Bourdieu'sociology and the coding-dojos

Bourdieu and the coding-dojos.

WTF is Pierre Bourdieu?**

Pierre Bourdieu was a french sociologist from the late 20th century whom I’ve recently discovered on Okiwi’s slack, a developer community from Bordeaux.

During a very lively conversation about Sandro Mancuso’s vision on the management of his career, Emmanuel Gaillot said:

«The theme of the «entrepreneur of your own career», including the success or the failure of it, is somewhat recent, even in the computer sciences environment. And this rhetoric is given by the current system, not some disruptives parts of it. Without going into the technicalities of knowing if it is intentional or not, this oratory has for function to maintain the current existing system by justifying its inegalities as if it was something normal and natural. For now, the saying is «there are some who sleep and others who work.». Before, it was «there are some who does what they are said and others who never listen». Even before it was «Some are strong, some are weak.»

When we say that you must take charge of our career when you are a developer and that it is as important and as easy at it sounds given the current market, I’ll gladly ask you to think about our social status when we say that: gender? Skin color? Sexual orientation? Religion? Age? Parent’s CSP? And so on.

Shortly after, Romeu talked about it again in a series of tweets on the theory of Bourdieu’s sociology (here in blog version)

While you are here, I recommend you to read wikipedia’s article on Bourdieu.

The main concepts of his work are:

  • Cultural capitals

  • The centrality of the habitus

  • The hexis

  • Symbolic capital and symbolic violence.

  • A social world where the symbolic violence plays a central role, aka the ability to carry on the power relationships by making those who are the subject from it disregard how they endure it.

  • A social world divided in fields where agents interacts.

The cultural capital

Karl Marx inspired Bourdieu in his writings a lot. Both agree in the fact that the difference between two social status directly comes from the difference of their wealth. The more wealth you have, the more dominating your social status is in society. The difference mainly resides in that Marx talked essentially about economic wealth (heritage, salary etc…) where Bourdieu adds another type of wealth: the cultural capital.

The cultural capital is all the symbolical elements you gain by being in a specific social class. It can be assimilated (personal), taught or even objective (tangible).

It can be:

  • A taste for philosophy (incorporated)

  • Abilities (incorporated)

  • A degree (institutional)

  • A sports car. (objective)

The cultural capital is what creates a feeling of a collective identity and a feeling of belonging to group, but is also a potential massive hurdle towards the ascension of the social hierarchy. On the contrary, the ability of gaining a cultural capital through huge work makes the opportunity of a promotion a lot easier which would result in a better wealth.

The habitus:

Through his socialisation and his social trajectory, the indiviual will gain by mimicry a whole set of behaviours, reactions and perceptions. But the habitus is not an automatic mecanism which guide our actions like rails would guide a city train, it acts more like the grammar of a native language. This grammar is acquired through socialisation allows the individual to build an infinite amount of sentences to manage everyday life situations even without mimicking the exact same reaction to an external event.

This the habitus is organized because it is a product of socialisation but also structuring because it creates an infinite amount of new practices. According to Bourdieu it is a group of «structured structures predisposed to work as structuring structures.»

the habitus structures thoughts in society if their members lived similar experiences in their own social classes, which would explain the similarities of thoughts in those classes.

This habitus is not unchanging. The social trajectory and some introspection can lead to a habitus evolution. We can conclude that habitus is not a self-made product nor a product of the structure but rather a mix of both which structures each behaviour and perception.

Those predispositions are really general but we can raise some factual elements who comes directly from habitus:

  • The physical stance

  • The vocabulary

  • The turns of phrases

  • The ability to stay calm or use violence.

The hexis

The hexis is the expression by and in the body itself, or at the closest, of its habitus.

It’s about the corporeal form of the habitus, its non-verbal communicaiton, the tone of its voice or the target of its gaze during a conversation. It also represent the corporeal incarnation of the social structures as it is occurs to the individual, and it is particularly noticeable when the individual is feeling uneasy. Let’s say that a introvert trainee is being lectured by his manager because his work is not making any progress:

  • He is shaking

  • He is stuttering

  • He is looking at his hands while talking.

All those symptoms are part of the hexis which are the manifestation of his habitus that taught him to physically submit when his social status requires it.

