Advancing Bourdieu's theory and methods

1. HabitusAnalysis

It is well known that Pierre Bourdieu did not develop a qualitative method in order to analyze the habitus of social actors.

In his field research on religious movements in the wars of Guatemala and Nicaragua during the 1980s, Heinrich Schäfer began to develop the method today called HabitusAnalysis through qualitative studies of interviews and sermons of two important currents of the Pentecostal movement. During some 10 years of research and teaching in Latin America, the method was validated with members of the movements at hand and developed further. Since 2006, at Bielefeld University, different research projects served to enhance the method and to better combine it with other praxeological theorems, such as the (religious) field and the social space: Peacebuilders in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Religious tastes in Argentina, Religious diversity in Mexico, and Religious faith and social presence of Pentecostals and other religious actors in Central America. In all of these projects the method proved to be very helpful in order to develop a deep understanding of religious convictions and practices in their social context.

The method is based on the theories of habitus and practical logic. It provides techniques for the analysis of qualitative research material and for the reconstruction of the actor"s habitus and (religious) identity as a network of cognitive dispositions. A strictly relationist reading of the concept of habitus allows to tie in with Bourdieu"s notion of dispositions (or "schemes") of perception, judgment, and action that "disaggregate" the concept of habitus. By interpreting the functioning of these schemes according to the transformative logic of a late-antique model of the propositional square (Apuleius, Boethius) we are able construct a formal model for the analysis of interviews, texts, and other expressions of actors. Via successive analysis of such utterances, the basic model of the "praxeological square" can be expanded into a network of dispositions (or "schemes"), which provides a map of the actor"s cognitive dispositions of perception, judgment, and action. Such models of particular habitus can be related to the positions of the correspondent actors in fields and in the social space. Therefore, we adapted Bourdieu"s notions of "fields" and of "social space" to an approach that focuses on the habitus. Together, all three models and their connection with the reconstructed habitus provide a combined view of the objective and subjective conditions that make the practical logic of the actors and their different capitals work according to a given logic of praxis. A second step consists in developing a theory of "identity as a network" on the basis of the notion of a network of dispositions.

An introduction into the method of HabitusAnalysis is currently in preparation. It will consist of three volumes.

HabitusAnalysis 1-Bourdieu: epistemology and language (Schäfer)

The first volume aims for an analysis of Bourdieu's typically sociological handling of the meaning of practices, goods, signs, language, etc. - in short: all practical processes as observed processes - by reworking almost all of his academic works: the explicit development of theoretical approaches on the one hand and the empirical studies on meaning (e.g. in the Kabylie). In other words, we are reviewing both Bourdieu's studies of factually effective conceptualizations and his analytical methods. Especially the analysis of this specific aspect of his works is contextualized by their philosophical premises in the tradition of epistemic relationalism (Cassirer etc.). Emphasizing this important epistemic anchoring of Bourdieu firstly serves to avoid misunderstandings and eventually allows to work with a concept of meaning that goes beyond a mere mirroring.

HabitusAnalysis 2-Bourdieu: praxeology and meaning

In the second volume, Bourdieu's social theory is developed from the perspective of working on sense and meaning of signs and practices. Remarkably, it deviates from the usual manual style of listing main terms (habitus, field, capital, etc.); instead, in the first part it starts with subordinated operative concepts (dispositions, schemes, etc.), in order to explicate the internal logic of Bourdieuian theory by sketching embodiment, processing and expression in detail. This allows to continually remain focused on studying sense and meaning. It also facilitates to see more clearly the similarities between Bourdieu's theory and other approaches in social sciences. Consequently, in the second part, the aforementioned overarching theoretical concepts can be developed as operative aggregations of complex relations and functions. Thus, a reification of the central concepts can be precluded, and the perspective remains just as open for sense until the end.

HabitusAnalysis 3-Models and methods (Schäfer, Seibert, Tovar, Köhrsen)

The third volume consists of an outline of combined qualitative and quantitative methods, designed on the basis of Bourdieu's general social theory. The methods are focused on individual and collective actors such as social and religious movements.

  • The method of habitus-analysis enables to qualitatively reconstruct identities and strategies of actors as cognitive networks of their practical logic (cognitive "maps"); thus, it fills the gap in Bourdieuian methodology of a qualitative approach to identities and strategies of individual and collective actors.
  • The scaled model of fields allows for constructing and empirically studying power relations and opportunities in specific fields of praxis - such as the religious field.
  • The simplified model of a social space of cultural (and religious) styles facilitates international comparison as well as an application of the space model to transnational relations.

The book thus develops different theorems and methodological approaches of Bourdieu further for practical empirical research, especially on habitus.

Researchers: Schäfer, Seibert, Tovar, Köhrsen, Stimac


Most of them to be found as pdf under: Publications

Schäfer, Heinrich Wilhelm: Habitus-Analysis 1. Epistemology and Language. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2015, 396 p. Web:

Schäfer, Heinrich Wilhelm; Leif Hagen Seibert, Adrián Tovar Simoncic und Jens Köhrsen: „Towards a Praxeology of Religious Life 1: modes of observation”. In: Frans Wijsen and Kocku von Stuckrad (ed.): Making Religion: Theory and Practice in the Discursive Study of Religion. Leiden: Brill, 2015: 147-171 (in print).

Schäfer, Heinrich Wilhelm; Leif Hagen Seibert, Adrián Tovar Simoncic und Jens Köhrsen: „Towards a Praxeology of Religious Life 2: tools of observation” (with Leif Hagen Seibert, Adrián Tovar Simoncic und Jens Köhrsen). In: Frans Wijsen and Kocku von Stuckrad (ed.): Making Religion: Theory and Practice in the Discursive Study of Religion. Leiden: Brill, 2015: 175-202 (in print).

