The Balance of Practice - Elizabeth Dougherty/University of PA


A theory of practice is a theory of history. It is a theory of how social beings, with their diverse motives and their diverse intentions, make and transform the world in which they live. It is a theory for answering the simplest-seeming, and yet largest, questions that social science seeks to answer. Why does a given society have a particular form at a particular moment - that form and not some other? And how do people whose very selves are part of that social form nonetheless transform themselves and their society? It is a theory that allows social and cultural analysts to put all their various methodological tools to work - ethnographic and historic research, structural, interpretive, and 'objectivist' analytic approaches - in ways that enhance and enrich the effectiveness of each. A theory of a theory of conversion, or translation, between internal dynamics and external dimension of the theory concerns the ways in which a given social order mediates the impact of external events by shaping ways in which actors experience and respond to those events. (Ortner: 194, 200)

Practice Theory: the issues emerge

Practice theory, as outlined by Sherry Ortner, "seeks to explain the relationship(s) that obtain between human action, on the one hand, and some global entity which we call 'the system' on the other."(Ortner 1984: 148) Elsewhere, Ortner goes on to say, "..every usage of the term 'practice' presupposes a question of the relationship between practice and structure."(1989:194) This points to several key concepts. These are (1) structure, and (2) human action/practice and 3) the dialectical relationship, repetitious and changing, between the two.

Practice theorists are primarily trying to decipher in what ways humans create their social (including political and economic) relations and to what extent social relations create humans. In all the literature emerging from practice theorists there is a dialectic assumed between structure and human action which, as is the case with all dialectics, continue to work on each other back and forth creating the actual relationship and the changing forms of each of the two parts of the dialectic. This dialectic of structure and human action is always set within a particular temporal and spatial context which demands an awareness of issues of power. Ortner claims that there is no such thing as 'practice' on a level political playing field. Therefore, 'asymmetry, inequality, domination and the like" (Ortner: 1989:12) are inherent to the relations imperative to practice theorists.

These relations of power are embedded in the "stuff" of folklore studies and should be a fundamental element of folklore research which centers on both daily and highlighted activities of human populations As Ortner writes, "Thus the central problem for practice theory is...precisely the question of how actors who are so much the products of their own social and cultural context can ever come to transform the conditions of their own existence, except by accident. " This highlights that our research is not an a snapshot of a static human practice, whether the Mummers parade in Philadelphia, discourses of development used in national parks in Madagascar or studies of food eaten in Mexican American households. Rather both history and relations of power are ontological elements of our research subjects, part of the dialectic relations which created them.

The diachronic standing of any tradition or practice takes into account the dynamic nature of the tradition or practice. Transformations, alterations and repetition in human practices are influenced by both internal individual and social pressures as well as by pressures exerted from outside the social grouping, (however thin and drifting the differentiation between internal and external might be). By utilizing the concepts of practice theory, the most basic issues are addressed. How do actors both establish and/or change their constraining social structures (therefore highlighting both the fluidity of structure and the constraints of actors) and how do these structures repeatedly work to confine actors into particular beliefs and actions? Considering the historical context as well as the particular practices at any given time help to build a full-bodied picture of the dynamics of power, both individual and structural.

Structure and its Discontents

Structuralism became a prominent concept first within the field of linguistics in the work of Saussure and later the Prague School. (Giddens: 9, 10) Saussure denoted two levels of language: the objective structure of language, langue; and the individual, subjective use of that structure, parole. For prominent anthropologists in the mid-20th century such as Lévi-Strauss, this linguistic model translated into a belief that there is a kind of transcendental, unconscious structure to being human which, although variant like parole in the individual expression (Saussure highlighted the important function of difference in language), emphasizes a static possible field of action. Lévi-Strauss, studied examples of structure (in kinship systems and myths primarily) synchronically, that is at a particular moment in time. He downplayed repetition over time and consequent variations that come with this sort of repetition. Social theorists did not highlight fluctuation and transformation of structure. Rather, they foregrounded constancy and a human universality. There were political and social contexts that led theorists in this direction, just as theorists in the 1960's and early 70's such as Geertz, Turner, and Foucault were more apt to think about inconstancies and difference, reflecting current political and social overtones in the Western world.

Structure is a kind of setting: an imagined context, a (playing) field of social possibilities on which certain activities are more likely to happen than others. In one sense, structure, as we will see when we talk about habitus, exists only within the person. It must be individually internalized in order to exist. And, yet, the opposite is also true. Structure exists outside of the individual as a set of pressures and expectations made evident in the social setting established by on-going inter-relational practices devised and acted out by humans, that is, groups of structure-internalizing persons. It is created by, reproduced, morphed and radically altered, all by humans. Yet these same humans can lose the perspective that structure is their own creation. This is the hegemonic/doxic strength of structure: the lack of awareness of subjective influence on the what appears as objective reality.

The idea here is that humans behave, they do, they act, they change, they become. Are humans fully free agents (as early existentialists imagined, thus the on-going arguments between Lévi-Strauss and Sartre) or are there socially constraining factors which are predicated on systems of accepted practice based in tradition, the social art of repetition of beliefs and actions over time?

