind, agent, personage, habitus, hexis, etc.
>>>> Before we let this thread dissolve, may I ask you yet another
>>>> question, touching off from an interesting point you just made
>>>> about
>>>> objectivism. You state, pardon my paraphrasing, that the
>>>> objectivist
>>>> underestimates the roles that human self-awareness and self-
>>>> determination play in human activities.
>>>> I have been wanting to ask you about the other side of that issue.
>>>> How do you describe subjectivism?
>>>> - Steve
>>>> On Jan 30, 2008, at 6:14 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>> I only know the concept form Bourdieu though I knew it dates
>>>>> back to
>>>>> Mauss (and Aristotle actually). Whether the 1st definition is
>>>>> correct in going so far as hexis "anchoring" habitus or it's
>>>>> just "a
>>>>> part" of habitus is not important to me. I think it is arguable
>>>>> that
>>>>> habitus is anchored in the body. It has always been something of a
>>>>> natural wonder to me that within 2 seconds of a person walking
>>>>> into
>>>>> the room, we usually know most of what we need to know about where
>>>>> they are "coming from." (Mistakes in this respect are of course
>>>>> all
>>>>> about habitus as well. I mean habitus is about the practice of
>>>>> classification not objective truth.)
>>>>> Bourdieu is mostly regarded as an extreme "objectivist", that is,
>>>>> someone who estimates as low as possible the capacity of the
>>>>> individual person to be critically aware of themself as
>>>>> occupying a
>>>>> particular social position and act accordingly. But I find that he
>>>>> gives us concepts which facilitate a rational approach to
>>>>> subjectivity, because "habitus" gives one an objective standard
>>>>> against which to measure the degree of self-determination that an
>>>>> individual exercises.
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> At 05:21 AM 30/01/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>>>>>> Thanks, Andy. The definition of "habitus" in the Dictionary of
>>>>>> Anthropology has an interesting sentence: "Habitus may be
>>>>>> understood
>>>>>> as a variant of culture that is anchored in the body."
>>>>>> "Concept from Bourdieu (with roots going back to Mauss and
>>>>>> beyond),
>>>>>> denoting the totality of learned, bodily skills, habits, style,
>>>>>> taste
>>>>>> etc. Habitus may be understood as a variant of culture that is
>>>>>> anchored in the body. "Hexis" is that part of habitus, where
>>>>>> communication between people takes place through fine-grained
>>>>>> body-
>>>>>> language: tiny movements, micro-mimicking etc. Researchers like
>>>>>> Hall
>>>>>> have, from a completely different point of view, done work on
>>>>>> similar
>>>>>> problems."
>>>>>> How do the meanings you assign compare?
>>>>>> - Steve
>>>>>> On Jan 29, 2008, at 5:33 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>>>> Paul Dillon may like to chime in on this one. Paul is far better
>>>>>>> read on Bourdieu than I am and disagrees somewhat with how I see
>>>>>>> habitus. I think the definition of habitus is a "social space"
>>>>>>> of
>>>>>>> shared, unspoken dispositions or "classifications" (what is
>>>>>>> good/
>>>>>>> bad, what we/they do, what is to be valued/decried, what is
>>>>>>> manly/
>>>>>>> feminine, etc.) what mark out and constitute a class-fraction.
>>>>>>> Although the word "habitus" is just the Latinisation of the
>>>>>>> Greek
>>>>>>> "hexis", rightly or wrongly until I am educated accordingly, I
>>>>>>> use
>>>>>>> "hexis" as in the phrase "bodily hexis" for the embodiment of
>>>>>>> those
>>>>>>> dispositions in an individual. I guess the difference is slight.
