Sociologists study social processes that unfold through space and time, but also through the experience of people who are caught up in those processes. Social scientific theories and explanations must therefore always incorporate the dimension of experience; they are, so to speak, theories in five dimensions.
The concepts of power and habitus are pivotal in understanding social processes. Wherever people are interdependent with each other – whenever they have needs that only transactions with others can meet – there are power balances or ratios, which may be stable or fluctuating, relatively equal or unequal. The needs that people have of each other range from the material, through information or means of orientation, to the emotional.
As for habitus, people’s ‘second nature’ – their cultural dispositions and personality traits – is shaped through their life experience, including their experience of power balances. Habitus formation and conscience formation – and transformation – are central components of social change, but they then feed back into the course of the processes that formed them. People’s habitus, formed gradually in the past, may prove an impediment to contemporary social changes, but on the other hand may adapt well and indeed facilitate change: there are leads and lags and drag effects. These questions are central to sociological theory and to this conference: our concerns extend from the past to the present to possible futures.