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How to Use ‘dispositions’ to Your Advantage at University or College

Going to university or college? Here’s how to use Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ to your social advantage.

You might find it challenging to ‘fit in’ when attending university for the first time – withholding a different social background, or having a different religious belief to everyone else; we call these ‘dispositions’. Renowned sociologist Pierre Bourdieu deduced a concept called ‘habitus’; effectively deploying this could be helpful to preclude you from becoming an outlander. 

What is a ‘habitus’?

Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus‘ means “the systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures” (Outline of a theory of practice, 1977). In simple words, this means a system that coaches you to move about in the world so that you can succeed in your goals. Don’t let the fancy-sounding jargon put you off, in fact, you might have already been deploying various ‘habitus’ yourself. For instance, think about how to ask your parents for something you want – a phone for example; you might shift to a more sincere tone, try to present yourself as worthy of the phone by quoting your excellent grade or altering your posture to a more attentive one.

This is, in fact, ‘toning’ your habitus to allow you to achieve your goal of attaining the phone. In college, you need to learn to rapidly tone your habitus if you want to make new friends. Some students are really good at ‘toning’ their habitus which means they are better at developing different modes of engagement with different people they talk to. They make friends quicker, integrate into the new environment more smoothly and are less likely to indulge in the constant sense of homesickness.

How to ‘tone’ your habitus

So how do you develop or improve this ability to ‘tone’ your habitus? One of the most effective ways is to actively improve your personal skillset, such as partaking in a painting lesson, joining the debate club or trying out a sport. On the other hand, they can also be as small as learning a new joke, a new way to rephrase your words or even a new body language. Reflect upon yourself, think about what you can do to make yourself feel less detached from the group and what skills you need to make yourself feel more comfortable in this new environment.

You can also use your habitus to alleviate the sense of disposition people around you might experience. For instance, when interacting with a gender-nonconforming person, keep vigilant of the pronoun you use. When interacting with someone hard of hearing, always ensure to deliberate yourself. Effectively understanding and utilising this concept will not only benefit yourself, but it could also help others, which is a great way to establish a new friendship.

One thing to take notice of…

It is important to note that it is not always necessary to tone your habitus. You might experience some maladjustments when you find a university’s institutional habitus and your personal habitus contradicting. It is indeed important to keep an open mind and make constant adaptations or dwell efforts in adjusting your personal habitus; however, that is not always the case. For example, you may disagree with certain school rules, if you feel they are in opposition to your value or personal belief, ask others for their opinions, if they feel the same, make collective actions to get these rules changed.

Universities are places to ignite changes and improvements and students are usually at the centre of these changes. HE listens to student voices, if you feel you have something to say, don’t be afraid to speak up to prevent future students from being affected by these misalignments.

Huge thanks to Yifei for this article. Yifei is a second-year Language, Culture and Society student at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He deduces various social theories to reflect upon student experiences in higher education institutions. He writes in English, Chinese and French.