Keywords: Habitus, apprenticeship, ethnography, theory, social action, subjectivity, carnal sociology
This article recounts how I took up the ethnographic craft; stumbled upon the Chicago boxing gym that is the central scene and character of my field study of prizefighting in the black American ghetto; and designed the book Body and Soul so as to both deploy methodologically and elaborate empirically Pierre Bourdieu's signal concept of habitus. Habitus is the topic of investigation: the book dissects the forging of the corporeal and mental dispositions that make up the competent pugilistic in the crucible of the gym. But it is also the tool of investigation: the practical acquisition of those dispositions by the analyst serves as technical vehicle for better penetrating their social production and assembly. The apprenticeship of the sociologist is a methodological mirror of the apprenticeship undergone by the empirical subjects of the study; the former is mined to dig deeper into the latter and unearth its inner logic and subterranean properties; and both in turn test the robustness and fruitfulness of habitus as guide for probing the springs of social conduct. Properly used, habitus not only illuminates the variegated logics of social action; it also grounds the distinctive virtues of deep immersion in and carnal entanglement with the object of ethnographic inquiry.