>>>>>>> I tend to associate "habitus" with Hegel's Subjective Spirit, in
>>>>>>> contrast to Objective SPirit. I think any individual does have
>>>>>>> the
>>>>>>> possibility to actively appropriate or challenge their habitus
>>>>>>> and
>>>>>>> innovate it through their interactions with those around them,
>>>>>>> in a
>>>>>>> way which I distinguish from the larger society occupied by law,
>>>>>>> political parties, legal institutions, science and so on, which
>>>>>>> constitute "objective spirit" though the two of course mutually
>>>>>>> constitute one another.
>>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>>> At 09:43 AM 29/01/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>>>>>>>> Yes, it certainly is a huge and muddy territory. Thank you for
>>>>>>>> your
>>>>>>>> thoughts on these terms, Andy. I found your response very
>>>>>>>> helpful.
>>>>>>>> Part of what I am looking for, by thinking and asking about
>>>>>>>> terms
>>>>>>>> like
>>>>>>>> ego and self and the others you touch on, is a vocabulary with
>>>>>>>> which
>>>>>>>> to describe a person's subjectivity in terms of their specific
>>>>>>>> class
>>>>>>>> and cultural experience. "Habitus" is one term that comes to
>>>>>>>> mind.
>>>>>>>> What does that particular term mean to you, and what terms do
>>>>>>>> you
>>>>>>>> suggest for endeavoring to create that kind of description?
>>>>>>>> - Steve
>>>>>>>> On Jan 29, 2008, at 1:30 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>>>>>> Isn't this a huge and indescribably muddy territory, Steve? It
>>>>>>>>> would
>>>>>>>>> be interesting to hear the range of views we have on xmca
>>>>>>>>> about
>>>>>>>>> the
>>>>>>>>> usage of these terms. Can I just give you a one-liner on each
>>>>>>>>> perhaps and let's see where it goes:
>>>>>>>>> "SUBJECT" as you mention I have tracked in
>>>>>>>>> but the most common relevant usage today is that dating from
>>>>>>>>> Kant,
>>>>>>>>> in which the subject is "nothing real", but that which is the
>>>>>>>>> subject of all the predicates attributable to a person; it is
>>>>>>>>> both
>>>>>>>>> that which knows and that which wills - being a nothing it is
>>>>>>>>> not
>>>>>>>>> possible to differentiate between the two I think. Hegel
>>>>>>>>> rejected
>>>>>>>>> this idea of the subject as a "nothing" behind cultural-
>>>>>>>>> historical
>>>>>>>>> determination (though he also occasionally uses it just to
>>>>>>>>> confuse
>>>>>>>>> things) and his notion is the origin of the idea of
>>>>>>>>> "collective
>>>>>>>>> subject" when one talks of parties and classes as agents,
>>>>>>>>> but I
>>>>>>>>> will
>>>>>>>>> not try to go into it here. Hegel's subject is a kind of
>>>>>>>>> "node" in
>>>>>>>>> social consciousness, cutting completely across the idea of
>>>>>>>>> society
>>>>>>>>> as a sum of individuals.
>>>>>>>>> "EGO" I believe is the Latin word for "I" and in German
>>>>>>>>> philosophy,
>>>>>>>>> e.g., Fichte, the word was "Ich" but translated into English
>>>>>>>>> using
>>>>>>>>> the Latin word instead to make it sound better, I suppose. For
>>>>>>>>> Fichte and Hegel the Ego was "pure activity." The Young
>>>>>>>>> Hegelians
>>>>>>>>> developed the idea of the Ego as SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS a lot
>>>>>>>>> and I
>>>>>>>>> think it became associated with extreme libertarianism. Freud
>>>>>>>>> then
>>>>>>>>> so far as I know gave it the most dominant contemporary
>>>>>>>>> meaning
>>>>>>>>> as a
>>>>>>>>> certain neurological formation which is understood within
>>>>>>>>> psychoanalysis:- EGO, ID and SUPER-EGO.
