Young People, Habitus and Opinions about Politics

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the engagement of young people in Australia with the field of politics in terms of Bourdieu's notion of habitus. Survey responses of pre-voting youth at three very different schools indicate a sense of being left out of the field of politics through responses which reveal both cynicism and disengagement. However, distinctions of political engagement are certainly evident between the three cohorts. Those higher in cultural and economic capital more readily express the importance of politics in society and demonstrate more direct engagement with the field of political ideas and opinions. The young people from the school lowest in socio-economic status seem at first to be more disengaged from the field of politics. However, a detailed treatment of the data reveals that their engagement may be a different kind, more localised, more immediate and more pragmatic.

Keywords: youth; political interest; Bourdieu; habitus; class; cultural capital

Young people are often stereotypically seen as negative parts of society. Not much has been done not just to get rid of this image, but to get past it and see what young people really need. (Female survey respondent 17 years).

INTRODUCTION

This paper examines the opinions of young Australians in the field of politics from the reference point of Bourdieu's notion of habitus. Following Connell's (1) early work. there were some attempts in the 1990s to evaluate and analyse the political knowledge of Australian young people (2). Finding out more means both listening to young people and contextualising what they say (3). If young Australians do show only modest interest towards the field of politics, then it would seem they are little different from their parents '. The data in this paper imply that regardless of their political interest, young people do engage in political activities relating to issues that affect them, their community and their outlook towards what is happening in the world (5). In the context of a wider study. young people aged sixteen to eighteen were asked questions about politics. Since only a few of them had ever voted, they represent a significant sectional interest. They are standing at the cusp of legal citizenship in an age of rapid social and workplace change. We propose that the young people's differing opinions about politics evident in our data is a further example of distinction in practice (6). The data in this paper illustrate an aspect of habitus through the lens of young peoples' opinions regarding specific issues about politics.

BOURDIEU'S SOCIAL THEORY

Bourdieu's central concepts of habitus, field and cultural capital are useful analytical tools for understanding young people's differing opinions about politics. People develop cultural and social capital in relation to their habitus. Habitus is both one's outlook towards society and the place where the outlook is formed; it is a structuring mechanism that operates from within agents (7). It is a concept that expresses both the way in which individuals 'become themselves' and the ways in which those individuals engage in various practices (8). One's habitus is formed by elements of family, friends, education, biology, geography, class, race and gender. It is the set of regulating principles and dispositions that generate and organise practice, 'enabling agents to cope [or not cope] with unforeseen and ever-changing situations' (9). Habitus can be understood as the durable and transposable values, generative dispositions and principles inculcated from our personal and general cultural history that remain with us across contexts. As habitus allows for improvisations, it allows us to follow and respond to cultural rules and contexts in a variety of ways. Nevertheless, an individual's responses are always regulated by who and where we are, and where we have been in a culture (10).

Habitus is a complex notion and we acknowledge that it is a problematic element of Bourdieu's theory to explain and understand. …

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