A divided UK – Bourdieu’s habitus

“Habitus is society written into the body, into the biological individual” – Pierre Bourdieu

The results are in and the UK are starting their slow and cumbersome withdrawal from the Europen Union.

Pierre Bourdieu in Distinction said that social class was down to much more than economics. Bourdieu said that how we behaved and fitted into a class structure was not simply about how much money we had. Bourdieu’s habitus says that the groups that we interact with and the people that we want to be influence our choices and behaviour. Habitus is formed through both the envioronment and the individual’s subjective choice.

What does this say about how people vote generally and in particular the results of the EU refernendum? Exploring the demographic of leave and remain voters, it may be possible to see how Bourdieu’s habitus of social class group dictate an individual’s view of politics and they way in which they vote.

Economic Capital

Economic capital within the theory of habitus is the amount of money that somebody has. This can easily be measured by income, wealth and property. It is a quantitative figure but it doesn’t tell the whole story of that person’s background and world views.

The higher the median annual income of voters, the more likely they were to vote to leave the EU.

Low paid workers have suffered under the austerity of a Conservative government following the 2008 recession and banking crash. It appears that a protest against this has manifested itself into a vote against the perceived establishment of the Remain campaign. Higher paid workers, it seems had more to lose by leaving the EU with Remain campaigners telling the story of economic doom following Brexit. Economic capital had a direct correlation with voter preference. A first post the post electoral system appears to have surpressed the inequality and voice of the less economically well off.

Cultural Capital

Cultural capital is not quite so easy to measure, education, knowledge, skills and attitudes form cultural capital. Data shows that those who have a degree were more likey to vote remain. It is important to note that economic and cultural capital do not necesarrily go hand in hand. In 2016, gaining a degree does not guarantee a well paid job as it may have done in the past. A degree does guarantee for most students large amounts of debt. Despite a lack of economic capital, it seems a young graduate is still high in cultural capital to engage in cultural exploits. People in London overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, living in London provides a host of cultural opportunities without having to necessarily have access to large amounts of economic capital. A high salary in London can be absorbed very quickly when paying rent or a mortgage!

One demographic that is by far and away the clearest indication of vote leave are the older generation. Many of them have certainly seen how the UK has changed since 1973 when the UK voted in. Since the 1980s working class jobs have been removed and industries such as mining, car manufacture, steel making and independent businesses taken over by corporate chains have made way for zero hour contracts and insecure jobs in the service sector. A leave vote may be a wish to return to the halcyon days of their youth when the UK was independent and all was well with the world. Is it really the EU’s doing that globalisation has moved jobs abroad to exploit fellow workers? Are our counties ills all down to the EU and nothing to do with UK governments policies in a rapidly changing global market? It seems as though the EU is to blame for the ageing process. The post war working class generation had the swinging sixties, good jobs, final salary pensions, cheap homes and lives their parents could never dream of. Hopefully their vote will bring all of this back.

Social Capital

Social capital, Bourdieu described as the contacts that an individual has access to. This can be anyone that you come into contact with, work colleagues, friends, family and social media contacts. The people that we speak to on a daily basis, challenge and form our views of the world and our opinions. Social media was not around when Bourdieu came up with the theory but it could well be extremely influential in referendums. I scrolled through Facebook to see many people asking opinions of friends to help them decide which way to vote. Social media also allows us to tailor the news that we get. Simply by ‘liking’ a particular media outlet we are bombarded by push notifications from a particular perspective.

Symbolic Capital

Symbolic capital is the interaction of our economic, cultural and social capital. Our access to money, how we engage in culture and the people that we regularly interact with form our symbolic capital and who we are. Looking again at the analysis we can see that money, education, and where we live has a huge impact on how we voted in the EU referendum. Remain voters are clustered in London and university cities. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain and seem totally out of sync with political opinion in the rest of UK which is sure to trigger another independence referendum and inevitable departure from the UK.

“Scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education” – Pierre Bourdieu

The good news is that Bordieu said that change is possible, habitus is constantly reproduced. Politicians now need to come up with a country that can give us all the economic, cultural and social capital to be united in a progressive forward thinking and outward looking country.

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