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


French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu desired to link micro and macro theories and levels of analysis. Bourdieu sought to bridge the gap between the individual and structure, the subjective with the objective. Interested in the action or existence of opposing social forces between structure and how an individual constructs social reality. Bourdieu’s research reflects his desire to connect the micro with the macro.

Academic anxiety?
Get original paper in 3 hours and nail the task
Get your paper price

124 experts online

This paper will take a look at research previously done on the topic of Bourdieu’s habitus, practice and field to further understand the dialectic relationship between the individual or agent and the structure. The purpose of this paper is to take an in depth look at Bourdieu’s theory than what was previously presented in the course this semester as well as the corresponding textbook for the course, Sociological Theory by George Ritzer. I will also take a look at Agusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in accordance to Bourdieu’s concept of habitus as a tool usedto promote change.


Bourdieu defines habitus as “systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures” (1990:53). In other words, the habitus can be thought of as internalized social structures. As applied in a very general way, the habitus points to the collectively developed ability to act in accordance to specific environments or fields. Depending on one’s position or status within a field, a person’s habitus can be transferred from one field to another as long and individual’s habitus is appropriate(Ritzer 2008).

Habitus consist of, as well as surpasses what we call habits. Habitus is adopted through upbringing and education. An individual’s habitus is acquired as a result of long-term occupation of a position in the social world. A person’s habitus begins to take form in early childhood. It can be said that experiences, which occurred in the past and often early childhood, serve as a filter through which new information passes through. Habitus reflects how an individual will relate to the future due to the fact that it is shaped by life conditions in the past (Osterlind 2008).

Because habitus is acquired through history and past experiences it can be said that habitus is the active existence of the past in the present. The cognitive filter created from early life experiences functions as a control filter between the cognitive mind and the physical world (Osterlind 2008). One can then presume that social patterns are inherited based on the argument that habitus forms early on in one’s life. In the beginning stages of development as a child, one’s main point of contact or exposure is with their parents.

Thus, traditions and patterns of acceptable and unacceptable social behavior are embedded in one’s dispositions as acquired mainly through the influence of one’sparents. “Habitus tends to ensure its own constancy and it’s defense against change by rejecting new information and by avoiding exposure to such information (Osterlind 2008). ” Changing the habituscan be a difficult process. As Bourdieu described, the habitus is a series of dispositions that are acted upon unconsciously. Seeing that the habitus tends to reject new information in order to maintain consistency, change is therefore, as a result, difficult.

Although change is difficult, it is not however, impossible. In order to promote change, one must make a conscious effort to be aware of their habitus. In addition to being aware, one must make a conscious attempt to, in a sense, override what has become second nature to the individual. Through this phenomenon of change, it is evident that habitus does not determine how one should act or think but rather inclines how one should think or act (Myles 1999). It is apparent though change that habitus does not determine action. However, it does provide a set of principles that guide how one will engage the social world (Ritzer 2008).


Practice is, in a sense, the bridge between the micro and macro. It is the entity that flows between habitus and the social world, or field. Although, I did not find a definite definition of practice according to Bourdieu in congruence with his research, practice could be defined as the carrying out or performance of an activity (Rawolle and Lingard 2008). An individualspractice is the way in which one acts upon the world.

Practice depends on the habitus, but practice also experiences variations. Variations of practice are experienced when an individual encounters an unexpected situation. In other words, one’s practices adapt to the field in which one finds them selfin. “It is our acting that lies at the bottom of our practices” (Wittgenstein 1977). The dialectical relationship between structure and agency results in one’s practice (Bourdieu 1990). In other words, practice is the outcome of the connection between the agent, meaning individual and the structure, meaning field or institution.

Practice mediates between thehabitus and the social world. According to this statement, practice is not a product of one’s free will (Bourdieu 1990). Practice is not objectively determined. In contrast, practice is subjective. The notion that practice is subjective impliesthat it is based on and influenced by personal feelings and opinions. Without the perceptions, opinions, tastes and feelings of an individual, practice would not exist. How one responds to outward stimuli is based on and even comes from the mind or an individuals perceptions.

