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Coffee House: Habitus and Performance Among Law Students

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Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Judith Butler, we develop a detailed ethnography of a social space in a major law school and explore its socialization of the students there. “Coffee House” is a weekly social event sponsored by Canadian law firms and offering free drink and food to the students present. We argue that this event and the actors involved profoundly change student identities and alter educational aspirations. Although the students themselves insist that “nothing is going on,” our ethnography suggests that in “Coffee House” identity is developed through performances, and in the accumulation of symbolic capital, until ultimately students come to feel their future career path is not a matter of choice, but destiny. We explore the important work of Bourdieu through this setting, but ultimately we resist his determinism, and suggest instead that, following the work of Butler, identity is a more complicated and fluid dynamic between space, repetition, and performance. It appears that a personal unconscious transformation among law students attending Coffee House is underway; yet opportunities to change the meaning of this space and these performances remain.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Law, McGill University 2: Department of Geography, McGill University

Publication date: 2006-09-01

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