The true paternity of the habitus

Bill Hanks’ Annual Review essay on Bourdieu is a wonderful overview of Bourdieu’s philosophy of language and the use of Bourdieu’s work in Linguistic anthropology. It also contains something that might be well known, but was news to me: Bourdieu’s theory of the habitus was taken from the art historian Erwin Panofsky. This seems to fly in the face of the traditional genealogy I’m familiar with, which traces his use of the term to Marcel Mauss and Norbert Elias.

Hanks argues that the corporal aspects of Bourdieu’s theory – those that bear a strong resemblance to Elias – were applied later (via the work of Merleau-Ponty), and that his use of the term owes more to Panofsky:

Panofsky defined habitus in terms of “habits of mind” that lay behind Gothic architecture and scholastic philosophy, arguing in effect that cultural production is profoundly shaped by the ways of the thinking of its time… Bourdieu translated Panofsky’s book into French in 1967, and wrote a postface to the French edition, in which he comments on the importance of the art historian’s notion of habitus.

When he rejected the mentalistic notion of the habitus in the seventies, he transposed Panofsky’s language into corporal terms. Here is a chart from the article comparing the terms used by Bourdieu with those of Panofsky:

Bourdieu and Panofsky

I’m inclined to accept this interpretation, if only because I’ve always thought Panofsky is an under-appreciated genius whose works should be read by more than just art historians. Hanks does acknowledge the importance of Durkheim and Mauss, as well as Elias, but doesn’t see them as being particularly important for the genealogy of the habitus as used in Bourdieu’s work.

I don’t know how long it will be up, but someone (not me) has posted the Hanks article to Scribd.

3 thoughts on “The true paternity of the habitus

  1. Marvelous catch Kerim! I actually think that the postface to the Panofksy translation was Bourdieu’s first published use of the word Habitus. It was also one of Bourdieu’s only engagements (however indirect) with architecture, other than his essay on the Kabyle house, which was still pretty hardcore structuralist. Thanks!

  2. I’m late to this discussion, but I don’t understand what the point of Kerim’s post was, especially since the link between Bourdieu’s notion of the habitus and Panofsky’s work was first identified by Bourdieu himself, in his 1967 “postface” to Panofsky’s Architecture gothique et pensée scholastic, Bourdieu repeated this in at least two subsequent publications in the 1990s, and Reed-Danahay discussed it in her book Locating Bourdieu. It’s useful of Bill Hanks to spell it out in detail, but the connection is hardly a discovery. Is Kerim simply commenting that his belief was false? The failure of Omniscience?

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