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Stepping outside of oneself: how a cleft-habitus can lead to greater reflexivity through occupying “the third space”

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Abstract

Bourdieu discusses the way in which the habitus, defined as ‘a system of dispositions, that is of permanent manners of being, seeing, acting and thinking, or a system of long-lasting (rather than permanent) schemes or schemata or structures of perception, conception and action’ (Bourdieu, 2002, p.27, emphasis in original), is developed from the field of origin but can be altered by new experiences and pedagogic action. He talks about his own conflicted experiences of a cleft habitus and suggests that this comes about when the habitus encounters a new and contradictory field, causing an internalization of divided structures (Bourdieu, 2002; 2000). Bourdieu considers this confrontation – a product of the process of social mobility – to be painful, which indeed it is for many who experience it. In Chapter eight Sam Friedman discusses this process, exploring the way in which a person’s habitus as structured by original social background retains prominence even when they experience life in a new social field. He importantly highlights how this can create painful negotiations. He argues that at times a working-class originary habitus acts as a barrier to being fully accepted within a middle-class occupation/social world when a person is socially mobile (Bourdieu, 1990). Friedman (2015), following Bourdieu, discusses the psychological pains such a shift in field and habitus may cause individuals, arguing it generates a sense of being held back from middle-class acceptance or being torn between two competing worlds. His arguments echo the conclusions of earlier work by Diane Reay (2004; 2002) as well as our own previous work Ingram (2011), which discusses the psycho-social impacts of a cleft habitus. In this chapter we want to take this theorizing forward by considering the powerful way in which this position can sometimes be a positive and empowering resource, without denying the potential pain it causes. Through drawing upon, and incorporating Homi Bhabha’s concept of the “third space” we aim to extend Bourdieu’s concept to consider the positive aspects of a marginal vantage point, a rearticulation of habitus (rather than a division), which contests the terms of two incommensurable fields to create a new space. In talking about the “third space”, Bhabha makes the argument that ‘the transformational value of change lies in the rearticulation, or translation, of the elements that are neither the One… nor the Other… but something else besides which contests the terms and territories of both’ (1994, 28). For us the “third space” is useful in that it helps us to think about ways of being neither working-class, nor middle-class but something else besides. It is quite an optimistic concept in a way because it works with the idea that this process is a creative one and is interesting to consider alongside Bourdieu’s more negative framing of the divided habitus (Bourdieu, 2002).