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The cultural power of tacit knowledge: Inarticulacy and Bourdieu’s habitus

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Tacit knowledge, or knowledge that is inarticulate or unarticulated, lies at the heart of all cultural life, and is exercised in dull and repetitive activities that constitute the heart of daily existence. It seems without much character or importance, but this is precisely why tacit knowledge can be the unruly trickster in culture. Inarticulate actions based on tacit understandings of cultural possibilities can bypass discursive reality, trouble cultural categories and elaborate cultural imaginaries that are not captured in words. It is knowledge that is never quite enough, always addressing emergent problems that are not finally solved but worked around. We know from the social construction of reality that social actions are not set in stone and can be transformative, but we also know that thought can be constrained within regimes of discursive common sense. Inarticulate repetitive actions that on the surface seem mindless can actually facilitate shifts in culture by following their own material logics and imaginaries beyond discursive common sense, becoming what Deleuze calls repetitions that make a difference. Improvisatory social activity can provide escape routes from discursive regimes and make possible new social constructions of reality. The routine breakdowns and absurdities of mute, everyday cultural practices, demonstrating the limits of common sense, can encourage people to improvise new actions that break with recognized discourse (like the Occupy movement or Arab Spring). Participants respond to political ideas that feel wrong or dishonest by exploring practices of participation that feel right.

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Mukerji, C. The cultural power of tacit knowledge: Inarticulacy and Bourdieu’s habitus. Am J Cult Sociol 2, 348–375 (2014).

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