Earlier today I debated Sokal’s critique of Deleuze on Aardvarchaeology. Åsa from Ting och tankar also joined the debate. At the end of the debate she brought up Bourdieu which she uses in her research. I have a profound respect for Bourdieu’s theory of practice but there is a major problem with it, a problem that lies at its core and that is the idea of habitus. The following discussion is slightly modified from my dissertation.
Habitus is a so-called quasi-object in Stephen Turner’s terminology. Quasi-objects need to be both within and between people, otherwise it is not shared. The problem is that these quasi-objects are all believed to be collectively shared, that everyone possesses the same thing. A quasi-object, such as practice, is often interchangeable, or is at least affined, with tradition, tacit knowledge, paradigm, ideology, framework and presupposition. In such cases there must be a transmitting process where these collective quasi-objects become internalized into mind and body. This process is never explained properly (Turner 1997:345-347). The fairly easy way here is to use a theory like Bourdieu’s theory of practice (1977) since it, on the surface, seems to bridge the gap between macro-structures and the single individual. Bourdieu’s concept of reproduction means that habitus is copied inside new people. However, Bourdieu never explains how habitus relates to such psychological processes. Habitus just comes and goes in history (Turner 1994:47-50). If there is variation in people’s experience of the world, then the model of sharing and reproduction of non-public collective objects falls apart. It would be the same case with the non-individual notion of difference, since there would not be any tacit thing that one group shared to compare it to another group (ibid).
A quasi-object exists without human agents and thus acts as an external and transcendent cause to explain changes. The external models seek invisible entities to explain what is visible (Pickering 2003:105). A practice is invisible. It can only be reached through inference and it is often indirect. Our access to practices, to be able to acquire shared tacit knowledge, must be done through other means. Sociologists have therefore extended the individual presuppositions to everyone in the collective. Since people share some beliefs or activities, they must also share some tacit beliefs. It is the tacit beliefs that are the causes for various actions. Turner wonders where the transmission takes place. Are presuppositions transmitted by imitation or do they pass through a medium of collective ether, which we call the culture, the social or the discourse? The most common way is to locate this medium in some sort of shared object which the individual internalizes. Another approach is to locate the practice in individual habits. However, since habits are individual, they are not shared. A third approach is to see the shared objects as having two kinds of causal powers, both individual and collective (Turner 1994:34-50).
Turner (1994:14) disregards the shared quasi-objects and wishes to reduce human beings to individuals with habits. Habituation is the result of individual psychology and it is an individual possession. If an external performance becomes habitualized, it does not mean that the habits are the same but the externals must be the same. They have been trimmed to look the same externally. In terms of habits, similarity in external performance is not dependent on similar internal structures or external quasi-objects. There is no external structure that is internalized to become the same for all. People need to learn and acquire habits to be able to act in the world. These habits are often fairly consistent and predictable and can therefore be manipulated (Turner 1994:14, 58, 112).
The mental habits are different for each person. They have been trimmed to look the same externally. People understand the same thing in different ways depending on past experience and feedback. However, this understanding may be similar to that of others. Turner does not believe that public objects (texts and materiality) are the place for what is shared, since in this way mysterious causal powers are attributed to these objects (ibid:19, 57, 74). This final point is, however, what archaeologists have to rely upon. But we need not attribute them with “mysterious” causal powers.
Turner could in this case be seen as a British empiricist, such as David Hume (1711-1776). Deleuze (1991b) has characterized Hume as a philosopher of subjectivity since he wished to focus on how the subject is formed without any transcendent explanations and therefore he could only rely on habit. Deleuze’s reading suggests that the human being is habitual and creative at the same time. All relations are external to the terms that define them, so there is no unified transcendent human nature. Deleuze sees subjectivity as a practical and empiricist concept.
What I suggest then is that there are no shared practices to detect in the archaeological record. There was no shared habitus, just individual habits that all related to materialities, organisms, iconography, texts, etc. The reason why we still have similarities between us is because these habits are being sorted and territorialized by greater assemblages often beyond our control such as socio-political organizations, religious constellations, cityscapes, internet, etc. We cannot find the habits, but we can study the parts that created habits and at the same time created greater assemblages.