Department of Sociology

Claire Decoteau - "Hybrid Habitus: Toward a Postcolonial Theory of Practice"

Wed, November 20, 2013 | CLA 1.302B

12:00 PM

Sociologists have tended to construct theories of identity based on unitary notions of social location which avoid conceptualizing disjunction and contradiction and which therefore fail to capture certain characteristics of the postcolonial condition.  This paper engages in a postcolonial re-reading of sociological theories of practice (in particular, Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus).  It does so through an analysis of the historical development of the field of health and healing in South Africa.  Out of the colonial enterprise, a bifurcated and parallel system of healing emerged, whereby Black South Africans combined biomedicine, faith and indigenous healing while white South Africans utilized biomedicine in isolation.  This disjuncture became acrimonious in the post-apartheid era as the state attempted to forge a united health system and battle the AIDS epidemic.  Despite the historical and contemporary bifurcations within the field of health and healing, people living with HIV/AIDS continue to subscribe to a hybrid health ideology.  There is, therefore, a structural disjuncture between the realities of consumption within the field of health and healing and the logic of the field as it is articulated in the symbolic struggle raging in the field of power.  The paper analyzes this puzzling disjuncture and its impact on subjects’ trajectories of action.

Claire Laurier Decoteau (PhD, University of Michigan, 2008) is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and research associate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Witwatersrand.  She was awarded the 2009 American Sociological Association’s Dissertation Award.  Her book, Ancestors and Antiretrovirals: The Biopolitics of HIV/AIDS in Post-Apartheid South Africa, has just been published with the University of Chicago Press.  Her work has been published in Sociological Theory, Political Power and Social Theory, Men and Masculinities, and the American Journal of Cultural Sociology.  Broadly, her research focuses on the social construction of knowledge about health and disease, social theory and the politics of knowledge production, and postcolonial theory.  She has recently begun two new research projects.  One focuses on the relationship between sex work and transactional sex in contemporary Johannesburg and the second focuses on epistemic contestations over definitions of autism and asks what makes a group of people forge a knowledge community around a particular definition of illness and theory of causation.

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  • Department of Sociology

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