In his work Search for a Method , Sartre wrote with a view toward answering questions such as this. His own basis in existentialism seemed to some to be in conflict with his fervent Marxism: existentialism being dependent on agentive freedom and Marxism steeped in a base/superstructure model which emerges from relations of production. In Search for a Method, Sartre castigates Marxists who have begun to refer to the world through categories not based in specificities, thereby undoing the force of the terms and therefore of their arguments. The general use of terms such as 'the bourgeoisie' is unacceptable to Sartre. He wants Marxists to use their terms with a context of historical specificity, such as saying: the bourgeoisie of the American society here in the 1960's behaves in such and such a manner. Historical specificity, largely underplayed by Lévi-Strauss, is primary to Sartre.

Sartre works with the specific structuring components as they are produced and reproduced by agents. He does this by bringing up specific examples, such as a young Englishman who is in the airforce. Because the man is black, he is not allowed to become a pilot and fly a plane. Social norms, reflecting a particular power relation, determine that blacks do not fly planes. In England during this time period, it is just that way. Frustrated by the norm which restricts the fulfillment of his aspirations, the young man (the actor) thumbs his nose at the rule (doxic, hegemonic structure), eventually hopping into a plane and crossing the English Channel (the action). He disregards the rules, choosing to try to go beyond them. But the going beyond, the resistance and surpassing, begins from a particular base, the base of what is socially accepted, the social norm, the social structure, Bourdieu's habitus. As Sartre summarizes,

...aviation becomes his possibility as a clandestine future. In fact he chooses a possibility already recognized by the colonists as existing in the colonized (simply because they can not rule it out at the start) - the possibility of rebellion, of risk, of scandal, of repression. This choice allows us to understand at the same time his individual project and the present stage of the struggle of the colonized against the colonists. (Sartre: 96)

Sartre's pilot was able to surpass his own social consciousness as underclass and racial minority during a particular period in England, but the English habitus, the field of possibilities, is evident even in the process of surpassing. The pilot refuses to stay within the structural boundaries, but cannot do so without maintaining reference to them. "Thus the field of possibilities is the goal toward which the agent surpasses his objective [i.e. structural] situation." (Sartre: 93)

In this example given by Sartre we are able to see that neither structure nor human actions are static. Rather inherent in their dialectic relationship are the ideas of infraction, movement and change. Resistance to the power of the 'norm' is implicit as is the resistance of the habitus to change. The struggle between humans and the social context which they themselves have created is basic (even though various utopians have proposed a kind of idealistic end to these struggles between social context and individual action). Reproduction and transformation of the social field of possible actions is an ongoing human activity.

Structure is not simply a frame of mind, or habitus which resides within an individual or groups of individuals. It is found in social (therefore political and economic) institutions, within media images, within political systems. Gramsci, whose work we will look at when considering "hegemony," is deeply concerned with how structures are biult as well as revolted against. Gramsci proposed that rather than residing solely within political institutions, the force of the controling social body has worked its way into civil society. This is how the concept of signification, of signs full of meaning, comes into political play. The entire civil society, systems of advertising, of education, of healthcare, etc. are all part of the structure. Gramsci proposes that in order to have an impact omn the structure, one can no longer take a frontal attack on the government as might have been possible at another time, even at the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Now, with the mechanisms for the reproduction of the hegemonic structure functioning within the civil society, it is necessary to wage a "war of position." In this approach, the infusement of civil society must be addressed. One cannot bomb a few buildings or kill a single king and the royal family. This revolution must be systemic, able to work on both the external institutions of structure as well as the internal dispositions of habitus.

Habitus: Bodily Dispositions

Although the term 'habitus' is most often associated with Bourdieu, it in fact comes from the earlier writings of Marcel Mauss.

...I have had this notion of the social nature of the habitus for many years. Please note that I use the Latin word - it should be understood in France - 'habitus.' The word translates infinitely better than' habitude' (habit or custom), the 'exis,' the 'acquired ability' and 'faculty' of Aristotle (he was a psychologist). It does not designate those metaphysical habitudes, that mysterious memory, the subject of volumes or short and famous theses. These 'habits' do not vary just with individuals and their imitations; they vary especially between societies, educations, properties and fashions, types of prestige. In them, we should see the techniques and the work of the collective and individual practical reason rather than, in ordinary ways, merely the soul and its repetitive faculties. (Mauss: 458)

Mauss points to the key elements which Bourdieu furthers. The structure is acquired. It varies between people and between societies. Therefore it is not a stable unchanging, universal reality.

Bourdieu utilizes Mauss' term habitus as a central idea in analyzing structure and human practice. Bourdieu suggests that there are three types of dispositions which construct individual and social habitus. These are doxa, orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Doxa is well described in the explication above of structure. It is a constructed vision of 'reality' so naturalized that it appears to be the only vision of reality.

