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Belief and the Body


Reseña: En enero de 2002 moría a los 71 años de edad Pierre Bourdieu, seguramente el sociólogo actual más importante de Francia y uno de los más importantes del mundo, que ha ejercido notables influencias en otros autores. En él se han unido las figuras de profesor, de investigador, de teórico y, cómo no, de incansable escritor de sus ideas e investigaciones. Dentro del campo de la Sociología ha dedicado una parte de sus esfuerzos a la educación, por lo que es considerado, junto a otras cosas, como sociólogo de la educación, y muy importante.


Practical sense is a quasi-bodily involvement in the world which presupposes no representation either of the body or of the world, still less of their relationship. It is an immanence in the world through which the world imposes its imminence, things to be done or said, which directly govern speech and action. It orients 'choices' which, though not deliberate, are no less systematic, and which, without being ordered and organized in relation to an end, are none the less charged with a kind of retrospective finality. A particularly clear example of practical sense as a proleptic adjustment to the demands of a field is what is called, in the language of sport, a 'feel for the game'. This phrase (like 'investment sense', the art of 'anticipating' events, etc . ) gives a fairly accurate idea of the almost miraculous encounter between the habitus and a field, between incorporated history and an objectified history, which makes possible the near-perfect anticipation of the future inscribed in all the concrete configurations on the pitch or board. Produced by experience of the game, and therefore of the objective structures within which it is played out, the 'feel for the game' is what gives the game a subjective sense - a meaning and a raison d'erre, but also a direction, an orientation, an impending outcome, for those who take part and therefore acknowledge what is at stake (this is illusio in the sense of investment in the game and the outcome, interest in the game, commitment to the presuppositions - doxa - of the game). And it also gives the game an objective sense, because the sense of the probable outcome that is given by practical mastery of the specific regularities that constitute the economy of a field is the basis of 'sensible' practices, linked intelligibly to the conditions of their enactment, and also among themselves, and therefore immediately filled with sense and rationality for every individual who has the feel for the game (hence the effect of consensual validation which is the basis of collective belief in the game and its fetishes).

Because native membership in a field implies a feel for the game in the sense of a capacity for practical anticipation of the 'upcoming' future contained in the present, everything that takes place in it seems sensible : full of sense and objectively directed in a j udicious direction. Indeed, one only has to suspend the commitment to the game that is implied in the feel for the game in order to reduce the world, and the actions performed in it, to absurdity, and to bring up questions about the meaning of the world and existence which people never ask when they are caught up in the game - the questions of an aesthete trapped in the instant, or an idle spectator. This is exactly the effect p roduced by the novel when, aiming to be a mirror, pure contemplation, it breaks down action into a series of snapshots, destroying the design, the intention, which, like the thread of discourse, would unify the representation, and reduces the acts and the actors to absurdity, like the dancers observed silently gesticulating behind a glass door in one of Virginia Woolf's novels (d. Chastaing 1 95 1 : 1 57-9) .

In a game, the field (the pitch or board o n which it is played, the rules, the outcome at stake, etc.) is clearly seen for what it is, an arbitrary social construct, an artefact whose arbitrariness and artificiality are underlined by everthing that defines its autonomy - explicit and specific rules, strictly delimited and extra-ordinary time and space. Entry into the game takes the form of a quasi-contract, which is sometimes made explicit (the Olympic oath, appeals to 'fair play', and, above all, the presence of a referee or umpire) or recalled to those who get so 'carried away by the game' that they forget it is 'only a game' . By contrast, in the social fields, which are the products of a long, slow process of autonomization, and are therefore, so to speak, games 'in themselves' and not 'for themselves', one does not embark on the game by a conscious act, one is born into the game, with the game ; and the relation of investment, illusio, investment, is made more total and unconditional by the fact that it is unaware of what it is. As Claudel put it, 'connaitre, c' est naitre avec', to know is to be born with, and the long dialectical process, often described as 'vocation', through which the various fields provide themselves with agents equipped with the habitus needed to make them work, is to the learning of a game very much as the acquisition of the mother tongue is to the learning of a foreign language. In the latter case, an already constituted disposition confronts a language that is perceived as such, that is, as an arbitrary game, explicitly constituted as such in the form of grammar, rules and exercises, expressly taught by institutions expressly designed for that purpose. In the case of primary learning, the child learns at the same time to speak the language (which is only ever presented in action, in his own or other people's speech) and to think in (rather than with) the language.