>>>>>>>>> "SELF" is surely the most neutral and vague of all these words
>>>>>>>>> as it
>>>>>>>>> can be applied to any process. Since it always plays the
>>>>>>>>> role of
>>>>>>>>> an
>>>>>>>>> OBJECT in a construction in which the Subject or Ego acts, it
>>>>>>>>> can be
>>>>>>>>> likened to Mead's ME, in his construction of the SELF as I/ME?
>>>>>>>>> "IDENTITY" seems to have two shades of meaning and is highly
>>>>>>>>> contested. For postmodern theorists, deconstructionists and so
>>>>>>>>> on, I
>>>>>>>>> think "Identity" is like an Althusserian subject position,
>>>>>>>>> it is
>>>>>>>>> something imposed upon an actor from outside (a slot into
>>>>>>>>> which
>>>>>>>>> you
>>>>>>>>> are inserted), by "society" or the action of the structure,
>>>>>>>>> and in
>>>>>>>>> general these people understand it in terms of binary,
>>>>>>>>> abstract
>>>>>>>>> categories: woman, gay, working class, etc., etc. On the other
>>>>>>>>> hand,
>>>>>>>>> even this interpretation does not seem to me to close off the
>>>>>>>>> idea
>>>>>>>>> that an identity or "subject position" is voluntarily
>>>>>>>>> adopted by
>>>>>>>>> an
>>>>>>>>> actor, even if only under determinate social conditions. The
>>>>>>>>> other
>>>>>>>>> shade of meaning is what people sometimes call identity as a
>>>>>>>>> "verb",
>>>>>>>>> especially that process whereby a self-consciousness
>>>>>>>>> identifies
>>>>>>>>> itself as an actor continuously throughout a lifetime as "the
>>>>>>>>> same"
>>>>>>>>> actor. This same idea applies well to "extended" concepts of
>>>>>>>>> Mind as
>>>>>>>>> well, e.g., the idea of the nation (or state, or class) as
>>>>>>>>> being
>>>>>>>>> an
>>>>>>>>> actor in history over an extended period of time, and an
>>>>>>>>> individual
>>>>>>>>> "identifying" herself with that extended Identity.
>>>>>>>>> "PSYCHE" I have tried to retain as a word for "CONSCIOUSNESS"
>>>>>>>>> limited to the INDIVIDUAL moment of consciousness. Like Kant's
>>>>>>>>> SUBJECT, the Psyche is not anything real, it is just a concept
>>>>>>>>> in
>>>>>>>>> its individuality. One could say it is a "STATE OF MIND" if it
>>>>>>>>> were
>>>>>>>>> conceivable to talk of the "MIND" as something which has a
>>>>>>>>> certain
>>>>>>>>> "state" or even had "contents" as in the ideas which are in
>>>>>>>>> our
>>>>>>>>> mind, or psyche. (I would not accept any of these approaches
>>>>>>>>> as
>>>>>>>>> scientific or consistent.) Nevertheless, "EXTENDED MIND"
>>>>>>>>> notwithstanding it is inescapable that there is something
>>>>>>>>> individual
>>>>>>>>> and private about consciousness, and that I call PSYCHE. It is
>>>>>>>>> not a
>>>>>>>>> "brain state" though, do not misunderstand me.
>>>>>>>>> As to "SOUL", while it is quite possible to use the word in a
>>>>>>>>> poetic
>>>>>>>>> way, to me "Soul" connotes something separable from the body,
>>>>>>>>> but of
>>>>>>>>> course many have used the concept in a non-religious way. For
>>>>>>>>> Hegel,
>>>>>>>>> "soul" meant the feeling self, "awareness" what a human beings
>>>>>>>>> has
>>>>>>>>> before or underneath any conception or communicative relation.
>>>>>>>>> There
>>>>>>>>> is also "SPIRIT", which I insist on continuing to use, as in
>>>>>>>>> Zeitgeist (Spirit of the Times) or "Spiritual" meaning needs
>>>>>>>>> over
>>>>>>>>> and above material needs.