Bourdieu writes:

Every established order tends to produce (to very different degrees and with different means) the naturalization of its own arbitrariness. Of all the mechanisms tending to produce this effect, the most important and the best concealed is undoubtedly the dialectic of the objective chances and the agents' aspirations, out of which arises the sense of limits, commonly called the sense of reality, i.e. the correspondence between the objective classes and the internalized classes, social structures and mental structures, which is the basis of the most ineradicable adherence to established order. (Bourdieu 1977: 164)

The process of naturalization incorporates a forgetting of origins. We forget that what we see as 'reality', such as a particular system for keeping time like 360 days, 24 hours, 60 seconds yielding years, centuries and millenniums, is actually a relatively arbitrary construction. There are ,in fact, conceptions of and measurements for the keeping of time other than this linear system. Time, as I might conceive it, is not real. It is arbitrary. A built-in strategy of structure is to hide this arbitrariness under a veil of what appears as real, objective meaning. This is accomplished when a subject internalizes the structure, when it becomes a doxic internal bodily disposition. Structure is enlivened when there is a synthesis, momentary or extended, of the dialectic of structure and human action. Shared doxic dispositions create and reproduce social structure.

For Bourdieu, doxa is the assumed of the (unlevel, due to modes and relations of production) playing field. Doxa exists as "a quasi-perfect correspondence between the objective order and the subjective principles of organization...(in which) the natural and social world appears as self-evident. Doxa is the unsaid in the field of cultural possibilities, making it seem as if there are not multiple, but only a single possibility." (Bourdieu, 1977: 164)

Schemes of thought and perception can produce the objectivity that they do only by producing the misrecognition of the limits of the cognition that they make possible, thereby founding immediate adherence, in the doxic mode, to the world of tradition experienced as a 'natural world' and taken for granted. The instruments of knowledge of the social world are in this case (objectively) political instruments which contribute to the reproduction of the social world, seen as self-evident and undisputed, of which they are the product and of which they reproduce the structures in a transformed form. (Ibid.: 164)

This quote concerns a kind of fetishization of human activity. It is the construction of the veil, intentional and unintentional, conscious and unconscious, of constructed social relations, which creates seemingly objective norms and rules which claim "this is just the way it is." It is the creation of something, such as a linear system of time-reckoning which later comes to hold power over the humans who created the idea. Doxa necessitates a collective amnesia as to the genealogy of the system (such as Foucault seeks to unveil in his investigation of the genealogies of discourses, another version of 'structures"). Bourdieu further explains this idea.

In a determinate social formation, the stabler the objective structures and the more fully they reproduce themselves in the agents' dispositions, the greater the extent of the field of doxa, of that which is taken for granted. When, owing to the quasi-perfect fit between the objective structures and the internalized structures which results from the logic of simple reproduction, the established cosmological and political order is perceived not as arbitrary, i.e. as one possible order among others, but as a self-evident and natural order which goes without saying and therefore goes unquestioned, the agents' aspirations have the same limits as the objective conditions of which the are the product. (Ibid.: 165)

The power of doxa is in its hidden nature which claims that what it claims to be 'reality" is the one and only "truth" about the nature of existence, what Bourdieu refers to as "reified abstractions." (1989:37).

Bourdieu differentiates doxa from orthodoxy and heterodoxy stating, "This experience we shall call doxa, so as to distinguish it from an orthodox or heterodox belief implying awareness and recognition of the possibility of different or antagonistic beliefs. (Ibid:164) Orthodoxy is the state of challenged dispositions. "The truth of doxa is only fully revealed when negatively constituted by the constitution of a field of opinion , the locus of the confrontation of competing discourses." (Ibid:168) Bourdieu uses the terms heresy and blasphemy to explain the practice of orthodoxy. As an example, when someone claims that my sense of linear, delineated time is not the only construction of time, I have been challenged. Yes, I am now aware that there are others who believe that there are other systems of time, but I know that their claims are wrong, illegitimate. Orthodoxy can serve to re-inforce the structure or to challenge it further. By showing how ridiculous the claim for multiplicity might be ("Those crazy Hopi Indians still believe that corn gods affect their growing cycles, so obviously they don't take a logical approach to something like linear time"...), the strength of the establsihed structure is girded up. Bourdieu's third category, heterodoxy, acknowledges that my bodily disposition, my perception and lived experience of time is indeed not the only one. I am not "right" and others "wrong". Rather we each have chosen one possibility among many in our habitus of time.

Each of these three categories of doxa, orthodoxy and heterodoxy function in relations of power.

It is only when the dominated have the material and symbolic means of rejecting the definition of the real that is imposed on them through logical structures reproducing the social structures (i.e. the state of the power relations) and to lift the (institutionalized or internalized) censorships which it implies...that the arbitrary principles of classification can appear as such and it therefore becomes necessary to undertake the work of conscious systematization and express rationalization which marks the passage from doxa to orthodoxy. Orthodoxy...opinion, which aims, without ever entirely succeeding, at restoring the primal state of doxa, exists only in the objective relationship which opposes it to heterodoxy... (Bourdieu, 1977:169)

As Saussure himself would agree, each term can be recognized for what it is only in light of its difference compared to the other two terms. Doxa is invisible until put together with orthodoxy and heterodoxy. The same is true for each of these terms.

