central organization of human cognition involve procedures used in classification

2-3 pages Must finish on timeTwo concepts from the texts:? habitus (Wacquant),? coding (Goodwin),For each concept:? explain the concept in your own wordsNo research No outside sources, Read class notes.


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Qual Sociol (2015) 38:1–11
DOI 10.1007/s11133-014-9291-y
For a Sociology of Flesh and Blood
Loïc Wacquant
Published online: 24 January 2015
# Loïc Wacquant 2015
Abstract This article elaborates the social ontology and methodology of carnal sociology as a
distinctive mode of social inquiry eschewing the spectatorial posture to grasp action-in-themaking, in the wake of debates triggered by my apprenticeship-based study of boxing as a
plebeian bodily craft. First I critique the notions of (dualist) agent, (externalist) structure, and
(mentalist) knowledge prevalent in the contemporary social sciences and sketch an alternative
conception of the social animal, not just as wielder of symbols, but as sensate, suffering,
skilled, sedimented, and situated creature of flesh and blood. I spotlight the primacy of
embodied practical knowledge arising out of and continuously enmeshed in webs of action
and consider what modes of inquiry are suited to deploying and mining this incarnate
conception of the agent. I argue that enactive ethnography, the brand of immersive fieldwork
based on “performing the phenomenon,” is a fruitful path toward capturing the cognitive,
conative, and cathectic schemata (habitus) that generate the practices and underlie the cosmos
under investigation. But it takes social spunk and persistence to reap the rewards of “observant
participation” and achieve social competency (as distinct from empirical saturation). In
closing, I return to Bourdieu’s dialogue with Pascal to consider the special difficulty and
urgency of capturing the “spirit of acuteness” that animates such competency but vanishes
from normal sociological accounts.
Keywords Action . Structure . Knowledge . Body . Incarnation . Habitus . Social ontology .
Observant participation . Enactive ethnography . Bourdieu . Pascal
This article is the expanded version of a text originally written in response to a set of questions
put to me by Frank Adloff (a sociologist at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität in Nuremberg and
This text is appearing simultaneously in translation in Berliner Debatte Initial and Sub/Urban (German), Apuntes
de investigacíon (Spanish), Praktiske Grunde (Danish), Sosiologisk Tidsskrift (Norwegian), Sosiologia (Finnish),
Cogito (Turkish), Terrains et travaux (French), Compaso (Romanian), Sahoi gwahak yeongu (Korean), and
Italian in Marco Pzitalis (ed.), La scienza e la critica del mondo sociale: la lezione di Bourdieu (Milano, Franco
Angeli, 2015).
L. Wacquant (*)
Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
e-mail: loic@berkeley.edu
Qual Sociol (2015) 38:1–11
the European University Institute in Florence) and his colleagues for inclusion in a collective
volume exploring the relationship of “embodiment and explication” in social analysis (Adloff
et al. 2014). I use these queries as a springboard to clarify issues raised in a string of debates
around Bourdieu’s dispositional theory of action in which I have been involved over the past
decade, at various conferences as well as in print, in the wake of my incarnate investigation of
prizefighting as a plebeian bodily craft (see, in particular, the special issue of Qualitative
Sociology on Body and Soul, Summer 2005, Auyero [2005], and the symposia on “Habitus in
Body & Soul,” Theory & Psychology, December 2009, Henderikus [2009], and on “Homines
in Extremis,” Body & Society, Spring 2014, as well as Wacquant 2009).
First, I critique the notions of (dualist) agent, (externalist) structure, and (mentalist)
knowledge prevalent in the contemporary social sciences and I sketch an alternative conception of the social animal. I propose to characterize the latter not just as a neo-Kantian creator
and wielder of symbols –in the mold of Ernst Cassirer, George Herbert Mead, and John Searle
(2009, ix), for whom humans are “mindful, rational, speech-act performing, free-will having,
social and political beings”– but as a sensate, suffering, skilled, sedimented, and situated
corporeal creature. I spotlight the primacy of embodied practical knowledge arising out of and
continuously enmeshed in webs of action, upon which discursive mastery comes to be grafted.
