Research Lab 1: Difference: Disagreement, Dissensus, Disavowal

Habit-in-Habitus-in-Habitat? Andro Wekua, Untitled (2011) Collection Nicoletta Fiorucci, Londres. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery (New York, Bruxelles) © Andro Wekua. On show at the Inside exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, October 2014-January 2015.
Andro Wekua, Untitled (2011) Collection Nicoletta Fiorucci, Londres. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery (New York, Bruxelles) © Andro Wekua. On show at the Inside exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, October 2014-January 2015.

“…the [Warburg] institute has always made a practice of employing scholar-librarians, actively engaged in research and often teaching. The head of ULRLS [University of London Research Library Services] made no secret of the fact that he thought our librarians over-qualified…” (Hope, 2014: 32)

“When Strathclyde Regional Council sheriff officer came to collect [Ian Hamilton] Finlay’s rates arrears in 1983, disputing his argument that as a temple to a pagan god (rather than an art gallery) Little Sparta [in sly opposition to Edinburgh, ‘the Athens of the North’] was exempt, he encountered mock French Revolutionary armed resistance.” (Wheatley, 2014: 43)

“With the Catholicism of A. W. N. Pugin in England and the Fourierism of Victor Considerant and Cesar Daly in France, architectural theory took a step towards new moralizing objectives. Instead of servile response to existing needs, inscribing in ordered spaces, the intention of the architect was to transform the “habits” themselves of future users. In the eighteenth century architecture was to be “speaking” and acting through its form upon perception, in the nineteenth century architecture was instead to be “moralizing” and acting to reform.” (Teyssot, 1996)


Setting the Scene

While Steven’s contribution to Research Lab 1 on 3 December 2014 concerned the de-contextualisation and re-contextualisation of a passage of text, framed as a kind of thought experiment, Allan’s contribution to the Research Lab  sought to open a debate on contextualisation and, to create a neologism, contestualisation, the latter term taken to evoke processes of making contested, making contestual, making contestable and recognising as contested.

Contextualisation and contestualisation taken together may serve as a possible starting point to open a further discussion on subjectivation/subjectification (becoming-subject and becoming-subject-to, in the sense of prevailing conditions, the conditionality and contingency of being and doing) and subjection (becoming subjected, in the sense, beyond conditionality, of being oppressed, being subject to dominant other subjects in a regime); and the possibility of discussing the conditions of and for inter-subjectivity, collaboration and collective action, in the context of the Higher Education Research Centre, for example. Contestuality may also contain remnants of the obsolete use of contestation as “the action of calling or taking to witness, adjuration; solemn appeal or protest.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

Contextuality and contestuality are taken as active processes of simultaneously acting (becoming subject, acting inter-subjectively, inter-acting, acting-in-between) and framing action (being subject to, being subjected to, being environed).

Aside: “I have been outside higher education for a long time now; no, not outside of higher education but on its ‘out’ side. I have played many roles in relation to higher education: I have been a student (several times, at different times in different places); I have been a teacher; I have been a lecturer; I have been a tutor; I have been a facilitator; I have been an academic librarian; I have worked on commercial products for higher education; I have worked on research projects about higher education.

Yet, somehow, the sense remains: ‘You do not belong here. You are not one of us.’

This is a strange kind of exclusion, because higher education runs on its ‘out’ siders. It could not work without them. Its ‘out’ side defines its ‘in’-side, a condition that may perpetually recede, such that there may no longer be an ‘in’ side; although there are people, let us call them ‘professionals’, who consider themselves ‘insiders’, for example, those who profess to know that (disciplinarily), those who profess to know how (organisationally – being-together) and those who profess to know-how (technologically – automatically); and those who profess to know-how (administratively – processually and procedurally).”

