Outline of a Theory of Practice

by Pierre Bourdieu

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The themes of Pierre Bourdieu's Outline of a Theory of Practice include the individual, schemes or practices, and power. Bourdieu's Outline (first published in 1972) is largely the product of the author's experience working with the Kalybian people in northern Algeria while he was stationed there with the French Army and his later experience working there as a lecturer. Bourdieu's military appointment and research took place during the Algerian War against France.

To discuss the individual in relation to his or her society, Bourdieu uses the term habitus. The habitus refers to the composition of a person's symbolic resources in the form of economic, social, or cultural capital. One's habitus will determine his or her disposition in a variety of fields. It naturally interfaces within the fields into which an individual enters (such fields include the workplace, school, and family). One's habitus is, in turn, transformed when an individual is integrated into a field.

According to Bourdieu, a "scheme" is a part of a practice, the mastery of which works structurally to form culturally-coded ceremonies. Ceremonies are simply a collection of schemes that have been imbued with meaning by virtue of being practiced over and over again. The schemes that one practices is in fact determined by one's habitus and so persists in its meaning across diverse contexts. Simply put, a scheme is a practice that has become symbolic by means of mastery and repetition.

Power is closely related to capital, which may be cultural, economic, or social. These various types of capital collectively represent a symbolic capital, which ultimately determines one's power. These types of capital depend on where one was educated, whom one knows, how much money he or she has. Because symbolic capital can be converted back to economic capital (according to Bourdieau), individuals invest heavily in accruing this capital. Symbolic capital is equivalent to one's power, and the doxa is the natural state wherein the powerful tend to remain powerful, and the institutions that cement this power go unquestioned.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access