I then consider what modes of inquiry are suited to deploying and mining this incarnate
conception of the human animal. I argue that enactive ethnography, the brand of immersive
fieldwork based on “performing the phenomenon,” is a fruitful path toward disclosing the
cognitive, conative, and cathectic schemata (that is, habitus) that generate the practices
and underlie the cosmos under investigation. But it takes social spunk and persistence to
burrow into a suitable position of “observant participation” and reap its rewards.
Specifying the social ontology and methodology of carnal sociology leads me to return
to Bourdieu’s dialogue with Pascal to consider the special difficulty and urgency of
capturing the “spirit of acuteness” that animates social competency but gets erased from
normal social scientific accounts.
How important is it in your view to focus on the implicit dimensions (tacit knowledge,
knowing-how, sens pratique, etc.) of social interaction?
It is crucial if we are to overcome three perennial flaws that cramp social science and
prevent us from developing vibrant, full-color accounts of society and history: a dualistic and
disincarnated vision of the agent, constituted of an active mind mounted on an absent, inert,
and dumb body; a flattened and negative notion of structure construed as a set of external
constraints; and a mentalist understanding of knowledge as made up of chunks of information
and stocks of representations. These three conceptions are mutually reinforcing and conjoin to
literally take the life out of social life, leaving us with an incomplete and inadequate grasp of
the social as a fluid albeit patterned conative domain.
Consider each of these elements briefly. Conceptions of the agent across the social sciences
are polarized by an opposition between homo economicus, the rational computing machine
that maximizes individual utility, descended from Bentham and developed by neo-classical
economics, and homo culturalis, the symbol-manipulating individual motivated by moral
norms, inherited from Kant and lionized by cultural anthropology, with sociology clumsily
stretched across the two poles. These two reigning models, “rational man” and “plastic man,”
as Martin Hollis (1977) once characterized them, are equally mutilated and mutilating. What is
it that they share over and beyond their frontal clash? Both are disembodied and erase from
analysis the flesh, desire, and passion as a modality of social existence. These are the
ingredients of action that William James wrangled with and that Sigmund Freud’s depth
Qual Sociol (2015) 38:1–11
psychology sought to capture, but only at an ontogenetic level. The embodied strands of
contemporary cognitive science, cutting across artificial intelligence, psychology, neurobiology, linguistics, and philosophy, are fast rediscovering them at the phylogenetic level (Clark
1999; Lakoff and Johnson 1999; Chemero 2013; Shapiro 2014). But they continue to be
censored, ignored, or sidelined in standard social scientific accounts.
However “polythetic and polymorphic” the notion may be according to Merton (1976), the
predominant conception of social structure locates it squarely outside of the agent, in the guise
of a fence or funnel, and this is similarly truncated and limiting. For structures do not exist
simply as Durkheimian facts that persons encounter in their extant environment, in the form of
invisible relations, objective distributions of resources, or systems of constraints and opportunities that press or limit them from without. They are also dynamic webs of forces inscribed
upon and infolded deep within the body as perceptual grids, sensorimotor capacities, emotional proclivities, and indeed as desire itself. Structures are internal springs or propellers as
much as they are external containers, beams, or lattices. They are limber and alive, not inert
and immobile.
Finally, the social sciences work with an excessively cerebral and passive notion of
knowledge. We grant the dignity of knowledge to propositional information carried by
language and located in the mind. We overlook procedural or practical knowledge acquired
and manifested in concrete deeds (pragmaticos in ancient Greek means active, adroit in affairs
or public business). We must eschew this top-down conception to overcome what Elizabeth
Anscombe (1957) rightly diagnosed as the “incorrigibly contemplative conception of
knowledge” inherited from the rationalist revolution, and thence break with the mentalist
(or discursivist) concept of culture associated with it. We need to recognize the reality
and potency of carnal know-how, the bottom-up, visceral grasp of the social world –in
the double sense of intellectual understanding and dexterous handling– that we acquire
by acting in and upon it.
What properties of the human actor need to be spotlighted to catch this embodied
practical knowledge?
The great neo-Kantian philosopher Ernst Cassirer (1944) was right to characterize “man” as
a “symbolic animal” and to see in language, myth, art, religion, and science the main symbolic
systems that human beings have invented to grapple with and shape their environment. But
this property alone does not make a viable philosophical anthropology. I would supplement it
with an additional five properties, all conveniently starting with S, so what we might call this
expanded vision the “Six S” conception of the agent.
