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The Habits we Keep

 

Philosopher/sociologist Pierre Bourdieu comes up with a non-mechanistic concept of determinism, closely related to the idea of conditioning, yet implying structures that can be analyzed in terms of history and its effects. He calls it the “habitus”, which is both a thing, but also a thing that acts, something akin to a process. The interesting aspect of this is the way that it employs conceptions of free will. What he argues is that we acquire knowledge in such a way that we weight early knowledge over later knowledge, and then act in such a way so as to maintain our exterior conditions that will preserve the relevance of that early knowledge. This structures both the very way well see the world, (giving us aspect blindness to things/information that might disturb our knowledge bases), and also the way that we materially act upon the world, (therefore the way that the world actually/objectively becomes). It is a large feed-back loop by which the world structures our habitus, our way of seeing, and the habitus works to structure the world. All the while we feel that we are freely choosing (within a delimited range of choices that is not experienced as delimited).

He reads this as a knowledge strategy, as we invest in what we have already invested in, and work to maintain the world that it too brings back the kinds of information that our invested knowledge is good at. Knowledge is both a strategy and a result.

Here is a lengthy quote of the material:

In reality, the dispositions durably inculcated by the possibilities and impossibilities, freedoms and necessities, opportunities and prohibitions inscribed in the objective conditions (which science apprehends through statistical regularities such as the probabilities objectively attached to a group or class) generate dispositions objectively compatible with these conditions and in a sense pre-adapted to their demands. The most improbable practices are therefore excluded, as unthinkable, by a kind of immediate submission to order that inclines agents to make a virtue of necessity, that is, to refuse what is anyway denied and to will the inevitable. The very conditions of production of the habitus, a virtue made of necessity, mean that the anticipations it generates tend to ignore the restriction to which the validity of calculation of probabilities is subordinated, namely that the experimental conditions should not be modified. Unlike scientific estimations, which are corrected after each experiment according to rigorous rules of calculation, the anticipations of the habitus, practical hypothesis based on past experience, give disproportionate weight to early experiences.

The habitus, a product of history, produces individual and collective practices more history in accordance with the schemes generated by history. It ensures the active presence of past experiences, which, deposited in each organism in the form of schemes of perception, thought and action, tend to guarantee the ‘correctness’ of practices and their constancy over time, more reliably than all formal rules and explicit norms. This system of dispositions, a present past that tends to perpetuate itself into the future by reactivation in similarly structure practices, an internal law through which the law of external necessities, irreducible to immediate constraints, is constantly exerted is the principle of continuity and regularity which objectivism sees in social practices without being able to account for it; and also of the regulated transformations that cannot be explained either by the extrinsic, instantaneous determinisms of mechanistic sociologism or by the purely internal but equally instantaneous determination of spontaneous subjectivism. As an acquired system of generative schemes, the habitus makes possible the free production of all the thoughts, perceptions and actions inherent in the particular conditions of its production and only those. Through the habitus, the structure of which it is the product governs practice, not along paths of mechanical determinism, but within the constraints and limits initially set on its inventions.

The habitus which, at every moment, structures new experiences in accordance with the structures produced by past experience, which are modified by the new experiences with the limits defined by their power of selection, brings about a unique integration, dominated by the earliest experiences, of the experiences statistically common to members of the same class. Early experiences have particular weight because the habitus tends to ensure its own constancy and its defense against change through the selection it makes within new information by rejecting information capable of calling into question its accumulated information, if exposed to it accidentally or by force, and especially, and especially by avoiding exposure to such information. One only has to think, for example, of homogamy, the paradigm of all the ‘choices’ through which the habitus tends to favour experiences likely to reinforce it (or the empirically confirmed fact that people tend to talk about politics with those who have the same opinions). And once again it is the most paradoxical property of the habitus, the unchosen principle of all ‘choices’, that yields the solution to the paradox of the information needed in order to avoid information. The schemes of perception and apperception of the habitus which are the basis of all the avoidance strategies are largely the product of a non-conscious, unwilled avoidance, whether it results automatically from the conditions of existence (for example, spatial segregation) or has been produced by strategic intention (such as the avoidance of ‘bad company’ or ‘unsuitable books’) originating from adults themselves formed in the same conditions.

–The Logic of Practice (54;61)

What is interesting about this take is that it accounts for both the subjective experience of freedom, but also the objective need to understand the structuring of that freedom. It employs the structural aspects of descriptive determinism which allows us to investigate the causes of our “insights”, as causes, yet it implicates us as the creators of that world, the world which creates us. It is really conditioning with a vengeance. A self-conditioning, through the conditioning of the world. The world tells us what we want to hear because we have worked to make it “say” those things, but it also makes us hear what we want to hear, by structuring our choices and perceptions.

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One response to “The Habits we Keep

  1. For Prez '24 May 17, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Interesting read, though I guess it doesn’t strike me as that new since I came to determinism from wyrd, and the two mesh rather easily. Still its nice to have ones theories backed by others.

    http://www.QuestioCunctus.com

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