Revealing habitus, illuminating practice: Bourdieu, photography and visual methods



Having taken taking as one of its starting points a concern to avoid fetishising method – or employing any form of method for its own sake – this paper then argues that visual methods of research may be particularly helpful in investigating areas that are difficult otherwise to verbalise or articulate. These include Bourdieu's understanding of habitus; our predisposed ways of being, acting and operating in the social environment that Bourdieu himself suggests are ‘beyond the grasp of consciousness, and hence cannot be touched by voluntary, deliberate transformation, cannot even be made explicit’ (Bourdieu, 1977: 94). Having outlined what Bourdieu means by habitus and considered some of the difficulties surrounding its operationalisation, the paper goes on to consider Bourdieu's own use of photography and understanding of photographic practice. It is then argued that we can move beyond Bourdieu's position by employing visual methods specifically to uncover and illuminate aspects of habitus. Where research participants are directly involved in this process this also means that visual methods can be potentially transformative, allowing for the development of forms of critical self-awareness amongst research participants of the sort that Bourdieu attributes to ‘socioanalysis’ (Bourdieu, 1999: 611).