In addition to being a wielder of symbols, the human animal is sentient, suffering, skilled,
sedimented, and situated. Sentient: the agent is not only endowed with senses, exteroceptive,
proprioceptive, and interoceptive; she also makes sense of what her sensorium captures. She is
both capable of feeling and conscious of those feelings; and the body is the synthesizing
medium of this feeling awareness, as neurobiologist Antonio Damasio shows in The Feeling of
What Happens (1999). Suffering: the agent is exposed to the threats and blows of the natural
and social worlds; she has needs, yearnings, and desires that do not get fulfilled; she is
constantly subjected to the judgment of others and faces the inescapable coming of death.
As such, she lives in anguish, distress and pain, and yet she endures. Skilled: the social agent
can “make a difference” (the original meaning of the Old Norse skil is to discern and adjust)
because, through experience and training, she acquires capacities to act and the dexterity to do
things competently. Sedimented: all of these elements, our senses, suffering, and skills are not
given at birth, generic, or constituted in a solipsistic relation to self. Rather, they are implanted,
Qual Sociol (2015) 38:1–11
cultivated, and deployed over time through our engagement in the world, and they are
gradually deposited in our body as the layered product of our varied individual and collective
histories. (Merleau-Ponty [1945], relying on Husserl, calls the “habitual knowledge of the
world” lodged in the body proper an “implicit or sedimented science”). Situated: this sedimentation is shaped by our unique location and peregrinations in physical and social space,
precisely because we are both protected by and locked in the fragile physical envelope of our
mortal organism, which cannot be at two places at a given time but integrates the traces of the
many places we have occupied over time.
Lastly, all six of these elements are jointly structured and flowing as well as growing
through time. Our conception of the agent, structure, and knowledge all need to be radically
temporalized, as Bourdieu (1980/1990, 98–111) urged long ago in “The Work of Time.” Once
we acknowledge that cognition is a situated activity growing out of a tangled dance of body,
mind, activity, and world, we can begin to retrieve the tacit knowledge enfolded in cultural and
social practices, and thereby enrich our descriptions and deepen our explanations of them. Put
these three revamped ingredients together, an incarnate being engaging practical know-how as
she navigates active and mobile configurations of affect, action, and powers, and you have the
building blocks for a flesh-and-blood sociology, capable of producing multidimensional,
polychrome accounts of social life that seize life as it actually unfolds, instead of the torpid
reports in black and white that we now read in academic journals.
Which research methods do you recommend to detect the invisible dimensions of action,
structure, and knowledge?
On principle, the four main methods of social science, ethnographic, hermeneutic
(encompassing interviewing and textual analysis), historical, and statistical, can all tackle
any object. But it is clear that they are unequally equipped to ferret out those components of
practice that do not get articulated, symbolized, and objectified as such: doxic categories,
phronetic abilities, and ordinary ways of being, feeling, and acting. One method is the royal
road to the tacit texture of social action and cognition: close-up observation by means of
pragmatic involvement in the activity studied.
Ethnography –that particular technique of data production and analysis that relies on the
skilled and sensate organism of the observer as chief investigative tool– is uniquely suited to
helping us re-incarnate society by restoring the praxeological dimensions of social existence.
But for this we must, first, come to a clearer understanding of the distinctiveness and special
virtues (as well as the correlative limitations) of ethnography as embedded and embodied
social inquiry based on physical co-presence with(in) the phenomenon in real time and space
and, second, we must reform our practice of it in two complementary if seemingly
contradictory ways. On the one hand, we must bind ethnography more firmly to theory,
against the epistemological illusions of Geertzian “thick description,” the philosophic
naïveté of Chicago-style empiricism, and the glamorous seductions of postmodern storytelling (Wacquant 2002, 1469–71, 1481–82, and 2009, esp. 118–122). On the other hand,
we need to foster long-term, intensive, even initiatory, forms of ethnographic involvement liable to allow the investigator to master in the first person, intus et in cute, the
prediscursive schemata that make up the competent, diligent, and appetent member of the
universe under examination.