>>>>>>>>> I use "COGITO" to designate a knowing consciousness, the
>>>>>>>>> implied
>>>>>>>>> subject in "I know" as an aspect of Mind which is not
>>>>>>>>> necessarily
>>>>>>>>> human, but is essential to humanness - the "subject" of Kant's
>>>>>>>>> epistemology, suitably extended for Hegel and Marx.
>>>>>>>>> There is likewise "AGENT" which for Althusser is a mere
>>>>>>>>> carrier of
>>>>>>>>> something, as in "The mosquito is the agent for the spread of
>>>>>>>>> malaria" but I take it to be in the sense of moral
>>>>>>>>> responsibility
>>>>>>>>> for an action, as when one signs a form on behalf of an
>>>>>>>>> invalid as
>>>>>>>>> their "agent", acting on their behalf. Acting of a natural
>>>>>>>>> process
>>>>>>>>> has to be distinguished from action by a subject who has moral
>>>>>>>>> responsibility. So "the market" is a process without a subject
>>>>>>>>> and
>>>>>>>>> cannot bear moral responsibility, but one could argue that
>>>>>>>>> capital
>>>>>>>>> always has a personification and therefore the capitalist
>>>>>>>>> class
>>>>>>>>> bears moral responsibility, insofar as there is a corporate
>>>>>>>>> consciousness acting for it.
>>>>>>>>> Marx uses the term "PERSONAGE" in "The 18th Brumaire" to
>>>>>>>>> indicate
>>>>>>>>> the players on the stage of history.
>>>>>>>>> What do other people think are the key concepts here?
>>>>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>>>>> At 12:36 AM 29/01/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>>>>>>>>>> Andy, (and anyone else interested) if I may take advantage of
>>>>>>>>>> the
>>>>>>>>>> momentary lull in xmca messages (or is my email
>>>>>>>>>> malfunctioning?) ...
>>>>>>>>>> and see if you would be willing to weigh in with some more of
>>>>>>>>>> your
>>>>>>>>>> interesting perspectives on human subjectivity. You have
>>>>>>>>>> studied
>>>>>>>>>> the
>>>>>>>>>> colorful history of the term "subject" - I looked at an
>>>>>>>>>> article
>>>>>>>>>> you
>>>>>>>>>> wrote on this that you had mentioned a while back. Lots to
>>>>>>>>>> learn
>>>>>>>>>> there (perhaps you could summarize that study?). I am
>>>>>>>>>> particularly
>>>>>>>>>> interested in your thoughts on some of the other words often
>>>>>>>>>> used
>>>>>>>>>> to
>>>>>>>>>> refer to individual selfhood and significant aspects thereof.
>>>>>>>>>> I am
>>>>>>>>>> thinking in particular about the words "ego" and "self." You
>>>>>>>>>> have
>>>>>>>>>> adopted the term "identity," a term I would also like to
>>>>>>>>>> understand
>>>>>>>>>> better. Other terms also might be worthwhile taking a look
>>>>>>>>>> at,
>>>>>>>>>> such
>>>>>>>>>> as "psyche" and "soul." And of course, there are other such
>>>>>>>>>> words
>>>>>>>>>> and
>>>>>>>>>> terms - not to mention, of course, the many variations of
>>>>>>>>>> these
>>>>>>>>>> concepts in other languages. From the Hegelian-Marxian-CHAT
>>>>>>>>>> perspective that you are developing, perhaps using the
>>>>>>>>>> tripartite
>>>>>>>>>> criteria you introduced in your paper, how might these words
>>>>>>>>>> and
>>>>>>>>>> their
>>>>>>>>>> evolving meanings be better understood?
>>>>>>>>>> Best,
>>>>>>>>>> - Steve
>>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>>>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380
>>>>>>>>> 9435,
>>>>>>>>> mobile 0409 358 651
>>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380
>>>>>>> 9435,
>>>>>>> mobile 0409 358 651
>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380
>>>>> 9435,
>>>>> mobile 0409 358 651
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