Another currently much-used term used to describe doxic habitus is the word "hegemony." This word was brought into popular political use through the work of Antonio Gramsci in the 1930's fascist Italy. Unlike Bourdieu's version of doxic habitus which has no inherent political overtones in its construction, Gramsci is fully concerned with how political groupings, usually in the form of classes, influence each other. Part of the somewhat forgotten history of hegemony is that Gramsci originally used the term referring to the attempt of a proletariat group to influence a bourgeois group to take up their cause, to become their allies. Hegemony is now commonly used to refer solely to the intentional and directly forceful acts wherein one group asserts the power of its dominance over another. extending their control over the social habitus of lower classes. By hearkening back to Gramsci, hegemony gains a wider capability by being "a general interpretive category which applies to all forms of the articulation of the interests of a fundamental class to those of other social groups in the creation of a collective will." (Mouffe: 11) Hegemony is not imperialism. Neither is it subjection. Rather it implies that one group is able to coerce, through force or through argument or through the slow drift of cultural influences over time, to acquire the same doxic habitus. "Hegemony, therefore, becomes, in its typically gramscian formulation, 'political, intellectual and moral leadership over allied groups.'" (Mouffe: 10)

John and Jean Comaroff provide an exceptional discussion of the interplay of structure, human practice, and the role of both hegemony and ideology in the "Introduction" to their book, Of Revelation and Revolution. The Comaroffs make the 'unsaid' of hegemony more obvious by contrasting hegemony with ideology. Although both terms are used as signifiers for practices and modes of thought embodying beliefs, consciousness creates the dividing line between hegemony and ideology. Here are the two conjoined definitions of hegemony and ideology developed by John and Jean Comaroff:

Building upon this [Gramsci's notion of hegemony] and its conceptual roots, we take hegemony to refer to that order of signs and practices, relations and distinctions, images and epistemologies - drawn from an historically situated cultural field - that comes to be taken for granted as the natural and received shape of the world and everything that inhabits it. It consists, to paraphrase Bourdieu (1977:167), of things that go without saying because, being axiomatic, they come without saying; things that, being presumptively shared, are not normally the subject of explication or argument. This is why its power has so often been seen to lie in what it silences, what it prevents people from thinking and saying, what it puts beyond the limits of the rational and the credible. Quite literally, hegemony is habit forming. For once its internal contradictions are revealed, when what seems natural comes to be negotiable, when the ineffable is put into words - then hegemony becomes something other than itself. It turns into the 'orthodoxy' and 'heterodoxy' of Bourdieu's (1977) formulation. (Comaroffs: 23-24)

(Ideology is) an articulated system of meanings, values and beliefs of a kind that can be abstracted as [the] worldview of any social grouping. Borne in manifestos and everyday practices, self-conscious texts and spontaneous images, popular styles and political platforms, this worldview may be more or less internally systematic, more or less assertively coherent in its outward forms. But, as long as it exists, it provides an organizing scheme for collective symbolic production. Obviously to invoke Marx and Engels (1970) once again, the regnant ideology of any period or place will be that of the dominant group. And, while the nature and degree of its preeminence may vary a good deal, it is likely to be protected, even enforced, to the full extent of the power of those who claim it for their own. (Ibid.: 24)

And finally,

Here, then, is the basic difference between hegemony and ideology. Whereas the first consists of constructs and conventions that have come to be shared and naturalized throughout a political community, the second is the expression and ultimately the possession of a particular social group, although it may be widely peddled beyond. The first is nonnegotiable and therefore beyond direct argument; the second is more susceptible to being perceived as a matter of inimical opinion and interest and therefore is open to contestation. Hegemony homogenizes, ideology articulates. Hegemony, at its most effective, is mute; by contrast, says de Certeau (1984: 46), 'all the while, ideology babbles on.' (Ibid.: 24)

While seeming perhaps to be little more than theoretical nit-picking, the difference between hegemony and ideology is the space which makes possible both awareness of and resistance to the dominant. It is the space which leads to orthodoxy and heterodoxy and potential structural change. The Comaroffs, following Gramsci, see hegemony as how colonizers worked to transform another population by infusing a group with rules which appear as if they are natural, and therefore, indisputable. For them, the influence is certainly not a simple one way movement, but a dialogue taking place on an uneven playing field of access to the instruments of power.

Ideologies, on the other hand, are an acknowledged set of beliefs that one recognizes as potentially contradicting and clashing with other ideologies. It is through the foregrounding of ideology that hegemony can become unmasked. By questioning what one can question, the unquestionable often also becomes evident.

The Comaroffs explicitly argue for the inherent instability of hegemony, of Bourdieu's doxic habitus. Through accessing the contradictions of ideologies, individuals and groups are able to resist and potentially transform the 'structure,' the naturalized rules (which have been brought into play through the exercise of power over time) through practices which function on an everyday level.