As stated by Rawolle and Lingard (2008): The account of practice offered by Bourdieu is distinctly social and differs from those that treat practice as something best understood in terms of internal mental states, ethically informed actions or rational decision making. (P. 730-731) What Bourdieu is suggesting here is that when one is familiar with the cognitive state or intent of other’s actions, what is achieved is a greater breadth of knowledge of the contribution their practice makes.

When individuals becomes aware of how their practice fits in accordance to another agent’s practices within the same group the capacity for greater influence of one’s practice is achieved. As persons become accustomed with other individuals practices, together, they are able to achieve greater results with their practices within a structure.


Field can be described as the relational network composed of individuals as well as institutions. The habitat or environment in which one practices indicates that their habitat is yet another way to describe afield.

In simple terms, field is where agents interact, where actions in the social world take place. Field exists external to an individual’s consciousness. The reason the field exists outside of an individual’s consciousness is due primarily because of habitus. Habitus, as previously discussed is unconscious, thusfield in turn, exists outside one’s consciousness. There are many fields in the social world. Some examples of different social fields are the fields of art, education, and religion as well as financial fields. Bourdieu refers to social fields as “an ordering of different spects of social life that provides a structure and history to agents who invest in specific practices” (Rawolle and Lingard, 2008).

Each field has a specific logic. Along with having a specific logic, each field generates a belief about things that are at stake in the field (Ritzer 2008). Each field has a reward. As previously stated, there are many fields. Fields differ from the type of agents who occupy them, to the capital in which each field contains, to the reward thefield possesses. For example, in the field of education, the reward is a degree.

Occupants within the field try to safeguard their position in order to retain their specific goal, or improve their position in an attempt to achieve a greater reward or higher status among agents within the field (Bourdieu 1990). Agents within each field compete among one another in order to secure their location as well as improve their position within the field (Ritzer 2008). Individuals compete with one another through their means of capital. Cultural capital as well as symbolic, economic and social capital are four types of capital present among social fields.

Cultural capital refers to an individuals schooling or education. Anindividual’s education can come from family as well as an institution. Symbolic capital refers to entitiessuch as mass media and religion. An individual economic capital refers to the amount of money the individual has acquired. Lastly, social capital refers to whom you know (Ritzer 2008).


The habitus is a product of history. Habitus produces behaviors or practices according to the scheme generated by an individual’s past experience. The different types of capital individuals possess is reflected intheir habitus. One’s habitus is constantly structuring new experiences in accordance to the structures produced by past experiences. Habitus is a product of structures.

Through interaction with structures, one develops their method of correctness or practices. Practices are brought about due to the relationship between the individual and the structure. In the course of the habitus’, through interaction with the structure, one can conclude that the field conditions the habitus. In turn, the habitus represents the field (Bourdieu 1990).


As previously stated under the discussion of habitus, the habitus if difficult to change. The difficulty is due to its unconscious nature, and it’s tendency to reject new information. However, habitus is not a determinate of action. If habitus were a determinate of thinking and action, change would be impossible. Because habitus suggests how one should act, change although difficult,is possible. It was discussed earlier that habitus is a set of unconscious dispositions.

The implementation of habitual actions that take place without thought. In theatre however, the central idea is the conscious use of that which habitus calls unconscious, body language, inner dialogue and actions. By applying the ideas of the previous statements, can change be promoted through the use of theatre (Osterlind 2008)? At some point an individual may want to change. Due to a lack of support from those around them or the strength of their inner resistance, the individual may not be able to change. Other times, circumstances call for a change but the individual refuses to change.

For example, the wife of an abusive husband refuses to leave the violent environment and continues to stay and be abused. In this instance, one can neither control oneself or the situation, resulting in a powerless position (Osterlind 2008). According to O’Neil, “drama has the power to enlarge our frames of reference and to emancipate us from rigid ways of thinking and perceiving” (1996. 145). Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) hypothesizes that the act of performing an act such as that in theatrical drama, a person will be able to perform that action in real life (Boal 1995).