In a broader sense, the exist also applies to the dressing style, the haircut or the tattoos.

Bourdieu and the social fields

The concept of fields is originally a metaphore inspired by physics which compares the social universe to an electromagnetic field: an electron in the field is part of the field, he is both acting and actor and he contributes to the balance of the conflicts he creates.

A field is a system which contains its agents and its his social positions structured internally from domination relationships. Thus, it is an arena of power relationships and domination where agents fight for an appropriation of different forms of capital, a capital being what is valued by his agents. It can go from cultural capitals which we talked about earlier to the simple but vital wealth.

The fields can be disjointed, included or excluded from each other. They are organized horizontally and vertically while acting independently. They are the arena of the social struggles.

Activities develops inside a field depending of its rules where each agent is an electron which alters , at its level, thye orientation, the form or values of this «flow». Inside, the ability to interact with this flow depends directly of the habitus of each agents in that particular field. Because you must have thought about it while reading the habitus part, it depends in the field it is applied to. The Bourdieusan field of politicians will have social norms different from those of developers.

It is worth to note that it is really difficult for a human group to build a group free of every domination structures. Relationships of dominations and social scales will naturally create inside it.

Symbolic capital and symbolic violence

The symbolical power is the structure of an implied power that we all use on each other unconsciouly.

The properties (?) that we assign to the symbolical power can be determined by:

  • A man

  • White

  • Tall

  • that we think cultivated

  • who occupies a prestigious position

  • who wears a suit

  • who is articulate

  • who shows signs of what we think is smart, clever.

To this adds others components of symbolical power:

  • Economic capital

  • Cultural capital

  • Social capital

The more an individual will have symbolical power, the more he will be unconsciously judged as powerful and the more we will submit to him unconsciously

This is this unconscious submission that is pernicious. This power structure which represents violence isn’t inflicted by the dominant on the dominated. It is likely that the dominant is not even perceiving the violence, because the dominated is self-inflicting it. We are programmed to reacts to those characteristics and to submit to it. The term can appear quite strong/powerful but it has been proved true, most notably by Berkeley’s sociologist Paul Piff , that we are more inclined to trust someone who shows his higher socio-professional status than ours.

And to rub salt in the wound, the dominated will not be prepared to understand this problem and will never be prone to empathy for those who have less symbolical power.

Example: «He never had any problems speaking in public or finding a job → This is not that hard»

But it is not everything

Photo of ugly white guy in a suit

Here is an example of a heterosexual white male in suit who has much symbolical violence (as long as you didn’t watch The OfficeUS)

The symbolical violence is a mix between habitus and symbolical power.

If someone with a strong combination of the capital forms works with the average person in those aspects, naturally a structure of domination will appear between both of them. And the quality of work perceive will be naturally better for the one who has more power.

What about me?

Let’s now talk about how this applies to us and the coding-dojos.

Our Bourdieusan field

It is obvious that the field we are interested in is the developers one. This field is a sub-field of the computer science one, and it has its own sub-fields like front-end developers or those who use functionnal languages. Each one occupies a spot which can be either dominating or dominated, or either conservative or innovating. The internal struggles that labels our field are for example:

  • What is the best language?

  • What is the best organisation method?

  • Should we do tests?

  • Micro-service or Monolith?

  • Vim or emacs?

I am sure you are able to find at least 200 other struggles. This internal struggle is happening through articles, consulting assignjments, books, proof-of-concepts and so on.

Together, the community evolves and depending on the habitus and the cultural capital, an agent is able to imapct the direction. It’s important to note that the capacity to influence of this perpetual struggles depends directly of each cultural capitals. If you have got this far, it is thanks to the trust you naturally and unconsciously gives to the individuals who have a stronger habitus than yours.

Developers’ social space

Bourdieu describes a strong link between social positions and social practices. In our case, we can easily see that those at the top of the social ladder are those who impact the Bourdieusan field of the developers the most.

I see plenty of developers profiles who impact the community a lot:

  • Those who give conference presentations.

  • Those who write books and articles.

  • Those who host and organize conferences or workshops with the community.

  • Those who code in open-source.

