Digital habitus

The writings of philosopher and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu focus predominantly upon the power structures and dynamics of society, and highlight the importance of cultural capital. Cultural capital can be described as the human assets each of us owns, including our intellect, personal navigation of society and its artefacts, our cultural awareness and even our sense of style and the manner in which we publicly present ourselves. Whereas capital (in a monetary sense) is the accumulation of the fruits of labour, cultural capital is the accretion of all that has been learnt through immersion within a specific culture. Education has been described as the social transmission of this learning to younger generations. Cultural capital is premised upon shared symbolism, acting as the social glue that binds a specific society together.

One of Bourdieu's better known dimensions of cultural capital is habitus - the process through which the activities of everyday life shape and order our values and expectations. Habitus is a useful explanation of the way we live our daily lives, including the habits we acquire, and the manner in which we conduct our behaviours.

So what of our habitual use of digital media? What are the effects of our fearsome fascination with mobile phones, our predilection to video games, our inexorable gravitation toward social media? Do these constitute a digital habitus? When we observe our digital representations, our lives portrayed on screen, and our ideas played out in a virtual simulacrum of reality, what do we see? Does the digital trail we leave online represent any part of our real lives? Does our digital presence accurately represent any aspect of the self? In the view of Jean Baudrillard, a simulacrum is a copy that has no original. This is representative of the manner in which we habituate into digital media, believing that we are laying down versions of our thoughts and behaviour from real life. In fact, it is possible that the digital versions of ourselves that exist online are in fact original and have never previously existed. We shape our technology and then it shapes us, suggests Marshall McLuhan. If this is the case, then our simulacra might indeed represent new and emerging versions of ourselves, versions that would be impossible or improbable without the affordances of our technologies.

This discourse is highly relevant in the context of education. Such questions can relate specifically to both the nefarious use of technology, including cyberbullying, sexting, illegal hacking and trolling - and to more appropriate uses, including the creating, repurposing and sharing of content and the use of technology to connect and build new communities. They also speak to us of the means through which schooling has been used to convey to each successive generation the values, belief systems and behaviours of those preceding. Might the digital habitus explain a significant interruption of that age-old transmission process? Exactly how the use of digital media might influence the emergence of new social identities and the acquisition of digital literacies is a subject in need of deeper exploration. As ever, your thoughts and comments are very welcome.

Photo by Steve H on Flickr

Creative Commons License

Digital habitus by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Martin King said…
"Education has been described as the social transmission of this learning to younger generations."

What happens when younger generations operate in the digital habitus more effectively than older generations - what happens with the way learning is transmitted?

Do our younger generations have more cultural currency in the digital habitus?

Many of these changes are at the heart of the discussions in education today.
Steve Wheeler said…
You're right Martin, we are approaching a tipping point. One of the strategies I have already adopted in my teaching is peer learning, where we all, students and tutors construct learning together. As I have already indicated in the post above, there is going to be some significant disruption in the old model of education, where at present teaching is privileged over learning. We will see how this pans out over the next few years....

Popular Posts