Bourdieu and Boal: Expanding Upon Habitus, Practice and Field and Promoting Change

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French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu aimed to connect micro and macro theories and levels of analysis. His goal was to bridge the gap between the individual and structure, combining the subjective and objective aspects. He focused on understanding the existence of opposing social forces between structure and how individuals construct social reality. Bourdieu’s research was driven by his aspiration to unite the micro and macro perspectives.

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This paper aims to examine previous research on Bourdieu’s habitus, practice, and field to gain a better understanding of the reciprocal relationship between the individual or agent and the structure. The objective is to delve deeper into Bourdieu’s theory beyond what has been covered in this semester’s course and the accompanying textbook, Sociological Theory by George Ritzer. Additionally, it will explore Agusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in relation to Bourdieu’s concept of habitus as a means to facilitate societal change.


According to Bourdieu (1990:53), habitus is a term that refers to “systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures.” This essentially means that habitus can be understood as internalized social structures. In a broad sense, the habitus refers to the collectively developed ability to behave in specific environments or fields. Depending on their position or status within a field, an individual’s habitus can be applied and transferred to another field as long as it remains suitable (Ritzer 2008).

Habitus, consisting of and surpassing habits, is acquired through upbringing and education. It is developed through long-term occupancy of a social position and begins to form in early childhood. The experiences and conditions of one’s past, particularly in early childhood, serve as a filter for new information. Habitus shapes how an individual will approach the future (Osterlind 2008).

The active existence of the past in the present is defined as habitus, which is acquired through history and past experiences. This cognitive filter, shaped by early life experiences, acts as a control filter between the cognitive mind and the physical world (Osterlind 2008). It can be inferred that social patterns are inherited since habitus is formed early in life. During childhood development, one’s primary contact or exposure is typically with their parents.

Traditions and patterns of socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior are ingrained in one’s dispositions, primarily influenced by parents. “Habitus protects itself from change by rejecting new information and avoiding its exposure (Osterlind 2008).” Altering the habitus can be challenging, as it consists of unconscious dispositions. Since the habitus resists new information to maintain consistency, change becomes difficult.

Although change is difficult, it is not impossible. To promote change, one must consciously be aware of their habitus. Additionally, they must consciously override what has become second nature to them. This change demonstrates that habitus does not dictate actions or thoughts, but rather influences them. It is clear that habitus does not determine action, but it does offer guiding principles for engaging in the social world.


Practice serves as the link between the micro and macro aspects. It is the connecting element between habitus and the social field. While Bourdieu’s research does not offer a specific definition of practice, it can be understood as the execution or enactment of an activity (Rawolle and Lingard 2008). An individual’s practice refers to how they engage with the world.

Practice is influenced by habitus and can also change based on different circumstances. Variations in practice occur when individuals face unexpected situations, causing their practices to adjust to the specific context. According to Wittgenstein (1977), our actions form the foundation of our practices. The relationship between structure and agency ultimately determines the nature of one’s practice, as stated by Bourdieu (1990). In other words, practice is the result of the interaction between the individual (agent) and the surrounding environment (structure or institution).

According to Bourdieu (1990), practice acts as a mediator between the habitus and the social world. It is not something that is determined objectively, but rather subjective, influenced by personal feelings and opinions. This implies that practice relies on the individual’s perceptions, opinions, tastes, and feelings. Without these subjective factors, practice would not exist as it is the mind that shapes how one responds to external stimuli.

According to Rawolle and Lingard (2008), Bourdieu’s perspective on practice is unique because it focuses on the social aspects rather than internal mental states, ethical actions, or rational decision making. Bourdieu suggests that understanding the cognitive state or intent behind others’ actions expands knowledge of the impact their practice has. (P. 730-731)

By understanding how their approach aligns with others in the same group, individuals can enhance the effectiveness of their practice. As people become more acquainted with each other’s methods, they can collaborate to attain improved results within a structured framework.


The field refers to the relational network made up of individuals and institutions. The habitat or environment in which one practices indicates that their habitat is another way to describe the field.

