How are we to understand the political roles that habit has played in the exercise of different forms of power? I develop two lines of argument in relation to this question. The first considers how conceptions of habit as a form of repetition following the course of a pathway have informed the ways in which various kinds of authority (religious, philosophical, scientific) have sought to direct the conduct of selected populations. This pathway might mark a positive trajectory: Christian conceptions of habit as a pathway to virtue; its conception in early modern philosophy as a form of repetition which, by making actions easy and familiar, facilitates the acquisition of new competencies; its role in evolutionary thought as an aspect of hereditary mechanisms that mark out the path of an accumulating ‘second nature’; and its connection, in post-Deleuzian philosophies of becoming, as a possible road to freedom. Or it might mark a circuit, always returning to its point of departure, assigning its bearers to a treadmill of repetition; or a spiralling descent into addictions whose victims are to be led back along the path to ‘normality’ by therapeutic or scientific authorities. How these pathways are constructed – to come to my second argument – depends on how habit is placed in relation to other aspects of personhood: the senses, will, reflex, instinct, the nervous system, brain and consciousness. Habit is never figured by itself: what it is, the capacities or limitations that are attributed to it, and how it might be acted on politically, have varied depending on how its relations to what have proved to be equally mutable components of personhood are construed.
Professor Tony Bennett is Research Professor in Social and Cultural Theory in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University and an Honorary Professor in the Humanities Research Centre at the ANU. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and of the Academy of the Social Sciences in the UK, and has held previous professorial positions at Griffith University, The Open University, and the University of Melbourne. His research spans the fields of cultural studies, cultural sociology, and museum studies, and he has served as a director of nationally funded research centres in Australia and the UK. He is the author/editor of over 30 books. His most recent publications include Making Culture, Changing Society (2013), Collecting, Organising, Governing: Anthropology, Museums and Liberal Government (co-author, 2017), Museums, Power, Knowledge (2018), Fields, Capitals, Habitus: Australian Culture, Social Divisions and Inequalities (convening author and editor), and The Australian Art Field: Practices, Policies, Institutions (convening editor).