  • Those who coach teams

  • Those who manage and/or mentor junior developers

  • Those who read books and articles.

Those people do not have a innate skill for technical literature and surely didn’t follow an event-organazation formation either. From their socialisation within our own field, they have acquired cultural dispositions by meeting other people. They wrote because their peers and their mentor wrote, and that it seemed the social norm to them.

Did you already hear at work: «He is a bad developer, he doesn’t keep himself up to date.

Then you find yourself in a situation where your cultural capital spurs you to works outside of workn and nearly unconsciously, you feel superior to those who does not have the same social norms in your field.

Another symbolical violence that we encounter very frequently would be the spreading of common cultural references. Here is a very graphic example. Here, I allude to a well-known book in computer science, notably because it is the foundation of the Domain-Driven-Design movement. By doing this, I am expecting my readers to understand the funny reference.

This is a joke that only those who are at ease with the subject and those who share the same cultural references can understand.

The result is breathtaking, the tweet is liked and retweeted many times and appeared more than 1900 times in different timelines. If you try to see those who interacted with it, you’ll find profiles of CTOs, conference hosts, writers, speakers or architects. I can honestly say, this type of communication is vector of symbolical violence, where I take the opportunity to share with the identity of the group of «connoiseurs» I frequent.

What about the coding-dojos then?

When I arrived at OCTO Technology, Coding-dojos were happening both one noon and one evening per week.

It was a group activity on free time where we were training to solve easy computing problems by swapping peoples every 8 minutes.

The idea was to train for the Test-Driven-Development and to discover new languages.

I never thought about why I felt I had to take part of those workshops and also why I felt a certain pleasure to do it. The reason was that I wanted to invest some of my time to progress on technical subjects and to discover new languages. In hindsight, I now understand 4 years later that I really wanted to imitate my peers and mentors and that this participation was a mean for me to socialize and learn the abilities and reflexes of the more skilled developers and to increase my habitus.

Once I moved to Bordeaux, I decided to host the coding-dojos of Okiwi’s community. I wanted to be part of the community, to share this practice of Test-Driven-Development and clean code.

Another positive effect was that it allowed me to train to gives formations. One more time, we can see that through the prism of our Bourdieusan space. I was reusing what I had learned during the coding-dojos workshops and I would spread the conversations and social rites that I had seen at OCTO. Thus I was increasing my social status relating to our field → I was becoming a conference host or workshop host.

And now, what does it change?

One trademark of our community that shocks me since I read Romeu’s article on Bourdieu (link) is the tendency to demonstrate our cultural capital at every single occasion. Here are the situations I’ve encountered recently:

  • During a pair-programming, to solve a problem with a junior dev in Java, an architect said: «You see, I would do that easily using Scala with some pattern matching». Great, you told everyone that you code in Scala, you quote concepts that the junior developers does not know. But of course, you don’t explain it to him.

  • During a coding-dojo with developers of all levels, a senior said «Haha it would not have worked if we had applied the calisthenics». I might have been right, but unconsciouly he is using his cultural capital to enforce his superior social status. He read some books, he is used to do katas.

  • Some name-dropping of semi-celebrities of our field: «As my friend Sandro mancuso says, …» → I frequent people really high on the social ladder of the developers. A variant: «Arnaud knows a lot about this.» «Arnaud who?» «Well, Arnaud Bailly».

  • «You should do katas to learn a language» → implying that if you don’t do it, you won’t become better.

All those situations are real situations I’ve encountered recently and I probably missed most of those display of cultural capital which all are examples of symbolical violences between dominated and dominants in our field.

Following this, I decided that I would add rules to my coding-dojos:

  • Firmly preventing all enunciation of keywords, concepts or name that isn’t directly explained. We only quote what we explain and we prevent the situation where a developer with a smaller habitus feels forced to ask for an explanation about a term or worst when he or she does not ask at all.

  • Not quote other languages when it is not useful.

  • Not force yourself to the others by telling them what to do and not to interrupt them.


We live in a system who, consciously or not, nurture this social hierarchy and exercise a power of symbolical violence which helps to legitimise it. To fight against it, it is necessary to understand the current social mechanisms and to expose it.

Sources :

Written on November 18, 2020

Philosophie Coding-dojos