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The social emergence of health : a theoretical interpretation and empirical application of Pierre Bourdieu's relational theory of social action in a three-dimensional Canadian field Burnett, Patrick John


Pierre Bourdieu's theory of social action has been the inspiration for an array of diverse health studies seeking to better understand the nature of social stratification and its relation to health behaviours and outcomes. While several of his well-known theoretical concepts, such as social capital, cultural capital and habitus, have garnered a great deal of attention in the health research community, the nature of their application has for the most part been limited to deterministic schemas examining relationships between social position and social action. There are as yet no health-related studies that offer a comprehensive theoretical account of Bourdieu’s ‘constructivist structuralism,’ incorporating all of his theoretical conceptions of field, habitus, capital, doxa and time. In light of these theoretical and empirical oversights, I offer a health-relevant re-envisioning of Bourdieu's expansive body of work and examine the implications of his relational framework for health research. Drawing upon a relational exploratory analytic method called multiple correspondence analysis and using original Canadian survey data from Vancouver and Toronto, Canada, I translate my interpretation of Bourdieu’s theoretical principles into a thoroughly Bourdieusian empirical depiction of a health-relevant three-dimensional geometric social space. The visual mapping of social space revealed seven different groupings of individuals whose common attributes and dispositions are socially patterned around health-related behaviours and outcomes, illuminating distinct spaces of social differentiation within which healthy and unhealthy individuals are located.

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