The Role of Habitus in Watchtower Pedagogies for Transformation

Helena Chester

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In examining pedagogies for transformation in the Watchtower Organization (WTO), it appears that dramatic paradigm shifts in thinking and subjectivity can be conceptualized within Bourdieu's notion of the habitus. The habitus can be thought of as the life history of a person embodied as a set of acquired dispositions that generate perspectives and behaviors. These behaviors and preferences appear self-determined, but are choices within the boundaries of biopsychosocial experiences. The self-will (willpower) which appears rational and autonomous is in effect a ventriloquist, speaking the habitus. In this paper I explore factors related to life changes in Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), through examples from a series in WT literature titled, ‘The Bible Changes Lives’. Common to the narratives are accounts of transformation of subjectivity from serious criminal behavior, substance abuse, violence, and various forms of social deviance, to cooperative, peaceful, law abiding community members. To reprogram the subconscious habitus seemingly requires 1) subject consent for disengaging the self-will to enable rewriting habitus discourses; 2) habituating new discourses. These two processes are initiated in the WTO through two opposing, yet paradoxically complementary discursive technologies – FEAR and LOVE. FEAR functions as the stressor/technology which disengages the self-will and allows access to the subconscious level of the theoretical habitus. When the habitus is thus receptive to a new authoritative discourse in which members are invested (through constructed desire related to life and survival –existential/spiritual), LOVE in the form of new attractions, attachments and even addictions, mediated through authoritative discourse and community support, reconstructs subjectivity. Both desire and consent for reconstructing new subjectivities are therefore manufactured through the discursively constructed spiritual technologies of FEAR and LOVE.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)25-40
    Number of pages16
    JournalInternational Journal of Diversity in Education
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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