While this text may seem to be autobiographical, ‘I’ may yet be classified or assessed as an unreliable narrator, not necessarily because the (paradoxical) statement ‘I am unreliable’ is true, which brings to attention the ways in which such statements may be evaluated, but because the narrative form, in generating positions for ‘I’ to inhabit opens a field of contestation, for example, concerning the capability of articulating the truth or concerning the lack/possession of the requisite authority and the question of the existence of various ‘I-for-others’. Equally, ‘I’ may be classified or assessed as an unreliable witness, drawing to attention the distinction (and relationships) between providing an account (accounting for (explaining) and accountable for (taking responsibility)) and ‘witnessing’ (eye-witnessing and bearing witness), and the distinction (and relationships) between the question of (telling or stating the) ‘truth’ (‘adequate’ account, accounting, accountability) and doing justice to the other (responding, taking responsibility, acknowledging – ‘adequately’).

This ‘I’, from another perspective, may be a signifier in someone else’s discourse, an ‘I’ that is spoken rather than speaking (Wilden, 1980: 261).

How does one gain access to this process, whereby the senses of inclusion and exclusion, of being in the know and being ignorant, of speaking and being-spoken are co-incidental and divisive?

Diagram 1

By way of seeking a path into the operation of this labyrinthine, flyped, engagement, Allan sketched out an alliterative trinity of terms (habit – habitus – habitat), a trinity which, whether intentionally or not, resonates with the Christian Holy Trinity – the Father (Word/Law), the Son (Body/Flesh) and the Holy Ghost (Breath/Spirit), which, Benson (2003) claims, “provides the underlying model for the Hegelian dialectic” of Logic, Nature, and Spirit; and the Marxian parody whereby Marx describes land, labour and capital as “the trinity formula which comprises all the secrets of the social production process.” (Marx, 1894: 794) It may also, secondarily, resonate with Arendt’s (1958) trinity of terms: labour, work and action, with their concomitant realms: life, world and the political sphere [2]


Pauline suggested that the cognate term ‘inhabit’ could be added to these terms, to define the habitation which emerges from the intersection of these separated, but intertwined and involuted, domains. However, Allan insisted that, even while this is a form of inhabiting, this was not a diagramming of Heideggerean ‘dwelling’ (see aside on Lefebvre below). It is, he insisted, more oriented towards a Lefebvrian analysis of ‘the everyday’, replete with a grappling with a Marxian conception ‘alienation’, yet without a presupposition of ‘wholeness’ or ‘totality’, with resonances of the work of Bourdieu and de Certeau; and, to an ambiguous extent, that of Foucault.

Could the intersection of these terms be said to constitute:

everyday life (Lefebvre, Freud, for example);
the quotidienne; (Lefebvre, Barthes, etc.)
daily life; [1]
Dasein/Mitsein (Being-there-here; Being-with; Heidegger)
vita activa (Arendt)
the political – sphere of ‘action’ (Arendt)
lifeworld [Lebenswelt] (phenomenology, Husserl; Habermas)
the familiar (Freud);
the unquestioned;
the taken-for granted;
the undecidable (Derrida)
the given (e.g. forms of life – Wittgenstein – Lebensformen)
the known;
the normal;
the real;
the avowed (See Sedgwick);
praxis (Sartre, Marx, for example);
regularity (Foucault);
regime of practices (Foucault);
apparatus/dispositif (Foucault);
field of action (Bourdieu)?

If characterised in terms of learning, knowing and the known, the dimension of habit, as that of custom, tradition and convention could be called ‘encoded knowledge’; the dimension of habitus, as that of technical and ensemble action, could be called ‘embodied knowledge’; while the dimension of habitat, as atmosphere, surround and environment, could be called ‘embedded knowledge’. What emerges from this triple contextualisation might be characterised as ‘enacted knowledge’ in the form of distinct spatio-temporal social practices.

