[soh-see-ol-uh-jee, soh-shee-]
sociology, scientific study of human social behavior. As the study of humans in their collective aspect, sociology is concerned with all group activities—economic, social, political, and religious. Sociologists study such areas as bureaucracy, community, deviant behavior, family, public opinion, social change, social mobility, social stratification, and such specific problems as crime, divorce, child abuse, and substance addiction. Sociology tries to determine the laws governing human behavior in social contexts; it is sometimes distinguished as a general social science from the special social sciences, such as economics and political science, which confine themselves to a selected group of social facts or relations.

The Evolution of Sociology

A number of Western political theorists and philosophers, including Plato, Polybius, Machiavelli, Vico, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, have treated political problems in a broader social context. Thus Montesquieu regarded the political forms of different states as a consequence of the working of deep underlying climatic, geographic, economic, and psychological factors. In the 18th cent., Scottish thinkers made inquiries into the nature of society; scholars like Adam Smith explored the economic causes of social organization and social change, while Adam Ferguson considered the noneconomic causes of social cohesion.

It was not until the 19th cent., however, when the concept of society was finally separated from that of the state, that sociology developed into an independent study. The term sociology was coined (1838) by Auguste Comte. He attempted to analyze all aspects of cultural, political, and economic life and to identify the unifying principles of society at each stage of human social development. Herbert Spencer applied the principles of Darwinian evolution to the development of human society in his popular and controversial Principles of Sociology (1876-96). An important stimulus to sociological thought came from the work of Karl Marx, who emphasized the economic basis of the organization of society and its division into classes and saw in the class struggle the main agent of social progress.

The founders of the modern study of sociology were Émile Durkheim and Max Weber. Durkheim pioneered in the use of empirical evidence and statistical material in the study of society. Weber's major contribution was as a theorist, and his generalizations about social organization and the relation of belief systems, including religion, to social action are still influential. He developed the use of the ideal type—a working model, based on the selective combination of certain elements of historical fact or current reality—as a tool of sociological analysis. In the United States the study of sociology was pioneered and developed by Lester Frank Ward and William Graham Sumner.

The most important theoretical sociology in the 20th cent. has moved in three directions: conflict theory, structural-functional theory, and symbolic interaction theory. Conflict theory draws heavily on the work of Karl Marx and emphasizes the role of conflict in explaining social change; prominent conflict theorists include Ralf Dahrendorf and C. Wright Mills. Structural-functional theory, developed by Talcott Parsons and advanced by Robert Merton, assumes that large social systems are characterized by homeostasis, or "steady states." The theory is now often called "conservative" in its orientation. Symbolic interaction, begun by George Herbert Mead and further developed by Herbert Blumer and others, focuses on subjective perceptions or other symbolic processes of communication.


See P. Sorokin, Contemporary Sociological Theories (1928, repr. 1964); R. Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition (1966); R. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (enl. ed. 1968); G. D. Mitchell, A Hundred Years of Sociology (1968); H. Blumer, Symbolic Interactionism (1969); J. H. Abraham, The Origins and Growth of Sociology (1973); J. E. Goldthorpe, An Introduction to Sociology (1974); L. Broom et al., Essentials of Sociology (3d ed. 1984); W. Feigelman, Sociology Full Circle (1989).

Habitus is a complex concept, but in its simplest usage could be understood as a set of acquired patterns of thought, behavior, and taste . These patterns, or "dispositions," are the result of internalization of culture or objective social structures through the experience of an individual or group.

The concept of habitus has been used as early as Aristotle but in contemporary usage was introduced by Marcel Mauss and later re-elaborated by Pierre Bourdieu.

Origin of concept

Loïc Wacquant wrote that habitus is an old philosophical notion, originating in the thought of Aristotle and of the medieval Scholastics. In contemporary practice, habitus was introduced by Marcel Mauss as "body techniques" (techniques du corps) and further developed by Norbert Elias in the 1930s.

Mauss defined habitus as those aspects of culture that are anchored in the body or daily practices of individuals, groups, societies, and nations. It includes the totality of learned habits, bodily skills, styles, tastes, and other non-discursive knowledges that might be said to "go without saying" for a specific group -- in that way it can be said to operate beneath the level of ideology.

A contemporary example of habitus is in a chapter on collectives in Jung,Irigaray, Individuation, Philosophy, Analytical Psycholgy and the Question of the Feminine Frances Gray Routledge 2008

One work that employs the concept of habitus in a specific context is James English's The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value . The concept is also present in the work of Max Weber and Edmund Husserl.

Habitus in Bourdieu's social theory

Bourdieu re-elaborated the concept of habitus from Marcel Mauss and extended the scope of the term to include a person's beliefs and dispositions. He used it, in a more or less systematic way, in an attempt to resolve a prominent antinomy of the human sciences: objectivism and subjectivism.

In Bourdieu's work, habitus can be defined as a system of durable and transposable "dispositions” (lasting, acquired schemes of perception, thought and action). The individual agent develops these dispositions in response to the determining structures (such as class, family, and education) and external conditions (field)s they encounter. They are therefore neither wholly voluntary nor wholly involuntary.

The habitus provides the practical skills and dispositions necessary to navigate within different fields (such as sports, professional life, art) and guides the choices of the individual without ever being strictly reducible to prescribed, formal rules. At the same time, the habitus is constantly remade by these navigations and choices (including the success or failure of previous actions).

Describing neither complete determination by social factors nor individual autonomy, the habitus mediates between “objective” structures of social relations and the individual “subjective” behavior of actors. In this way Bourdieu theorizes the inculcation of objective social structures into the subjective, mental experience of agents.

In Bourdieu's theory, agency is not directly observable in practices or in the habitus, but only in the experience of subjectivity. Hence, some argue that Bourdieu’s project could be said to retain an objectivist bias from structuralism. Further, some critics charge that Bourdieu's "habitus" governs so much of an individual's social makeup that it significantly limits the concept of human agency. In Bourdieu's references to "habitus" it sometimes seems as if so much of an individual's disposition is predetermined by the social habitus that such pre-dispositions cannot be altered or left behind.

Defenders of Bourdieu argue that such critics have misunderstood and exaggerated the conservative extent of "habitus" in Bourdieu. Bourdieu allows agency its location within the bounded structures of society and self. And, Bourdieu advocates a method for researchers to include diverse cultural voices in their work.

Body Habitus

Body habitus is the medical term for physique, and is defined as either endomorphic (overweight), ectomorphic (underweight) or mesomorphic (normal weight). In this sense, habitus can be understood as the physical and constitutional characteristics of an individual, especially as related to the tendency to develop a certain disease.

Scholars researching "habitus" in the field

  • Loic J.D. Wacquant - USA (Berkeley Page)
  • Saba Mahmood - USA
  • Anthropologist Philippe Bourgois - USA (incorporates the concept of "habitus" into much of his work with injection drug users in the San Francisco area. )
  • Karl Maton, University of Sydney, Australia - builds on both Bourdieu's concept of 'habitus' and the related concept of 'code' from Basil Bernstein in the sociology of education, see )


Further reading

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.
  • Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process.
  • Jenkins, Richard. 1992. Pierre Bourdieu. London: Routledge.
  • MacLeod, Jay. 1995. Ain't No Makin' It. Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.
  • Maton, Karl. 2008 'Habitus', in Grenfell, M. (ed) Pierre Bourdieu: Key concepts. London: Acumen Press.
  • Mauss, Marcel. 1934. "Les Techniques du corps", Journal de Psychologie 32 (3-4). Reprinted in Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, 1936, Paris: PUF.

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