It is important to note that Bourdieu does not himself leave so much leeway in the movement of doxa that we find in the formulation of hegemony by the Comaroffs.

The habitus - embodied history, internalized as a second nature and so forgotten as history - is the active presence of the whole past of which it is the product....The habitus is a spontaneity without consciousness or will. (Bourdieu, 1980: 56) The habitus contains the paradoxes of objective meaning without subjective intention. (1980: 62)

Habitus is a condition or, as Bourdieu puts it, a set of bodily dispositions (Bourdieu: 1977:124) of the individual who continues to relive the past in the present. These dispositions are not dependent solely on the individual, as we have seen from the discussion thus far, but are at work within the individual. This is how 'structure' or 'schemas' takes on life. It is the social/political group which functions as the field of play. One person cannot contain a habitus, per se, because a habitus must be social, it must be created and recreated, produced and reproduced through interaction and 'tradition' or social practices of memory. Each human practitioner must choose to engage or not, in the habitus. But, in the possibility for choice, there is the assumption of the awareness that there is a choice. This relies on orthodoxy and heterodoxy, the awareness of ideological content of the habitus.

Handler and Linnekin link tradition to ideology when they say that 'traditions usually have ideological content, and that views of the past may be changed through self-conscious interpretation.' (Handler and Linnekin: 276) Looking at tradition brings us into the realm of the transmission of habitus in connection with time. In considering the nature of ideology, as I have before stated, ideology exists as practice. But it is more than that. For I can, alone, hold an ideological belief. A sole ideological view may not come into practice as habitus, however, unless it is shared. Tradition is ideology enacted over time, shared among people. Tradition is taken from the past to become what it is in the present. Immediately we know, therefore, that tradition can change, be questioned, be altered, and, at any given time. Orthodoxy and heterodoxy are always possible, just as Sartre wrote that the colonizers can never erase the possibility "of rebellion, of risk, of scandal, of repression."

Handler and Linnekin 'suggest that there is no essential, bounded tradition; tradition is a model [might we say 'structure'?] of the past and is inseparable from the interpretation of tradition in the present.' (Handler and Linnekin: 276) Habitus must be enacted by each individual to the degree that it brings some level of collective coherence of practices. This habitus exists, therefore, both on the frontiers of the internal as well as the external world in the form of signs full of ideological, and often hegemonic, meaning.

Structure shows itself in the form of signs and signifying practices. How is it that humans create meaning by, through and in their practices? Voloshinov draws us in the direction of the creation of meaning through signification.

Everything ideological possesses meaning: it represents, depicts, stands for something lying outside itself. In other words, it is a sign. Without signs there is no ideology... Signs also are particular, material things; and, as we have seen, any item of nature, technology or consumption can become a sign, acquiring in the process a meaning that goes beyond its given particularity. A sign does not simply exist as a part of reality - it reflects and refracts another reality. Therefore, it may distort that reality or be true to it, or may perceive it from a special point of view, and so forth. Every sign is subject to the criteria of ideological evaluation (i.e., whether it is true, false, correct, fair, good, etc.) The domain of ideology coincides with the domain of signs. They equate with one another. Wherever a sign is present, ideology is present, too. Everything ideological possesses semiotic value. (Voloshinov, 1973: 9,10)

This statement addresses the construction and constitution of ideology. Ideology itself is often considered to be 'idea' rather than 'of substance.' Once again the dichotomy arises between the ephemeral and the embodied. What does it mean for Voloshinov that all ideology is embodied in signs and that without embodiment, ideology does not exist? For him it is material, it is sensible (in that it exists in the realm of the senses). I re-invoke the Comaroff's discussion of ideology when they say:

Borne in manifestos and everyday practices, self-conscious texts and spontaneous images, popular styles and political platforms, this worldview may be more or less internally systematic, more or less assertively coherent in its outward forms. (Comaroffs: 24)

Ideology is created and put into practice through a system of signs which mean not only practice but practices with meaning, signification. This is praxis. Practice is always engaged with ideologies and hegemonies, with bodily dispositions of a doxic, orthodoxic or heterodoxic nature (a combination of the three is always at work within any person at any given time), both consciously and unconsciously embraced. If habitus resides within the individual, it is in their choice of crossing their legs or spreading them open, of calling a person of certain professional standing 'Professor X' or 'hey you.' It is in their choice of responding to media images or not to wear flared pants or long skirts. Signification is in large part constituted through bodily experiences, which incorporate conscious reflections and intentional and unintentional action. As Lock says,

The body, imbued with social meaning, is now historically situated, and becomes a signifier not only of belonging and order, but also an active forum for the expression of dissent and loss, thus ascribing it individual agency. These dual modes of bodily expression - belonging and dissent - are conceptualized as culturally produced and in dialectical exchange with the externalized ongoing performance of social life. (Lock: 141)

The body is the locus of experience and consciousness. Bourdieu is very concerned with locating the dispositions of habitus not just in the mind, but as part of a whole body experience. There have been on-going arguments between social scientists linked to language, discourse, phenomenology and embodiment concerning the nature of experience, consciousness and the assignment of meaning. Bourdieu calls habitus embodied history. Habitus resides in the physical stance taken during prayer, in who is allowed to look directly at whom during a conversation, in when one rises and goes to sleep: some with dusk and dawn, others with electricity and alarm clocks. Habitus is accessed not solely through words, but in mimesis, imitation, and most definitely in the day-to-day actions, the repetitious engraving of practices and dispositions into the body. It is in agency, in an actor choosing to act, that the balance between the interior habitus and the exterior structure actually is reproduced and changed.