In simple terms, the field is the space where agents interact and where actions in the social world occur. The field exists outside an individual’s consciousness and is primarily shaped by habitus. Since habitus is unconscious, the field exists separately from one’s consciousness. Within the social world, there are multiple fields, such as art, education, religion, and finance. Bourdieu defines social fields as “an organization of various aspects of social life that gives structure and history to individuals who engage in specific practices” (Rawolle and Lingard, 2008).

In each field, there exists a distinct logic that generates beliefs about its significance (Ritzer 2008). Additionally, each field offers its own unique rewards. As mentioned before, there are various fields with differences in the occupants, capital, and rewards they entail. For instance, the field of education grants a degree as its reward.

Occupants within the field strive to protect their position in order to maintain their specific objective or enhance their status and rewards among other agents in the field (Bourdieu 1990). Agents in each field engage in competition to secure their position and advance within the field (Ritzer 2008). Individuals compete using various forms of capital, including cultural, symbolic, economic, and social capital, which are all present in social fields.

The concept of cultural capital encompasses an individual’s education and schooling, which can be influenced by both family and institutions. Symbolic capital, on the other hand, includes entities like mass media and religion. Economic capital refers to the amount of money acquired by an individual. Lastly, social capital pertains to the network of people one is connected with (Ritzer 2008).


The habitus is created through one’s personal history and influences how they act based on their past experiences. The various forms of capital that individuals hold are demonstrated in their habitus. The habitus continues to shape new experiences based on the structures formed by previous ones. Ultimately, the habitus is a result of structural influences.

By engaging with structures, individuals cultivate their own approach to correctness or practices. Practices arise from the connection between the individual and the structure. The habitus is shaped by interaction with the structure, indicating that the field influences the habitus. Consequently, the habitus serves as a representation of the field (Bourdieu 1990).

Transforming the habitus through Theatre of the Oppressed

The habitus, as mentioned before in the discussion of habitus, is challenging to alter. Its difficulty stems from being unconscious and resistant to new information. However, it does not completely determine action. If habitus were to determine thinking and action, change would be unachievable. Despite the difficulty, change is possible because habitus merely suggests how one should act. It was previously explained that habitus consists of unconscious dispositions.

The concept of habitual actions occurring automatically is applied in theatre by consciously using body language, inner dialogue, and actions. Can theatre promote change by implementing these ideas (Osterlind 2008)? Sometimes, individuals desire change but lack support or face strong internal resistance hindering their ability to change. Alternatively, there are instances where external circumstances demand change, yet the individual resists making that change.

The text illustrates a scenario where the wife of an abusive husband chooses to remain in the violent environment, subjecting herself to ongoing abuse. This situation results in a feeling of powerlessness, as neither the person nor the circumstances can be controlled (Osterlind 2008). According to O’Neil (1996, 145), drama has the potential to expand our perspectives and liberate us from fixed ways of thinking and perceiving. Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) proposes that by enacting a particular action in the context of theatrical performance, an individual can then perform that same action in real life (Boal 1995).

Transferring this performance from theatre to real life will lead to a shift in one’s practice, indicating a transformation in the habitus. Two examples from Theatre of the Oppressed demonstrate the expansion of one’s habitus. In problematic school classes, there was a representation of a change in the habitus of oppressed students. Theatre techniques were used, resulting in a positive change in students’ demeanor, body language, and their roles and behavior during interactions.

According to Osterlind (2008), the students’ habitus was changed within the school context. Boal’s work in India offers another example, where a woman shared her personal story about domestic abuse and felt ashamed because her act of speaking out did not align with her social field (Boal 1995). This deviation from her usual position within her social group caused her shame. Finally, on the last day of the seminar, the group performed a dramatization depicting the concept of ‘life of the couple’.

The group was given instructions to engage in theatrical improvisation based on a fictional situation of their choosing. They were encouraged to embody the persona of someone they were familiar with, rather than portraying themselves. This approach provided a sense of security for the participants, allowing them to freely delve into their true emotions and feelings. With Theatre of the Oppressed, individuals are able to protect their emotions and consequently feel empowered to depict situations and scenarios in unconventional ways.

