Dis-Embodied Habitus in a Disabling Field: A Tentative Framework for Thinking about the Complexity of Disability, Symbolic Violence and Ableism

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:30
Oral Presentation
Sasha SCAMBLER, King's College London, United Kingdom
Long running structure/agency debates have been complicated by ideas of embodied agency, highlighting both the structural disadvantage faced by those with non-normative bodies and the impact of dis-embodied habitus on identity, agency and social power. Drawing on examples from disability research this paper outlines a tentative framework for rethinking the links between social oppression and embodied experience and bringing together the, often disparate, research on disability undertaken across disability studies and medical sociology. Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, hexis, and symbolic violence are the starting point for exploring the impact of non-normative bodies on embodied agency. If, as Bourdieu suggests, dispositions which shape habitus are embodied and physically realised through the ways we preconsciously display our habitus, then the body is the materialisation of class and taste. This is where the personal combines with the social and becomes visible. It is also where bodies which do not conform to the norms of the field, or are unable to perform the expected hexis become visible. For those with non-normative bodies the seemingly most natural features of embodiment may themselves be rendered unnatural. I further argue that the tacit assumption of the pre-eminence of scientific knowledge and biomedicine results in symbolic power, and has led to an unthinking acceptance of the medicalisation of bodies, with attempts to normalise disabled people accepted as rational. Symbolic power becomes symbolic violence when those who have bodies which do not fit these norms unknowingly accept their place of subordination in their failure to meet them. This in turn impacts on identity, agency and the accumulation of capital and social power. Dis-embodied habitus and symbolic violence can help explain some of the ways in which disabled people are systematically disadvantaged at the individual, institutional and structural levels.