Perhaps the most important question to which we have not yet sufficiently attended is what does the dialectic between the social field of possibilities and the actions of actors do to each side of the dialectic? How are structures and schemas transformed and altered and how do individuals go beyond their conditions at hand? Althusser provides an example of the interplay between external structures and the human practice by giving his understanding of the subject.

In the ordinary use of the term, subject in fact means: 1) a free subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions; 2) a subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all freedom except that of freely accepting his submission. (Althusser: 812)

This explication brings us back to the beginning of the chapter when we looked at Sartre. The contradiction of the subject acting within a context and the subject's potential for action are here displayed again. The subject has a freedom, the existential freedom to which Sartre (following Hegel and Nietzsche) referred. But that freedom is constrained in the very action, by the historical hegemonic and ideological context within which the subject functions.

Michel de Certeau theorizes human practices in the political context of an underclass trying to access and change the power structures (which we now assume are hegemonic and ideological in nature). Within his investigation, de Certeau raises questions concerning intention, as well as the unintended. His basic distinction is between the intentional activities of those who are in control of the production of signification of habitus and those who do not have access to the instruments of image making (these being the educational system, media, advertising, the legal system, etc. referred to earlier). Those in the more dominant position of power and access it's instruments utilize strategies which are designed to maintain the system as is. The 'consumers,' as de Certeau calls them, are able only to shoot from the hip while they run along employing tactics.

As unrecognized producers, poets of their own acts, silent discoverers of their own paths in the jungle of functionalist rationality, consumers produce through their signifying practices something that might be considered similar to the 'wandering lines' drawn by the autistic children studied by F. Deligny: 'indirect' or 'errant' trajectories obeying their own logic. In the technocratically constructed, written and functionalized space in which consumers move about, their trajectories form unforseeable sentences, partly unreadable paths across a space. Although they are composed with the vocabularies of established languages (those of television, newspapers, supermarkets, or museum sequences) and although they may be subordinated to the prescribed syntactical forms (temporal modes of schedules, paradigmatic orders of spaces, etc.) the trajectories trace out the ruses of other interests and desires that are neither determined nor captured by the systems in which they develop. (de Certeau: xviii)

This reminds us of the examples given earlier by Sartre, of the French-African man who desired to be a pilot but was constricted by the rules. Even living within a certain doxic situation, of which he himself internalized the habitus, he still pushed beyond the normative rules. He questioned the hegemonic rules, alerting himself and those who discovered his actions, that there were actually choices and tactics possible which are not presented by the dominant order. Perhaps a single rupture of the doxa is sufficient to exhibit that it is questionable, that it is ideological. This brings us back to the differentiation between doxa, orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Doxa is the unquestioned habitus. Hegemonic reproduction is the key characteristic of doxa. It is within ortho/heterodoxy that ideologies are made apparent, challenged, defended, altered and changed. Although an actor always has choice, has freedom, without being conscious of choices, the actor will always choose to reproduce the structure. The influence to question and possibly even to change can come from practitioners of the habitus or from without the social political grouping.

Of course the question arises whether or not all resistance, all tactics in action are intentional. de Certeau answers that they are certainly not. Often, it is in the simple act of survival that individuals and groups resist, without intention or organization. And, consequently, over time and across space, there is sometimes a shift in the structure as the internalized habitus begins to shift along with the shifting practices and consciousness. The Comaroffs explain the process.

If anything will become evident in our study, it is that much of the Tswana response to the mission encounter was an effort to fashion and understanding of, and gain conceptual mastery over, a changing world. This, it seems, is a very general phenomenon. Early on in the colonizing process, whenever it occurs, the assault on local societies and cultures is the subject of neither 'consciousness' nor 'unconsciousness' on the part of the victim, but of recognition - recognition that occurs with varying degrees of inchoateness and clarity. One of that recognition, and the creative tensions to which it may lead, there typically arise forms of experimental practice that are at once techniques of empowerment and the signs of collective representation. (Comaroffs: 31)

This leads us to the idea of unintended consequences. This refers to the idea that even with consciousness, with awareness and intention, things do not always go in the direction which follows the exerted actions, and the extension of the force of will. As Giddens writes, 'The escape of human history from human intentions, and the return of the consequences of that escape as casual influences on human action, is a chronic feature of social life.' (Giddens: 7) Ortner elaborates on the chaos of the unintentional.

