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date: 23 October 2019


A Dictionary of Social Work and Social Care

John Harris,

Vicky White


A concept set out by Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002) in Outline of Theory and Practice (1977) that describes a person’s knowledge and understanding of the world, which are acquired from her/his class position and are expressed in thoughts, behaviours, and tastes, which are manifested in patterned social and cultural practices. Bourdieu sees the habitus as, at least to some extent, malleable, leading some to argue that it has the capacity to encompass individual freedom. Others see it as an explanation for how ruling class domination is reproduced day-by-day at the micro level. Although Bourdieu used habitus in relation to a person’s overall knowledge and understanding of the world, its use has been adapted to include what might be termed smaller-scale habiti. For example, the process of becoming a social worker—engaging in a course, undertaking placements etc.—eventually produces a social work habitus, as forms of knowledge and understanding about the world of social work (and the wider world within which it is located) are acquired and expressed in ideas and behaviours that are seen as constituting what it means to be a social worker.

See also Cultural Capital; Discourse; Dominant Ideology; Hegemony.