Richard Charles Strong
Habitus Beyond Bourdieu
Incorporating Technological, Interhuman, & Ecological Entanglements into the Foundations of Social Ontology
Committee: Yannik Thiem (Chair), Georg Theiner, James Wetzel
I aim to situate social ontology within a dispositional socio-cognitive paradigm that can accommodate and explain the welter of heterogeneous types of past, on-going, and changing social relations, activities, kinds, & collectives.
I defend the claim that social ontological problems are best approached in terms of acquired schemas and dispositions. I go on to argue that the concept of habitus, as developed by Pierre Bourdieu, provides the basis for an universal social ontological framework though it must be remediated and extended beyond a narrow interhuman horizon.
The result of this research is to further our understandings and explanations of how human societies hang together, how social relations and entities fall into looping classificatory matrices and complementary material configurations, as well as offer clearer targets for social critique.
Social ontology, one of my areas of specialization, is the philosophical inquiry into the metaphysical nature of human social reality. This includes investigating the nature of things such as social entities like groups and classes, social artifacts such as written laws and infrastructures, kinds such as those that are racial or ethnic, and social relations in general. The stakes of social ontology include matters of social justice, collective responsibility, basic assumptions of the social sciences, as well as human freedom and flourishing. My dissertation project, Habitus Beyond Bourdieu, attempted to bridge the gap between what we know about the mind and what we know about the social world. I did so by confronting prevailing paradigms in social ontology, grounded either in collective intentionality or anthropocentric ontological individualism, offering in their place a dispositional and artifactual story. I defended the claim that social ontological questions are best approached in terms of acquired pre-personal cognitive schemas and dispositions combined with ongoing materially and normatively scaffolded and reinforced activity. This is in contrast to approaches that begin with rather fixed and collectively shared intentions that we project onto the world or an understanding of society as a mere aggregation of atomic and autonomous individuals. My account enables us to bring into relief often occluded issues of power, difference, value, social reproduction and change, theorize social phenomena at different scales, incorporate environmental and technological considerations beyond an anthropocentric view of “the social,” foreground the primacy of interdependence and relations, as well as provide a unified wide-lens metaphysical account of the welter of problems associated with the heterogenous grounding of social reality in the minds and bodies of agents in relation to material things and environments. The result of my research shows that joining up mind and social world illuminates both.