The habitus of rule following: understanding the situated functionality of formal rules


Speaker:Martjin van der Steen, University of Groningen
Date: Wednesday 18 February 2015
Time: 14:00
Location: Building One: Constantine Leventis

Further details


This paper draws on Bourdieu’s notion of the habitus to explore the practical functionality of formal rules as bureaucratic management controls. Due to their generic and ambiguous nature, formal rules may offer a variety of potential behavioural expressions. This paper provides an understanding of the process by which these generic and ambiguous rules become operable in practice. The paper discusses an extended case study in the Dutch Rabobank, in which two local member banks were in the process of merging. This setting provided an opportunity to learn how controllers and employees were affected when existing (pre-merger) rules were discarded and new (post-merger) rules were introduced. The case study found that formal rules were mostly embodied in the dispositions of the habitus. As a result, behavioural expressions of existing rules were inert as they continued to be activated when the habitus met the objective conditions akin to those of its inception. However, new rules became operable when the demands of practice were no longer met and people lost their feel for the game. In such a case, formal rules were resources which enabled people to reassess the logic of practice and to update their professional habitus.