Microsoft Word - Knowledges.docx

Given this kind of characterisation, learning may take place as a series of transformations, for example, of habit through changes in habitus; of habitus through changes in habitat; and of habitat through habit transformed through changes in habitus, in a series of virtuous or vicious cycles. The overall, emergent ‘problematiques’ of the habit-in-habitus-in-habitat, to which it provides its own ‘solutions’ by means of the various inter-linked ‘agencies’ of the assembly, themselves contingent, changes over time. For example, in Europe after 1848, Teyssot (1996) argues,

“Industrial capitalism and the State have both the objective and the urgent need to create a habitat for the wage earning class in rural and mining zones and industrial cities”

Aside: In the context of learning in higher education, one might take as example here the notions of ‘the book’ (habit, encoded knowledge – de-coding), ‘reading’ (habitus, embodied knowledge – interpreting) and ‘the library’ (habitat, embedded knowledge – environing), as an instance of an emergent academic and scholarly practice (enacted knowledge – learning – coming to know). All of these dimensions of academic (pedagogic, research and scholarly) practice are under transformation and are transforming one another. [For a view of how this might be understood from the perspective of ‘the library’ see Academic liaison librarianship: curatorial pedagogy or pedagogical curation and From liaison, through media performance to performative, interactive sensemaking

In this example, the knowledge medium par excellence remains ‘the book’, as resistant habit in the form of a technology of encoding. The ‘print tradition’, having overwritten the ‘oral tradition’ and having fended off the challenge of (broadcast) audiovisual media (cinema, television, video recording) is busy fending off the digital re-working of oral, typographic and audiovisual, multimodal media through the World Wide Web.

Nevertheless, ‘the library’, as resistant habitat, while still wedded to ‘the book’, ‘the printed book’, even as ‘the book’ itself becomes a digital entity, is to an extent transformed, as the spatio-temporal practices of social interaction, which were previously considered a secondary, if not irrelevant, part of ‘the library’ with its regime of ‘silent study’ or ‘silent reading’ in the presence of ’the book’, have given way to group study spaces, to cafe culture, casual conversation, to browsing on the internet and to engagement in social media. The practice of extra-curricular reading, as academic (pedagogic) habitus, is displaced by the sociality of learning, as emergent academic habitus, on the one hand, and by new forms of technologies of encoding (digital, networked, multimedia, multimodal), as habit, on the other hand.

While undergoing multiple changes, including those practices pertaining to the funding of higher education, the overall academic habit-in-habitus-in-habitat and its emergent academic and scholarly practices, nonetheless, requires a reconfiguration to accommodate the emergent practices of learning and coming to know; crucially, it requires a rethinking of all the dimensions together, including the emergent ones.

While this diagram might open up a certain understanding of ‘contextuality’, with each of the dimensions of habit, habitus and habitat serving as contexts for one another, it does not necessarily open up the character of the ‘contestualisation’ that occurs within that domain of spatio-temporal social practices, unless one adopts Lefebvrian insights concerning the rhythms of ’the everyday’.

Further Aside: For Lefebvre, revolt and resistance are at the heart of the everyday. This was a central theme of Lefebvre’s dialogue with the Situationists, a theme developed subsequently by de Certeau. Lefebvre argues that the everyday is neither the realm of the inauthentic (as it is for existentialism) nor the realm of the ‘truly’ authentic (Sheringham, 2006: 145).

The everyday, in this characterisation, is the arena of personalisation (or perhaps, rather, persona-fication: the making of personas as socialised persons) and of individuation, the place where the personal and the social intersect within the person/persona – the (abstract) human being becomes a (concrete) person.

Crucially, for Lefebvre, the everyday is not to be confused with the Heideggerian ‘ground’ (Sheringham, 2006: 147).

Lefebvre initially focused on Brechtian epic theatre: placing the spectator, for example in the ‘street scene’, in the middle of the bustle, and hence the ambiguities, of everyday life (Sheringham, 2006: 138).

Finally, from a design (discipline) perspective, because there are several orientations at play here, for example, ‘learning’, ‘design’ and perhaps also ‘design pedagogy’ and ‘learning design’, it may be relevant to point out that:

“Suchman (2007) has noted that “the coherence of action is not adequately explained by either cognitive schema or institutionalised social norms. Rather, the organisation of situated action is an emergent property of the moment-by-moment interactions between actors, and between actors and the environments of their action”.” (Giacomin, 2012)

We might add here, proleptically, that the ‘actors’ are more properly ‘actants’ and that the interactive field is thereby rendered complex by the ‘actants’ being relational through-and-through, a condition which, nevertheless, renders their ‘nodal’ qualities material. Thus, similarly to Lefebvre, for Bourdieu “[a] social field is a “locus of struggles” … that represents a network of positions …” (Walther, 2014: 9), an insight to which we will try to adhere in what follows.

