In sociology, habitus (/ˈhæbɪtəs/) is the way that people perceive and respond to the social world they inhabit, by way of their personal habits, skills, and disposition of character.


People with a common cultural background (social class, religion, and nationality, ethnic group, education, and profession) share a habitus as the way that group culture and personal history shape the mind of a person; consequently, the habitus of a person influences and shapes the social actions of the person.[1][2]

The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu said that the habitus consists of the hexis, a person's carriage (posture) and speech (accent), and the mental habits of perception, classification, appreciation, feeling and action.[2][3] The habitus allows the individual person to consider and resolve problems based upon gut feeling and intuition. This way of living (social attitudes, mannerisms, tastes, morality, etc.) influences the availability of opportunities in life; thus the habitus is structured by the person's social class, but also gives structure to the future paths available to the person. Therefore, the reproduction of social structures results from the habitus of the individual persons who compose the given social structure.

The habitus is criticised for being a deterministic concept, because, as social actors, people behave as automata, in the sense proposed in the Monadology of the philosopher G.W. Leibniz.[3]


The concept of the habitus has been used as early as Aristotle. In contemporary usage it was introduced by Marcel Mauss and later Maurice Merleau-Ponty; however, it was Pierre Bourdieu who used it as a cornerstone of his sociology, and to address the sociological problem of agency and structure.

In Bourdieu's work, the habitus is shaped by structural position and generates action, thus when people act and demonstrate agency, they simultaneously reflect and reproduce social structure. Bourdieu elaborated his theory of the habitus while borrowing ideas on cognitive and generative schemes from Noam Chomsky and Jean Piaget regarding dependency on history and human memory. For instance, a certain behaviour or belief becomes part of a society's structure when the original purpose of that behaviour or belief can no longer be recalled and becomes socialized into individuals of that culture.[4][5]

According to Bourdieu, habitus is composed of:

systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them.[6]

Loïc Wacquant wrote that habitus is an old philosophical notion, originating in the thought of Aristotle, whose notion of hexis ("state") was translated into habitus by the Medieval Scholastics. Bourdieu first adapted the term in his 1967 postface to Erwin Panofsky's Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism.[7] The term was earlier used in sociology by Norbert Elias in The Civilizing Process (1939) and in Marcel Mauss's account of "body techniques" (techniques du corps). The concept is also present in the work of Max Weber, Gilles Deleuze, and Edmund Husserl.

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 (Bourdieu 1990:66-67) - in that way it can be said to operate beneath the level of rational ideology.

Non-sociological uses

Literary criticism

The term has also been adopted in literary criticism, adapting from Bourdieu's usage of the term. For example, Joe Moran's examination of authorial identities in Star Authors: Literary Celebrity in America uses the term in discussion of how authors develop a habitus formed around their own celebrity and status as authors, which manifests in their writing.

Use in literary theory

Bourdieu's principle of habitus is interwoven with the concept of structuralism in literary theory. Peter Barry explains, "in the structuralist approach to literature there is a constant movement away from interpretation of the individual literary work and a parallel drive towards understanding the larger structures which contain them" (2009, p. 39). There is therefore a strong desire to understand the larger influencing factors which makes an individual literary work. As Bourdieu explains, habitus

... are structured structures, generative principles of distinct and distinctive practices - what the worker eats, and especially the way he eats it, the sport he practices and the way he practices it, his political opinions and the way he expresses them are systematically different from the industrial proprietor's corresponding activities - habitus are also structuring structures, different classifying schemes classification principles, different principles of vision and division, different tastes. Habitus make different differences; they implement distinctions between what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong, between what is distinguished and what is vulgar, and so on, but they are not the same. Thus, for instance, the same behaviour or even the same good can appear distinguished to one person, pretentious to someone else, and cheap or showy to yet another.

— Bourdieu, 1996

As a result, habitus may be employed in literary theory in order to understand those larger, external structures which influence individual theories and works of literature.

Body habitus

Body habitus (or "bodily habitus") is the medical term for physique, and is categorized as either endomorphic (relatively short and stout), ectomorphic (relatively long and thin) or mesomorphic (muscular proportions). In this sense, habitus has in the past been interpreted as the physical and constitutional characteristics of an individual, especially as related to the tendency to develop a certain disease.[8] For example, "Marfanoid bodily habitus".

Scholars researching habitus


  1. ^ Lizardo, O. 2004, "The Cognitive Origins of Bourdieu's Habitus", Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 375–448.
  2. ^ a b Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ a b Bourdieu, Pierre (2000). Pascalian Meditations. Stanford University Press.
  4. ^ Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press. pp. 78–79.
  5. ^ Tönnies, Ferdinand (1963). Community and society. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
  6. ^ Bourdieu, Pierre (1990). The Logic of Practice. ((cite book)): |newspaper= ignored (help)
  7. ^ Review Archived 2009-04-09 at the Wayback Machine of Holsinger, The Premodern Condition, in Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature 6:1 (Winter 2007).
  8. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th Ed) Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003
  9. ^ Lahire, Bernard. 2011. The Plural Actor. Cambridge: Polity.
  10. ^ Ignatow, Gabriel (2009). Why the Sociology of Morality Needs Bourdieu's Habitus. ((cite book)): |newspaper= ignored (help)
  11. ^ Schwarz, Ori (2015). The Sound of Stigmatization: Sonic Habitus, Sonic Styles, and Boundary Work in an Urban Slum. Vol. 121. pp. 205–42. doi:10.1086/682023. PMID 26430711. S2CID 10034380. ((cite book)): |newspaper= ignored (help)
  12. ^ Elias, Norbert (1939). The Civilizing Process (5 ed.). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. ASIN 0631221611.

Further reading