To make the most of ethnography, the field sociologist must methodically mine and
thematize the fact that, like every social agent, he comes to know his object by body; and he
can leverage carnal comprehension by deepening his social and symbolic insertion into the
universe he studies. This means that we can and should work to become “vulnerable
Qual Sociol (2015) 38:1–11
observers” in our practice of fieldwork –and not on paper, in “writing vulnerably” by injecting
large doses of “subjectivity into ethnography,” as proposed by Ruth Behar (1996, 16 and 6).
The methodological stipulation here is to dive into the stream of action to the greatest possible
depth, rather than watch it from the bank; but to dive and swim along with method and
purpose, and not with reckless abandon that would cause us to drown in the bottomless
whirlpool of subjectivism.
In your Book Body and Soul (Wacquant 2000/2004, new expanded edition 2014) and
related essays, you have sought to develop what you call “carnal sociology”: what
differentiates it from a sensual ethnography inspired by phenomenology?
Put tersely, carnal sociology is a sociology not of the body as sociocultural object but from
the body as fount of social intelligence and sociological acumen. It starts from the brute fact
that, as argued above, the human agent is a sentient and suffering being of flesh and blood.
(Flesh refers here to the visible surface of the lived body while blood points to the inner
circuitry of life pulsating in the depths of the visceral body, as in Leder’s [1990] revision of
Merleau-Ponty. I join here with the characterization of “who we are” proposed by George
Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1999, 3–4 and passim) in their book Philosophy in the Flesh, for
whom “the mind is embodied, thought is mostly unconscious,” and reason is “largely metaphorical and imaginative” as well as “emotionally engaged”). It situates itself not above or on
the side of action but at its point of production. Carnal sociology strives to eschew the
spectatorial viewpoint and to grasp action-in-the-making, not action-already-accomplished. It
aims to detect and document the deployment of the practical schemata that fashion practice: the
cognitive, conative, and affective building blocks of habitus, whose layering and operations are
fully open to empirical investigation (Wacquant 2014a, 2014b). It diverges from sensual
ethnography as the field study of the senses, which has a distinguished lineage running from
Simmel, Mauss, and Lucien Febvre, to Elias and the Lebensphilosophie of Arnold Gehlen and
Helmut Plessner, to contemporary strands of medical and phenomenological anthropology, in
that it takes “sensory formations” not as its object of study (as does Howes 2003) but as its
means of study.
Carnal sociology applies to any object and can use a variety of methods so long as these
treat the social agent as embodied and embedded. For instance, practitioners of
Alltagsgeschichte, microhistory, and the recent historiography of sensibilities frequently
come into its ambit, although they might not know it or intend to. When Carlo Ginsburg
(1976) reconstructs the lived cosmos of the sixteenth-century miller Menocchio before he was
burned at the stake for being a suspected heretic in Il formaggio e i vermi; when Alf Lüdtke
(1993) tracks down the social roots and effects of Eigensinn, the obstinate “self-will” feeding
strategies of recalcitrance midway between accommodation and resistance to power among
German laborers in the first half of the twentieth century; when Alain Corbin (1988) maps the
changing sensorial and epistemic cultures that turned the seaside from an object of revulsive
fear to an attractive site of contemplation and spawned a new posture toward “nature,” they are
doing carnal historical sociology.
For contemporary objects, the best method is what I now call enactive ethnography, that is,
immersive fieldwork through which the investigator acts out (elements of) the phenomenon in
order to peel away the layers of its invisible properties and to test its operative mechanisms. I
adapt the term enactive from my Berkeley colleague, the philosopher Alva Noë in his book
Action in Perception (2004, 2), in which he proposes that perception is “a skillful activity on
the part of the animal as a whole,” which I find to be a very apt characterization of the
ethnographer at work (Noë himself borrows the adjective from the influential “embodied
Qual Sociol (2015) 38:1–11
mind” theory of Francesco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch [1991]). The first
commandment of incarnate inquiry, then, is to enter the theater of action in some ordinary
capacity and, to the highest degree possible, apprentice in the ways of the people studied –be
they pugilists, professors, or prosecutors– so as to gain a visceral apprehension of their
universe as materials and springboard for its analytic reconstruction.
But what about those situations in which, for practical, legal, or moral reasons, you
cannot turn yourself into the phenomenon?
Of course, it is not always easy and straightforward to gain access to and perform on the
target social scene: becoming an active member often takes time, having special qualities, or
obtaining cer …
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