The earlier a player enters the game and the less he is aware of the associated learning (the limiting case being, of course, that of someone born into, born with the game), the greater is his ignorance of all that is tacitly granted through his investment in the field and his interest in its very existence and perpetuation and in everything that is played for in it, and his unawareness of the unthought presuppositions that the game produces and endlessly reproduces, thereby reproducing the conditions of its own perpetuation. Belief is thus an inherent part of belonging to a field. In its most accomplished form - that is, the most naive form, that of native membership - it is diametrically opposed to what Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, calls 'pragmatic faith', the arbitrary acceptance, for the purposes of action, of an uncertain proposition (as in Descartes's paradigm of the travellers lost in a forest who stick to an arbitrary choice of direction).

Practical faith is the condition of entry that every field tacitly imposes, not only bysanctioning and debarring those who would destroy the game, but by soarranging things, in practice, that the operations of selecting and shapingnew entrants (rites of passage, examinations, etc. ) are such as to obtainfrom them that undisputed, pre-reflexive, naive, native compliance withthe fundamental presuppositions of the field which is the very definitionof doxa. 1 The countless acts of recognition which are the small change ofthe compliance inseparable from belonging to the field, an􀝞in whichcollective misrecognition is ceaselessly generated, are both the preconditionand the product of the functioning of the field. They thus constituteinvestments in the collective enterprise of creating symbolic capital, whichcan only be performed on condition that the logic of the functioning ofthe field remains misrecognized. That is why one cannot enter this magiccircle by an instantaneous decision of the will, but only by birth or by aslow process of co-option and initiation which is equivalent to a secondbirth.One cannot really live the belief associated with profoundly differentconditions of existence, that is, with other games and other stakes, stillless give others the means of reliving it by the sheer power of discourse.It is correct to say in this case, as people sometimes do when faced withthe self-evidence of successful adjustment to conditions of existence thatare perceived as intolerable : 'You have to be born in it. ' All the attemptsby anthropologists to bewitch themselves with the witchcraft or mythologiesof others have no other interest, however generous they may sometimesbe, than that they realize, in their voluntarism, all the antinomies of thedecision to believe, which make arbitrary faith a continuous creation ofbad faith. Those who want to believe with the beliefs of others graspneither the objective truth nor the subjective experience of belief. Theycannot exploit their exclusion in order to construct the field in which beliefis constituted and which membership makes it impossible to objectify ; norcan they use their membership of other fields, such as the field of science,to objectify the games in which their own beliefs and investments aregenerated, in order to appropriate, through this participant objectification,the equivalent experiences of those they seek to describe and so obtain themeans of accurately describing both.2

Practical belief is not a 'state of mind', still less a kind of arbitraryadherence to a set of instituted dogmas and doctrines ('beliefs'), but rathera state of the body. Doxa is the relationship of immediate adherence thatis established in practice between a habitus and the field to which it isattuned, the pre-verbal taking-for-granted of the world that flows frompractical sense. Enacted belief, instilled by the childhood learning thattreats the body as a living memory pad, an automaton that 'leads the mindunconsciously along with it', and as a repository for the most preciousvalues, is the form par excellence of the 'blind or symbolic thought'(cogitatio caeca vel symbolica) which Leibniz ( 1 939b : 3) refers to, thinkinginitially of algebra, and which is the product of quasi-bodily dispositions,Belief and the body 69operational schemes, analogous to the rhythm of a line of verse whosewords have been forgotten, or the thread of a discourse that is beingimprovised, transpos"ble procedures, tricks, rules of thumb which generatethrough transferance countless practical metaphors that are probably as'devoid of perception and feeling' as the algebraist's 'dull thoughts' (Leibniz1 866b : 1 63).3 Practical sense, social necessity turned into nature, convertedinto motor schemes and body automatisms, is what causes practices, inand through what makes them obscure to the eyes of their producers, tobe sensible, that is, informed by a common sense. It is because agentsnever know completely what they are doing that what they do has moresense than they know.Every social order systematically takes advantage of the disposition ofthe body and language to function as depositories of deferred thoughtsthat can be triggered off at a distance in space and time by the simpleeffect of re-placing the body in an overall posture which recalls theassociated thoughts and feelings, in one of the inductive states of the bodywhich, as actors know, give rise to states of mind.

