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The practice of environmentalism: Creating ecological habitus

This paper draws on Bourdieu's sociological approach to argue for a different way of thinking in order to address environmental practices. Bourdieu's theory of practice expands social movement theory, while offering sociological robust direction for movements themselves. Given the currency of the "Death of Environmentalism" thesis, I argue that the environmental movement would be better served by conceptualizing itself as working to create an ecological habitus. Generating and co-generated by its social field (the social space in which it operates), habitus is incorporated into human actors as practice-generating but generally unreflexive or "pre-logical." Habitus conveys cultural encoding yet in a non-deterministic manner. Therefore, we are free; but ingrained with a certain habitus, we are constrained. The habituses of a less-than-environmentally-aware society are problematic.

I compare Bourdieu's theory of practice with Eyerman's and Jamison's notion of social movements as cognitive praxis. A more useful understanding is for a broadly based habitus of environmental practice, which, since an ecologically attentive lifestyle is marginal to the central features of modern society, will include a reflexive element. However, in this approach, environmental social movement organizations become the social space in which this new, ecologically more appropriate, logic of practice can be "caught" through the nonformal learning that occurs as a result of participation with environmental organizations.

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Randy Haluza-DeLay