Sociologising resilience through recourse to Bourdieu

Year: 2019

Author: Mu, Guanglun, Michael, Xing, Congcong

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Resilience refers to a positive process of responding to challenges. Four decades of research has discovered some protective factors that buffer adverse conditions and promotive factors that buttress desirable outcomes. There is consensus that resilience unfolds within and across enabling social spaces of family, school, and community. Yet persistent problems around classed, gendered, and racialised ideologies and conducts continue to account for a large amount of variance in social disparity, undermining unity within diversities and togetherness of differences. It is therefore urgent to unshackle system constraints often (re)produced through symbolic forms of social forces. In response, this paper proposes a critical sociology of resilience to structural obstacles through recourse to Bourdieu’s sociology.

No structure is self-fulfilling; rather, human beings create, maintain, and/or transform social structure. Therefore, overdependence on the system itself is no difference from the contempt towards human agency. Overemphasis on human agency, however, is equally partial and impolitic because it presumptuously exaggerates human power. On their own terms, neither human power nor system force seems likely to construct a robust resilience process; instead, resilience unfolds with human-system interactions. The interactive approach to resilience building has strong potential to conflate the endogenous psychological framework and the exogenous ecological framework. Yet questions remain: Who has power to (re)define what count as adverse conditions and positive outcomes of human-system interactions? How to theorise human-system interactions in the resilience process of young people? Is such theorisation powerful enough to straddle epistemological and empirical divides in the resilience process?

To dissolve the“fictitious antinomies”(Bourdieu, 1988, p. 780)between agency and structure, Bourdieu carved out a distinctive niche for his reflexive sociology.Central to Bourdieu’s oeuvre is the relational, interdependent triad of habitus, capital, and field. To approach a critical sociology of resilience, this paper repurposes Bourdieu and reconceptualises resilienceas a process of socialisation that enculturates children and young people into a system of active and proactive dispositions (habitus) and a set of empowering and enabling capacities (capital) required for releasing from structural limits, reflecting on symbolic violence, revealing the doxic status quo, realising the power of the assumed powerless, and revamping the pejorative social domination. In this vein, sociologising resilience has potential to spark reflexivity, deconstruct the reproductive circle, reject the mistaken criticism of Bourdieu for determinism, and bring transformational change.

Bourdieu, P. (1988). Vive la crise! For heterodoxy in social science. Theory and Society, 17(5), 773-787.