Creatures of Habit

Habits-imageMonday…

At 7am I wake to the sound of my alarm clock, I lay for a little while in the dark then I get up, I go downstairs and let the dogs into the garden. I put the kettle on, I make a drink, I prepare some breakfast and watch the news. I feed the dogs, I get in the shower, I brush my teeth & have a shave, then I get ready for work. I leave the house at 8.45 am & arrive at work 15 minutes later. I settle down at my desk and get on with my day. I break for lunch at 1pm & resume work at 1.30 pm. I finish work at 5.30 pm & arrive home at 5.45 pm. I take the dogs for a walk & prepare an evening meal. After I have eaten, I feed the dogs and settle down to either study, watch some TV or read a book, most of the time it’s study! At around 10 pm I make a hot drink, I let the dogs out into the garden, I brush my teeth, wash, then I go to bed, before I go to sleep I recite some Latin declensions (yes, I really do).

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday…

At 7am I wake to the sound of my alarm clock, I lay for a little while in the dark then I get up, I go downstairs and let the dogs into the garden. I put the kettle on, I make a drink, I prepare some breakfast and watch the news…etc.

02Do I need to go on? I suspect not, you get the gist. As my seemingly monotonous routine indicates, I am indeed a creature of habit! Of course there are days when I break this routine, weekends for example, but even then my actions are always orchestrated by a fixed series of cultural & societal norms. On a standard Saturday I get up, not usually because of the alarm clock but because the dogs are barking in anticipation of their breakfasts, but anyhow it’s usually later than 7 am. I always follow my morning grooming regime but because I don’t work weekends from this point on a Saturday and Sunday I’m generally foot loose & fancy free. I might go shopping, go to the cinema, spend time with friends and family, spend a full day studying, either way the weekends are usually reserved for leisure activities which are also predictably dictated by sociocultural practices. By Sunday night I’m usually a tad moody and empathise with Cicero who proclaimed –

cicero_4DjxV

‘sic enim sum complexus otium ut ab eo divelli non queam’

trans. I have so thoroughly embraced my leisure that I cannot be divorced from it.

Well, that’s how it feels until Monday – at 7am when I wake to the sound of my alarm clock, I lay for a little while in the dark then I get up, I go downstairs and let the dogs into the garden. I put the kettle on, I make a drink, I prepare some breakfast, etc. etc!

The above description of my daily routine is an example of what the French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu calls ‘Habitus’. In short it is a defining term for all the daily routines that I carry out which are ultimately a result of my sociocultural conditioning, my way of integrating into the society I inhabit. I get up at 7 am because I need the time to do everything I need to because in my social structure I  start work at 9 am. I work not for fun, but for monetary remuneration, I need to work in order to function in society, I work so that I can maintain a standard of living and so that I can eat and pay the bills that are fundamental to my cultures’ expected way of life. I eat a meal in the morning because it’s an established norm of my social upbringing. I have three pet dogs called Ben, Oscar & Toby. I gave them names because that’s normal in my culture and because they are my companions. They aren’t working dogs or guard dogs, but on the other hand, what if I were a farmer? If that were the case as many in my village are, then my dogs would play a different role in my life, either way they become a product of the society I assimilate into. Again, I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. ‘Habitus’ draws together all of the threads in my daily routine, my so-called sociocultural routine, and defines them under the banner of a ‘Cultural Script’. But that’s my ‘Cultural Script’, my way of living in the world. Of course not everyone has the same ‘Habitus’ as me and when we look to the wider world and even to the distant past we see many varying ‘cultural scripts’ all defined by societal conventions.

pliny_younger_360x450I leave you here, having provided you with my ‘Habitus’ & my ‘Cultural Script’, but in doing so I’m leaving you with the task of applying the framework above to the Classical World. Consider the social structures & cultural expectations of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Furthermore, don’t generalise, look closer. Consider the ‘Habitus’ of the Roman slave women, the Greek tragic playwright, the list can go on, but take a moment and think about their ‘Cultural Scripts’.

You want to know how I plan the summer days I spend in Tuscany. I wake when I like, usually about sunrise, often earlier but rarely later. My shutters stay closed, for in the stillness and darkness I feel myself surprisingly detached from any distractions and left to myself in freedom: my eyes do not determine the direction of my thinking, but, being unable to see anything, they are guided to visualise my thoughts. If I have anything on hand I work it out in my head, chosing and correcting the wording, and the amount I achieve depends on the ease or difficulty with wich my thoughts can be marshalled and kept in my head. Then I call my secretary, the shutters are opened, and I dictate what I have put into shape: he goes out: he is recalled, and again dismissed. Three or four hours after I first wake (but I don’t keep to fixed times), I betake myself according to the weather either to the terrace or the covered arcade, work out the rest of my subject, and dictate it. I go for a drive, and spend the time in the same way as when walking or laying down; my powers of concentration do not flag and are in fact refreshed by the change. After a short sleep and another walk I read a Greek or Latin speech aloud with emphasis, not so much for the sake of my voice as my digestion, though of course both are strengthened by this. Then I have another walk, am oiled, take exercise, and have a bath…

Source: An extract from – Pliny the Younger, Book 9, Letter 36: to Fuscus Salinator, in Radice (1969).

Tony


Bibliography

Bourdieu, P. (1990 [1980]) The Logic of Practice (trans. R. Nice), Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Radice, B. (trans. and ed). (1969) The Letters of the Younger Pliny (revised edn), Hardmondsworth, Penguin.

 

 

3 thoughts on “Creatures of Habit

  1. I assume you’ve been peeking at the course materials? Sounds like the kinda thing I’d expect from ancient body studies! We are all indoctrinated by the habits we copied from our parents and they from society, (language, etiquette, values etc), but I don’t see how it could be any other way. It’s like what Jacques Lacan calls ‘the symbolic order’, we are not born into human society we enter it through rites of passage. Tech developments always determine habiti, since our behaviour has to adapt to the new conditions it creates. Heidegger shows how tech alienates us from an authentic existence, but really everything we do that other species don’t is a form of alienation. It’s not just giving up computers! Everything we do is unnatural, for instance, sitting on chairs, wearing cloths, eating meat, communicating with abstract sounds and alphabetic scripts. Once a new tech exists, it cannot be uninvented, so there’s no way back to an authentic lifestyle. We may imagine what we’d be like without the habitus that our society has imposed on us, but without it we’d still be like the other simians. I leave it to you to decide which is preferable!

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    1. I’ve dipped in and out over the past week, just to try and get a little head start, nothing too intense though! I too can’t see how our ‘Habitus’ can differ in any significant way from that of our parents, but I suppose if you go far enough back you can see how it has perhaps developed along with society. I like your link to the tech developments too. Once it’s out of the box, you can’t really put it back in.

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      1. A good example of tech determining habitus would be how our use of twitter, blogs and forums is conditioning our own behaviour right now.

        We all have bad habits, personal ones like biting our nails or tech determined ones like endless scrolling. Aristotle shows in his Nicomachean Ethics how we can also develop good habits, (stop scrolling and focus!) at first it’s hard work to recognise and overcome lazy passive behaviour, but through repetition we condition ourselves to do things better. Funnily enough, he seems to think that if we are not habituated correctly from childhood, we’re pretty much lost causes! That’s why parenting is more important than schooling for education. By the time we even start school it’s already too late! I like to think that we mature students are evidence to the contrary! 😉😀

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