The irony, although some may not feel it as such, is this: that although actors' intentions are accorded central place in the model, yet major social change does not for the most part come about as an intended consequence of action. Change is a large by-product, an unintended consequence of action, however rational the action may have been. Setting out to conceive children with superior mana by sleeping with British sailors, Hawaiian women became agents of the spirit of capitalism in their society. Setting out to preserve structure and reduce anomaly by killing a 'god' who was really Captain Cook, the Hawaiians put in motion a train of events that ultimately brought down their gods, their chiefs, and their world as they knew it. To say that society and history are products of human action is true, but only in a certain ironic sense. They are rarely the products the actors themselves set out to make. (Ortner, 1984:157)

It almost seems unfair that having finally gotten to the moment where practices are shown to have the power to change structure, to show that individuals and groups can, in actuality, impact their own possibilities, that we at the same time have to admit that with all our efforts, even if in positions of power, the intended results do not always follow. This again takes up Wittgenstein's idea which de Certeau elaborates, that even with consciousness, with intentions, with bodies which enable all of social life, we still cannot take the aerial overview of the gods to see what all of this might add up to and bring accurate results with our actions. We are left, after all, with possibilities and results which extend beyond our vision, our philosophies, our intentions and our actions.

Practice Theory always has two moments, one largely objectivist and one largely subjectivist. In the first, the world appears as system and structure, constituting actors, or confronting them, or both, and here anthropologists bring to bear all their objectivist methodologies. But in the second, the world appears as culture, as symbolic frames derived from actors' attempts to constitute that world in their own terms by investing it with order, meaning, and value.

Practice theory in fully developed form attends seriously to both of these moments. But its special contributions lie in the ways in which it operates on the interface between them, examining those processes by which one side is converted into the other. Thus one observes actors in real circumstances using their cultural frames to interpret and meaningfully act upon the world, converting it from a stubborn object to a knowable and manageable life-place. At the same time, one observes the other edge of this process, as actor's modes of engaging the world generate more stubborn objects (either the same or novel ones) that escape their frames and, as it were, reenter the observer's. Here subjective and objective are placed in a powerful and dynamic relationship, in which each side has equal, if temporary, reality, and in which it is precisely the relationship between the two that generates the interesting questions. (Ibid.: 18)

By taking up practice theory, we have been able to examine in at least a cursory form the many issues that are raised when dealing with humans, the selves, their societies, their relations and the changes in all of these over time. This chapter is meant to provide a working understanding of how we function in social groupings, to point to the central questions concerning the interactions and relations engaged to construct individuals and society. In the end, all may come to naught in the face of how things just seem to go.

But if History escapes me, this is not because I do not make it; it is because the other is making it as well. Each day with our hands we make it something other than what we believe we are making it, and History, backfiring, makes us other than we believe ourselves to be or to become. (Sartre: 88, 90)


Abrahams, Roger

19?? "Toward an Enactment-Centered Theory of Folklore" in ??, pp. 79- 120.

Althussar, Louis

1971 "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, pp. 127-188.

Appadurai, Arjun

1996 Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre

1972 Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

1980 The Logic of Practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Comaroff, John and Jean

1991 Of Revolution and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp.1-48.

de Certeau, Michel

1984 "The Practice of Everyday Life." Berkeley: University of California Press.

Foucault, Michel

1972 The Archeology of Knowledge & the Discourse on Language. New York: Pantheon Books.

1991 "Politics and the Study of Discourse" in The Foucault Effect, eds. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Giddens, Anthony

1979 Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis. Berekely: University of California Press.

Gramsci, Antonio

1971 Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New York: International Press.

Gupta, Akhil and James Ferguson, eds.

1997 Culture, Power and Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Handler and Linnekin

19?? Title and publishing info.

Hannerz, Ulf

1996 Transnational COnnections: Culture, People, Places. London: Routeledge.Jay, Martin

1973 The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950. Berkeley: University of california Press.

Levi-Strass, Claude

1966 The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lock, Margaret

1993 "Cultivating the Body: Anthropology and Epistemologies of Bodily Practice and Knowledge" in Annual Review of Anthropology 22:133-55.

Mauss, Marcel

1992 "Techniques of the Body" in Incorporations, J. Crary, S. Kwinter, eds. New York: Zone Books, 455-475.

Mouffe, Chantal, ed.

1979 Gramsci and Marxist Theory. London: Routeledge and Kegan Paul.

Neitzsche, Friedrich

1966 Beyond Good and Evil. New York: Vintage Books.


Ortner, Sheryy B.

1984 "Theory and Anthropology Since the Sixties" in Comparative Studies in Society and History 26(1): 126-66.

1989 High Religion: A Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ricoeur, Paul

1979 "The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as Text" in Interpretive Social Science: a Second look. Paul Rabinow and Sullivan, eds. 73 -102.

Sahlins, Marshall

1981 Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities: Structure in the Early History of the Sandwich Islands Kingdom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Sartre, Jean-Paul

1963 Search for a Method. New York: Vintage books.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy & Margaret Lock

1987 "The Mindful Body: A prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology" in Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1(1), pp 6-41.