Thus the attention paidto staging in great collective ceremonies derives not only from the concernto give a solemn representation of the group (manifest in the splendour ofbaroque festivals) but also, as many uses of singing and dancing show,from the less visible intention of ordering thoughts and suggesting feelingsthrough the rigorous marshalling of practices and the orderly dispositionof bodies, in particular the bodily expression of emotion, in laughter ortears. Symbolic power works partly through the control of other people'sbodies and belief that is given by the collectively recognized capacity toact in various ways on deep-rooted linguistic and muscular patterns ofbehaviour, either by neutralizing them or by reactivating them to functionmimetic all y.Adapting a phrase of Proust's, one might say that arms and legs are fullof numb imperatives. One could endlessly enumerate the values givenbody, made body, by the hidden persuasion of an implicit pedagogy whichcan instil a whole cosmology, through injunctions as insignificant as 'situp straight' or 'don't hold your knife i n your left hand', and inscribe themost fundamental principles of the arbitrary content of a culture inseemingly innocuous details of bearing or physical and verbal manners, soputting them beyond the reach of consciousness and explicit statement.The logic of scheme transfer which makes each technique of the body akind of pars totalis, predisposed to function in accordance with the fallacyof pars pro toto, and hence to recall the whole system to which it belongs,gives a general scope to the apparently most circumscribed and circumstancialobservances. The cunning of pedagogic reason lies precisely in the fact thatit manages to extort what is essential while seeming to demand theinsignificant, such as the respect for forms and forms of respect which arethe most visible and most 'natural' manifestation of respect for theestablished order, or the concessions of politeness, which always contain political concessions.4


1.The term obsequium used by Spinoza to the 'constant will' produced by the conditioning through which 'the State fashions us for its own use and which enables it to survive' (Matheron 1969: 349) could be used to designate the public testimonies of recognition that every group requires of its members (especially at moments of co-option), i.e. the symbolic tributes due from individuals and the group. Because, as in gift exchange, the exchange is an end in itself, the tribute demanded by the group generally comes down to a matter of trifles, that is, symbolic rituals (rites of passage, the ceremonials of etiquette, etc.), formalities and formalisms which 'cost nothing' to perform and seem such 'natural' things to demand ('It's the least one can do . . . ', 'it wouldn't cost him anything to . . . ') that abstention amounts to a challenge. 2 The anthropologist would speak much more about the beliefs and rites of others if he started by making himself the master and possessor of his own rites and beliefs, both those that are buried in the folds of his own body and in his turns of phrase and those that run through his scientific practice his prophylactic notes, his propitiatory prefaces or his exorcizing YP<Py".nr,'c not to mention his cult of the founding fathers and other eponymous ancestors. It would at least become apparent to him that stakes which, from the outside, are perfectly derisory can in some conditions become questions of and death. 3 'What need is there', Leibniz asked elsewhere, 'always to know what one is doing? Do salts, metals, plants, animals, and a thousand other animate or inanimate bodies know how they do what they do, and do they need to know? Does a drop of oil or grease need to understand geometry in order to become round on the surface of water?' (Leibniz 1 866d : 401). 4 Thus, practical mastery of the rules of politeness and, in particular, the art of adjusting each of the available formulae (e. g. at the end of a letter) to the various classes of possible recipients presupposes implicit mastery, and therefore recognition, of a set of oppositions constituting the implicit axiomatics of a given political order: oppositions between men and women, between younger and older, between the personal, or private, and the impersonal (administrative or business letters), between superiors, equals and inferiors.

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