Ageing, The Body and Social Change: Agency and Indentity by Tulle Emmanuelle

By Tulle Emmanuelle

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Structure, agency and the body Bourdieu’s work was influenced by Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, as he readily admits in Meditations pascaliennes (Bourdieu 1997). The attempt to rethink or transcend the mind–body dualism in his treatment of the body, and to render the structure and agency binary meaningful (Shilling 2003), is an example of this influence. However, as a sociologist, Bourdieu’s main objective was to incorporate the conceptual and philosophical frame handed down by phenomenology into a theory of structurally situated social action.

Runners, according to Nash (1979), become inducted into the culture of running during races and training sessions. Furthermore, athletes are inducted into the social hierarchy of the sport, their own location within the hierarchy being determined primarily by their bodily competence and the valorisation of bodily attributes functional for the activity. In other words, their physical capital can be used to yield social and, in some cases, economic capital within the social world of the activity.

This, he claims, would allow for contradictions between systems, from which social change might emerge. As far as Bourdieu’s conception of the body is concerned, there are also held to be weaknesses. According to Alexander (1995), Bourdieu’s body is a site of practice, rather than a potential trigger for action or a potential agent of change. In other words, he has failed to solve the body–object and body–subject nexus and has overemphasised the passivity of the body. Shilling (2003: 206) concurs, saying that Bourdieu’s theory, along with other structuration theories, “[condemns] the body to a state of oscillation between the dead weight of structure and the lightness of reflexive choice’’, rather than viewing the body as “a multi-dimensional medium for the constitution of society (a source of, a location for, and a means of positioning individuals within society)’’ (p.

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