By transferring this performance from theatre to real life will result in a change in one’s practice thus indicating a change in the habitus. The following two examples from Theatre of the Oppressed give rise to the concept of the expansion of one’s habitus. Among problematic school classes, arepresentation of a shift in the habitus of oppressed students was seen. Theatre techniques were employed and a positive change was seen in the way students carried themselves, their body language along,with positive changes in their roles as well as their interactive behavior.

Within the context of school, the students’ habitus was changed (Osterlind 2008). The second example is Boal’s work in India. The first personal story was that of a woman who spoke of domestic abuse. Upon revealing her situation, the woman was ashamed (Boal 1995). The woman’s feelings of shame are a result of her practice, or speaking out did not fither social field. The woman had acted in a manner that directly refuted her previous habitus, which placed her in a position that was not typical of her social field. The last day of the seminar, the group dramatized the idea of ‘life of the couple’.

The instruction given to the group was to theatrically improvise on a made up situation of their choosing. In order to do this, they were told to pretend to be someone they knew well as a general guide for their character instead of themselves. Because the participants were not playing themselves in their dram but someone else, they felt safe to explore their real feelings and emotions. Through Theatre of the Oppressed, participant’s emotions are protected and thus they feel free to portray situations and scenarios in ways where they would never consciously be able.

This phenomenon is due primarily in the notion that the individual’s practices are ingrained in their habitus, which suggests to them which thoughts and actions are appropriate according to the social field. The technique used in Theatre of the Oppressed empowered participants to verbally speak that which had previously gone unsaid. Participants are able to make conscious that which had previously been unknown and bring to light that which had previously been unseen. Emotions of participants are protected while enabling them to delve into issues which had in the past, not been spoken about (Osterlind).

The woman whom spoke first of her abusive relationship, stepped outside of her habitus and thus broke her normal behavior. The woman then stepped out of the scene and returned to the audience as another woman took her place (Osterlind 2008). By doing this, the woman was able to separate herself from her personal story. The abusive relationship was nowconsidered a common problem to the group. The act of stepping outside her personal situation and allowing the group to explore the woman’s personal situation as a common problem, on the group level, the participants’ habitus was changed (Osterlind 2008).

In India, the practices of an India woman are to be subservient to the man. Because of this fact, by making public her spouses abuse the woman took extreme step outside her habitus. The collective habitus of the participants’ was changed and expandedas a direct result of the woman’s choice to act in direct contrast to her habitus. Through the techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed, a change had already taken place. This change allowed the participants to finally feel as thought they were allowed to talk about something which had in the past gone unspoken (Osterlind 2008).

Through Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, onecould presume that perhaps through the enactment of social situations, the habitus can be changed. This change could come of course through repeated actions or enactment of a particular social situation. Although, it may take numerous times to change the habitus completely, making the unconscious conscious is a start. This concept supports Boal’s claim that through preparation, one can break free from oppression. In keeping with Bourdieu’s statement, one’s habitus is adopted through upbringing and begins to form at early childhood.

Habitus is a natural set of unconscious dispositions (Ritzer 2008). For this reason, in order to change one’s habitus to facilitate new decisions in an environment that was previously unhealthy, an interruption is needed. “Social change is dependent on persons who dare to break rules” (Osterlind 2008). In order to break out of one’s habitus, one must first become aware of their habitus. Theatre of the Oppressed seeks to make participants aware of their habitus in order to change their way of thinking and acting.

An important part of expanding one’s habitus begins with expanding one’s frame of reference (O’Neil 1996). CONCLUSION Seeking to delve deeper into Bourdieu’s attempt to link the micro with the macro this paper explored Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, practice and field. As a system of dispositions, the habitus is a structure through which people deal with the social world. Although changing one’s habitus is rare and difficult, it is not however impossible. Practice is the way in which one responds to the social world around them.

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 presentedin order to give an example of the ability to change or expand one’s habitus.

It is apparent through Theatre of the Oppressed that indeed in order to make a conscious effort to change one’s dispositions one must first become aware of the unconscioushabitus.


  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.

This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

Need a custom essay sample written specially to meet your requirements?

Choose skilled expert on your subject and get original paper with free plagiarism report

Order custom paper Without paying upfront

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