In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Habitus in Childhood

  • Introduction
  • Habitus in Childhood
  • Journals

Childhood Studies Social Habitus in Childhood
Dympna Devine
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0240


The concept of habitus is central to the work of Pierre Bourdieu (b. 1930–d. 2002) the French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher. As with all of his work, it is a concept that operates interchangeably with others (especially capital and field), to raise questions about the impact of social structures on the practices and dispositions of individuals across diverse cultural and social contexts. Habitus is central to Bourdieu’s theory of practice—how patterns of power and inequality are reproduced through the practices that are embedded in everyday life. It is the habitus—the dispositions, ways of “doing” and “being,” thinking, talking, dressing, walking—the full compendium of our preferences, tastes, and desires that reflects our orientation in the world. Habitus is not explicitly “taught”; however, it is deeply embodied—a form of “knowing” that derives from the totality of immersion within a given cultural and social context. It is this ‘knowing’ that filters expectations, setting unarticulated boundaries or possibilities for future actions depending on the habitus in play. This is the power and impact of the habitus, and, with respect to social class (middle-class habitus/working-class habitus), clear patterns of advantage accrue to those whose habitus is most valued and recognized, that of the elites and middle class in society. This is especially evident, for example, in the field of education, which Bourdieu argued, embodies the middle-class habitus to the detriment of those from the working classes, who inevitably exit the system with lower rates of success. While Bourdieu was especially focused on dynamics related to social class stratification, the concept of habitus has been used widely in sociological studies. As a concept it is very applicable to childhood studies, providing an important frame of reference to analyze how diverse social structures influence the dispositions of children across different contexts. Further, as an action-oriented concept it aligns with the emphasis within childhood studies on children’s agency, providing a mechanism to explore how such agency is both enabled and /or constrained by the contexts within which children find themselves. As early childhood education and care takes increasing precedence, the concept has also been extended for use in relation to early childhood education and care settings. Typically, the concept of habitus focuses on issues related to language, literacy, and social class dynamics that influence children’s capacities to engage with their learning and education. However its flexibility as a concept—exactly as Bourdieu intended—ensures that it has been drawn on to explore the realities of children’s lives in their families, communities, and schools, including studies of children’s ethnic, gendered, and class relations; academic achievement; parenting practices; and leisure activities.

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