Clumsiness as Failed Bodily Performance

I am a big fan of Goffmanian analysis relating to behavior in public place. Daniel Little over at Understanding Society has a very interesting post on clumsiness as faulty bodily performance:

This is, as I noted, a very interesting post and you should read the whole thing.

I would add, though, that one of the sources that is missing is Bourdieu especially on the topic of bodily hexis. Bodily movement, confidence in one’s body, the ability to move with the appropriate agility, all these involve social class considerations and how we move is part of our habitus (as structuring structure and structured structure) and it varies by social class. The example that Little uses, that of the waiter, is completely saturated with asymmetrical power relationships and class factors where the socially disadvantaged actors’ performance are under more observation and more costly if faulty.

One of Goffman’s points on behavior in public places is that any performance involves tension because it does indeed involve a combination of habitus, situational requirements that involve power asymmetries. On this topic, I am always reminded of a scene from Billy Elliot (I cannot find the clip in English) where Billy auditions to get admitted into a ballet school. The social class differential is especially obvious in his botched dance which can be described as clumsy but also with his initial inability to answer reflective questions for which his working class habitus is no help (but then, it is a movie and Billy finds the right words… this is fiction).

Related to this differentials in power and habitus come the notion of symbolic violence experienced by social actors in disadvantaged positions in the field who have indeed quite a bit of calculus to do because mistakes are costly both in economic, social and symbolic terms. One of the marks of privileges is to someone else clean up one’s clumsy acts and where the damage, symbolic or other, is more easily repaired.

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