The primary reason for this phenomenon is rooted in the idea that an individual’s behaviors are deeply ingrained in their habitus, which guides their understanding of what thoughts and actions are acceptable within a given social context. In the Theatre of the Oppressed, a technique is employed to empower participants to express verbally what they had previously been unable to say. Through this method, participants become aware of things that were once unknown to them and shed light on issues that had previously been hidden. This approach also ensures that participants’ emotions are protected while allowing them to explore topics that were previously silenced (Osterlind).

The first woman who spoke about her abusive relationship broke her usual behavior and stepped outside of her habitus. She then left the scene and another woman took her place. This allowed the woman to distance herself from her own story, transforming the abusive relationship into a shared issue within the group. As a result, by stepping outside her personal situation and enabling the group to explore the problem collectively, the participants’ habitus underwent a transformation at a group level.

In India, women are traditionally expected to be subordinate to men. However, one woman in this society broke away from the norm by publicly exposing her husband’s abusive behavior. This courageous act had a profound effect on the collective mindset and behavior of others, challenging the established societal expectations. The transformative power of Theatre of the Oppressed had already played a role in shifting attitudes and viewpoints. Consequently, participants finally felt empowered to openly discuss a previously forbidden topic. (Osterlind 2008)

By utilizing Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, it is possible to alter the habitus by enacting social situations. This change may require multiple repetitions or enactments of a specific social situation. While it may take considerable effort to completely transform the habitus, raising awareness is a crucial first step. This idea aligns with Boal’s assertion that through preparation, individuals can liberate themselves from oppression. In accordance with Bourdieu’s statement, one’s habitus is shaped during early childhood and influenced by upbringing.

Habitus refers to a natural collection of unconscious dispositions (Ritzer 2008). To foster new decisions in a once unhealthy environment, an interruption is required. Osterlind (2008) suggests that social change relies on individuals who are willing to challenge norms. To break free from one’s habitus, awareness of it must come first. Theatre of the Oppressed aims to bring participants’ habitus to light, ultimately transforming their thoughts and actions.

An essential aspect of broadening one’s habitus involves broadening one’s frame of reference (O’Neil 1996).

To conclude, this paper examined Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, practice, and field in an effort to explore his attempt to connect the micro and macro. The habitus, as a system of dispositions, provides a structure for individuals to navigate the social world. While changing one’s habitus is infrequent and challenging, it is not impossible. Practice refers to how individuals engage with the social world.

Practice is based on the mind or an individual’s perceptions. Field, is the arena in which actions take place. Through these concepts Bourdieu was able to successfully link the micro with the macro. The information presented here draws clear connections to the micro and the macro. As the field conditions the habitus, the habitus constitutes the field. This concept confirms the existence of opposing social forces. A close look at Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed was detailed. Theatre of the Oppressed was presented in order to give an example of the ability to change or expand one’s habitus.

It is evident in Theatre of the Oppressed that becoming aware of the unconscious habitus is necessary to actively change one’s dispositions.


  1. Boal, Agusto. 1995. “The Rainbow of Desire: the Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy. ” London:Routledge.
  2. O’Neil, Cecily. 1996. “Into the labyrinth: theory and research in drama. Researching drama and arts education: paradigms and possibilities. (145).
  3. London and New York: RoutledgeFlamer. Osterlind, Eva. 2008. “Acting out of habits – can Theatre of the Oppressedpromote change? Boal’s theatre methods in relation to Bourdieu’s concept of habitus. Research in Drama Education 13 (1):71-82.
  4. Rawolle, Shaun and Bob Lingard. 2008. “The sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and researching education policy. ” Journal of Education Policy 23:729-741.
  5. Ritzer, George. 2008. “Sociological Theory. ” 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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Bourdieu and Boal: Expanding Upon Habitus, Practice and Field and Promoting Change. (2018, Mar 09). Retrieved from

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