Lab Questions

Is disciplinary learning solely habitual, i.e. concerned solely with encoded knowledge, such as text-books, laws, statutes, principles and authorities? [Could one phrase this questions as: Is disciplinary learning solely ‘academic’?]
Does one also, in addition to learning encoded knowledge, have to learn an appropriate habitus (set of pre-dispositions and dispositions; embodied knowledge; skills and ensemble acting) in order to ‘know’ a discipline?
Does one have to learn a discipline, both in terms of its habit and habitus, in an appropriate habitat (learning environments; technologies; embedded knowledge)?
Does one have to partake in a disciplinary ‘world’ (habitation; enacted knowledge), with its appropriate habitat, habitus and habits, in order to ‘know’ a discipline?
Depending on how these questions are answered, what might the term ‘inter-disciplinary’ mean?
Additional questions
Is ‘design’ a discipline or a collection of disciplines?
Alternatively, is ‘design’ inherently inter-disciplinary?
If design is inter-disciplinary, in what sense(s) is this so?
Further questions
What are the relationships and the differences between a ‘discipline’ and a ‘profession’, for example, in relation to ‘design’ or ‘law’ or ‘politics’?

Diagram 2

If Diagram 1 concerned (a possible conceptualisation of) the emergent space of learning and coming to know, with learning as both contextualisation and contestualisation, what of the learner?

In order to gain some leverage on the learner as situated, embodied, de-centred and negotiated subject, and to avoid assuming a methodological individualism, Allan resorted to a second diagram, the Apuleian diagram of the Aristotelian logic square, as refracted through Lacan, in relation to the constitution of inter-subjectivity, and through Greimas, in relation to the constitution of narrativity.

To be continued…


[1] As an interesting aside, and possibly a classroom exercise, in the context of ‘daily habit’, it is worth looking at the Josh Jones’ text, The Daily Habits of Highly Productive Philosophers: Nietzsche, Marx & Immanuel Kant, in the Open Culture website, to begin to discern the differences in ‘outputs’ arising from the contingent set of practices organised around ‘the everyday’ and ‘daily life’. To find other examples, Jones suggests looking at the blog and now book Daily Routines.

[2] For Arendt, the human condition of labour is life itself, whereas the human condition of work is worldliness, and action corresponds to the human condition of plurality, as the indispensible condition of all political life and the condition through which all political life takes place (Arendt, 1998: 7).


Arendt, H. (1998). The Human condition. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Benson, P. (2003). Hegel and the Trinity. Philosophy Now, no. 42, 23–25. Available from Accessed 20 December 2014.

Giacomin, J. (2012). What is human centred design? In: 10th Congresso Brasileiro de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento em Design, São Luís (MA), Sao Paulo: 2012. Available at: Accessed on 16 October 2014.

Hope, C. (2014). Charles Hope writes about the battle over the Warburg Institute. London Review of Books, 36 (23), pp.32-34.

Marx, K. (1894). Capital: a critique of political economy. Volume III: the process of capitalist production as a whole. New York, N.Y.: International Publishers. Available from: Accessed on 2 December 2014.

Sheringham, M. (2006). Henri Lefebvre: alienation and appropriation in everyday life. In: Everyday life: theories and practices from Surrealism to the present. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 134–174.

Teyssot, G. (1996). Habits/habitus/habitat. Public Space [Website]. Available from: Accessed on 2 December 2014.

Walther, M. (2014). Bourdieu’s theory of practice as theoretical framework. In: Repatriation to France and Germany. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, pp.7–21.

Wheatley, D. (2014). Agh, agh, yah, boo. London Review of Books, 36 (23), pp.43-44.

Wilden, A. (1980). System and structure: essays in communication and exchange. London, UK: Tavistock.


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