Voloshinov, V.N.

1973 Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Further Reading

Bahktin, M.

1986 "The Problem of the Text in Linguistics, Philology, and the Human Sciences: An Experiment in Philosphic Analysis" in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Calryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, eds. Austin: Universitry of Texas Press. pp 103-131.

1981 "Discourse in the Novel" in The Dialogic Imagination. Michael Holquist, ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp. 259 - 300.

Basso, Ellen

1990 "Introduction: Discourse as an Integrating Concept in Anthropology and Folklore Research" in Journal of Folklore Research 27 (1/2): 3-10.

Bauman, Richard & Chalres L. Briggs

1990 "Poetics and Performance as Critical Perspectives on Langugae and Social Life" in Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 59-88.

Bauman, Richard & Joel Sherzer

1989 "Introduction" in Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, pp. ix-xxvii, 1-12.


1971 "Subjectivity in Language" in Problems in General Linguistics. Miami: University of Miami Press. pp. 323 -230.

Berger, P. and T. Luckman

1967 The Social Construction of Reality. New York: Anchor Books.

Bottomore, Tom, Lawrence Harris, V.G. Kiernan and Ralph Miliband, eds.

1983 A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Cambridge, MA; HArvard University Press.

Briggs, Charles

1993 "Metadiscursive Practices and Scholarly Authoirty in Folkloristics" in Journal of American Folklore 106(422): 387-434.

Butler, Judith

1993 Bodies that Matter: on the Discursive Limits of "sex" New York: Routledge.

Cicourel, Aaron V.

1985 "Text and Discourse" in Annual Review of Anthropology 14:159-185.

Comaroff, Jean

1985 "Introduction" in Body of Power, Spirit of Resistence: the Culture and History of a South African People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Csordas, Thomas

1994 The Sacred Self: A Cultural Phenomenology of Charasmatic Healing. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Damasio, Antonio R.

1994 "Decartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. New York: Avon books.

Desjarlais, Robert

1992 Body and Emotion: the Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Foley, John Miles

1992 "Word-Power, Performance, and Tradition" in Journal of American Folklore 105:

Geoghegan, Vincent

1987 Utopianism and Marxism. New York: Methuen.

Giddens, Anthony

1971 Capitalism and Modern Social Theory: An Analysis of the Writings of Marx, Durkheim and Weber. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Good, Byron

1994 Medicine, Rationality, and Experience: An Anthropological Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gottdiener, M.

1995 "Semiotics, Socio-Semiotics and Postmodernism: From Idealist to Materialist Theories of the Sign" in Postmodern Semiotics: Material Culture and the Forms of Postmodern Life. Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1-33.

Jackson, Michael

1983 "Knowledge of the Body" in Man 18:327-45.

1983 "Thinking through the Body: an Essay on Understanding Metaphor" in Social Analysis 14: 127-49.

1989 Paths Toward a Clearing: Radical Empiricism and Ethnographic Inquiry.Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Jackson, Michael and Ivan Karp, eds.

1990 Personhood and Agency: the Experience of Self and Other in African Cultures. Washington: Smithsonian Institute Press.

Jameson, Frederick

1981 The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Art. Ithaca: Cornell Universtiy Press.

Kapchan, Deborah C.

1995 "Performance" in Jornal of American Folklore 108(430): 479-508.

Kauffman, Walter

1956 Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. New York: Meridian.

Kriteva, Julia

1980 Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Language and Art. New York: Colombia University Press.

Lutz, Catherine

1988 Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Snetiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenges to Western Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Merleau- Ponty, Maurice

1962 Phenomenology of Perception. Evanston: Northwestern University.


Meyers, Fred R.

1991 Pintubi Country, Pintubi Self: Sentiment, Place, and Politics among Western Desert Aborigines. Berkeely: University of California Press.

Nandy, Ashis

1983 The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Ong, Aiwa

1987 Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Rabinow, Paul & William Sullivan, eds.

1979 Interpretive Social Science. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ricoeur, Paul

1975 Conflict of Interpretation: Essays in Hermeneutics. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Rosaldo, Michelle

1984 "Toward and Anthropology of Self and Feeling in Culture Theory. R Shweder and R. Levine, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy and Margaret Lock

1987 "The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology" in Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1:6-41.

Simmel, Georg

1990 The Philosophy of Money. New York: Routeledge.

Taylor, Charles

1989 Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

1991 "Interpretation and the Sciences of Man" in Interpretive Social Science: a Second look. Paul Rabinow and Sullivan, eds. pp 33 - 81.

Tedlock, Dennis & Bruce Mannheim, eds.

1995 The Dialogic Emergence of Culture, Urbana: Universtiy of Illinois Press.

Turner, Bryan S.

1993 "Sociology and the Body" and "Bodily Order" from The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory. New York: Basil Blackwell, 30-89.

Urban, Greg

1991 A Discourse-Centered Approach to Culture: Native South American Myths and Rituals. Austin: University of Texas Press.

1996 Metaphysical Community: The Interplay of the Senses and the Intellect. Austin: University of Texas.