Character Development: Habitus

Okay, there’s this contemporary theory in anthropology that was pioneered by a someone named Pierre Bourdieu around 1980 called Habitus. According to his article Structures, Habitus, Practices, Habitus is the durable, transposable dispositions a person has that are predisposed to function a certain way and are the principles through which we govern our actions. And that we adapt to their outcomes, though not necessarily consciously.

That’s a bit of a mouthful. But it basically boils down to the theory that all people are the sum of what has happened to them up until that point, and to a lesser extent, the product of everything that has happened anywhere up to that point.

This theory is particularly true and applicable when writing good fiction, with emphasis on character development. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

In a novel you don’t need to reveal everything there is to know about a character. Were they ex-military? Brought up in an orphanage? Deeply attached to their older sisters? All three? These are elements of the characters history, and (according to Habitus) they affect how the character will act when confronted with different situations. In this way a characters backstory can be implied through actions without being stated outright, and also helps to form more thorough, well-developed characters.

Although Habitus puts extreme emphasis on events that happen earlier in life and they’re importance, it also states that all events contribute to a person’s Habitus. For an overt example: you are different for having read this blog post, and will act differently to relevant situations in the future all the time.

This ensures good character development. All the events of your novel will affect your character, even if in only minute ways. Remember in T2 when the Terminator learned to check for the car keys in the visor? That tiny thing was a huge moment in the film. That’s a great example of character development through Habitus. When not only the events of the novel, but the events of the story make the character different at the end of it than they were at the beginning of it.

Hope this helps.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

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One thought on “Character Development: Habitus”

  1. Man, I wrote up a great reply for this and my connection timed out. Crummy internet.

    Um… excellent post and I agree entirely. I find that too often, a generic character is shoved into a generic situation with no consideration as to how they would realistically act in said scenario. In our lives, events, history and back-stories shape how we tackle issues so why don’t these characters react in similar ways?

    Aside from flat-out horrible writing, this is one of the first things that turns me off a book.

    Like

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