Schäfer, H. (2010). "Explaining Central American Pentecostalism within social inequality and conflict. On habitus-analysis as a clue to describe religious praxis." In: Calvin L. Smith (ed.): Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Faith and Politics of Latin American Pentecostalism. Leiden/Boston: Brill

Schäfer, Heinrich. "Habitus-Analysis: a method to analyze cognitive operators of practical logic". Contribution to the Congress Beyond Bourdieu - Habitus, Capital & Social Stratification. 2009.

Schäfer, Heinrich. "The praxeological square as a method for the intercultural study of religious movements". Cultures in Process: Encounter and Experience. Ed. Steve Gramley and Ralf Schneider. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2009

Schäfer, Heinrich: "Identity politics and the political field - a theoretical approach to modelling a 'field of identity politics'". In: Josef Raab, Sebastian Thies, Olaf Kaltmeier (ed.): Ethnicities under Construction: Inter-American Perspectives on Identity Politics. 2011.

Seibert, Leif: "Glaubwürdigkeit als religiöses Vermögen. Grundlagen eines Feldmodells nach Bourdieu am Beispiel Bosnien-Herzegowinas". In: Berliner Journal für Soziologie: Volume 20, Issue 1 (2010), S. 89-117.

Open access

Köhrsen, J. (2008). Religious Taste - Explaining religious choices by the concept of religious taste, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the SSSR, 17. Oct. 2008 Louisville (Kentucky)

2. Identity as a network

The public role of religious identities is constantly gaining greater significance in the social sciences, corresponding to a number of empirical observations: fundamentalist, Pentecostal and Islamist identity politics (Appleby, Cleary/Steigenga, Schäfer); identity consolidation among migrants (T. Meyer); identity formation in 'transnational fields' (Pries); political instrumentalization of identities (Bush/Huntington), and the diffusion of identities in post-industrial societies (Z. Baumann). However, while identity politics empirically turn more important, the theoretical concept is becoming blurred. The classical concept of identity as a more or less 'closed' unit (Erikson, Mead) - albeit socially acquired - has been supplanted by postmodern theories of identity as multiple or 'patchwork' (Keupp, Gergen, Bhabha, Elster). Drawing conclusions from these observations for a theory of identity-including religious identity-, such a theory should today be able to raise the issue of relative inner unity and relative inner diversity of identities in such a way that, within this model or concept,

  • the symbolic dimension of identities is related to the specific social conditions of the actors,
  • collective and individual aspects of identities are taken into account, and
  • identities and strategies can be understood as related to one another.

Therefore, we propose to conceive of identity as a network of dispositions. Based upon Pierre Bourdieu's theory of habitus and practical logic, we model such a network as consisting of socially acquired dispositions of perception, judgment and action, which are anchored in cognition, emotion and the body. Such a concept-suitable to be operationalized for empirical research-makes it possible to model the simultaneous existence of fragmented and coherent structures that form the identities of social actors; while also allowing at the same time to distinguish between individual and collective dimensions of identity networks by simply following the idea of superimposing different networks, thus finding differences and 'overlaps'. The notion of a network of dispositions also links identities with strategies inasmuch as it allows conceptualizing both as concurring in an actor's praxis. As the dispositions are socially generated and linked to certain fields of praxis, a network also necessarily integrates experience and interpretation, action and meaning, into the concept of identity as such-in other words, the practical 'use' (Wittgenstein) of signs, by the use of which identities unfold. Finally, religious identities are not seen as 'separate entities'. They are shaped according to specific dispositions that operate with reference to transcendence, but are simultaneously woven into a vast network of non-religious dispositions of the same individual or collective actor.

Researcher: Schäfer


To be found in: Publications

Schäfer, Heinrich Wilhelm: Identität als Netzwerk. Habitus, Sozialstruktur und religiöse Mobilisierung. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2015, 738 p. (

Schäfer, Heinrich Wilhelm: „Religiöse Identität – ein Netzwerk von Dispositionen.“ In: Ines-Jacqueline Werkner/ Oliver Hidalgo (ed.): Religiöse Identitäten in politischen Konflikten. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2016.

Schäfer, Heinrich Wilhelm: „Identity politics and the political field – a theoretical approach to modeling a ‘field of identity politics’”. In: Raab, Josef (ed.): New World Colors: Ethnicity, Belonging, and Difference in the Americas. Inter-American Studies/Estudios Interamericanos, Vol. 9. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier & Tempe, AZ: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2014: 375-399.

Schäfer, Heinrich. "Identität als Netzwerk. Ein Theorieentwurf am Beispiel religiöser Bewegungen im Bürgerkrieg Guatemalas. (Identity as a network. A theoretical outline exemplified on religious movements in the Guatemalan civil war).". Berliner Journal für Soziologie Bd.15, Nr.2 (2005): 259.

Schäfer, Heinrich: Zur Theorie von kollektiver Identität und Habitus am Beispiel sozialer Bewegungen. Eine Theoriestudie auf der Grundlage einer interkulturellen Untersuchung zweier religiöser Bewegungen. Berlin: Humboldt Universität (Mikrofiche) 2003, 497 p.

Schäfer: "Zum Religionsbegriff in der Analyse von Identitätskonflikten: Einige sozialwissenschaftliche und theologische Erwägungen [Kurzfassung]". epd-Dokumentation 5 (2009): 6 - 16.

Open access

Schäfer, H. (2004). Praxis - Theologie - Religion: Grundlinien einer Theologie und Religionstheorie im Anschluss an Pierre Bourdieu. Frankfurt: Lembeck, 2004.