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Link between extensio’s theory and Bourdieu’s work

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A text by Eugène Michel

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Pierre Bourdieu didn’t like theoretical works separated from concrete studies. For him, sociology was first of all a description of human facts that had to be patiently and precisely gathered. His use of the concept of habitus was always connected to a contemporary study.

But the facts can also be found in books, general knowledge and daily observation. Norbert Elias did synthesis more in this way.

Around fifteen years ago, I started a description of human development, and, steps by steps, it became the “theory of extensio”(1).

The theory of extensio is belonging to the science of evolution. It’s based on a main biophysical principle : the evolution goes in the direction of the extension of the relational field because a limited environment finishes always being deficient in its role of supplier for the reproduction.

With human beings, this extension of the relational field is made possible by the acquisition of precise physical tools that are, in chronologic order – one inside each other as Russian dolls – senses, gestures, speech and writing. These four generic tools are transmitted by the group to the young in the same order than their invention for the simple reason that each comes from the improvement of the previous one. The result is that the individual development reproduces in its main lines the collective development.

The transmission of a daily knowledge by the group to the neophyte comes from the habitus upon which Bourdieu has rightfully insisted.

The habitus gets its structure through the social organisation in larger and larger groups. Social groups can’t exist without their particular habitus. A group is its habitus. The habitus represents what is obligatory transmitted because, without it, the group doesn’t exist anymore. The habitus represents the duplicative part of the existence.

But no habitus would occur if it had not been invented. The best transmission of any knowledge to the children is to help them to explore step by step around each particular knowledge, which permits the physical neuronal connective construction.

Very interested by neuronal plasticity, I was following the researches of the biologist Jean-Pierre Changeux. In 2002, he published the concept of “habitus neuronal”(2) which sets a logical bridge between neuronal plasticity and habitus.

It would be interesting to explore how Bourdieu was integrating creativity in the concept of habitus but I must confess that my passion for creativity was not satisfied by this paradox. Spontaneously, I created the expression “inventus neuronal”(3), that I shortened in “inventus”.

It immediately appeared to me that this new concept of inventus was very appropriate for my theory. No young can learn and grow up without an inventus. Either adults ! The inventus makes possible the constant invention of new tools. Consequently, habitus and inventus are inseparable.

So far, I formulated the fundamental theorem of extensio’s theory : Extensio results from the incessant coming up of inventus inside the habitus.

Bourdieu’s work became the main pillar of my work. The continuity of human life implies that the duo habitus / inventus must be seriously considered all through the life. At any age, durable lack or excess of habitus and inventus will generate troubles.


Another consequence of the extensio’s theory is the description of occidental human development in four different logical stages. These stages are emerging from the acquisition of the four tools : senses in the maternal stage, gestures and speech in the family stage, reading and writing in the collective stage, personal writing in the individual stage.

For example, in Occident, the collective stage gets progressively mature after Renaissance while it occurs for the individual between seven-eight to thirteen-fourteen years old, and the individual stage – the most recent one – starts with the spread of literacy in the 19th century while individuals are still working on it. As Norbert Elias well said, we can follow the collective development inside the individual development.

We won’t describe here the features of each stage of development but it’s important to have in mind that the individual stage is characterised by a fuzzy dualism, body’s care and personal writing.

Beyond the efficiency of understanding – which permits to orientate the decisions – the theory of extensio has two main consequences : first, it’s a good help for educational responsibility. Any child must be educated with a watchful habitusinventus process. Second, it permits to detect the causes of sufferings inside each individual story. Anyone will get profit in analysing the father and mother’s (or substitutes’s) extensios and their addition : which lacks or excesses of tools’s transmission happened ?

At that point, another concept that Bourdieu was appreciating became important for extensio’s theory : the idea of “capital”.

Extensio’s theory is in fact a theory of supplies. And how do we get our supplies ? In animals and human development, the methods started by waiting, then became hunting, then exchanging.

Exchange is nowadays the basic principle of human life. And as reserves are permitting a delay for exchange, the “capital” – beyond its role of security – is very convenient to do exchanges at the best value. Extensio’s theory concludes that there is a new capital at each step of the development : affective capital in the maternal stage, economic capital in the family stage, knowledge capital in the collective stage, and personal skills capital in the individual stage.

Of course, each capital is going on through the different steps. The aptitude of relationship and storing is the secret of success in exchanges.


Extensio’s theory is a new theory that must be included in the science of evolution. It didn’t start with Bourdieu’s work but with my discovery in the 1990’s of Jack Goody’s book, The Domestication of the savage mind(4), well appreciated in France. But, as described above, Bourdieu’s work turned to offer a very efficient structure for more... inventus.

Eugène Michel
© January 2013

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(1) Théorie de l’extensio, Edilivre, Paris, 2012.

(2) In L’Homme de vérité, Editions Odile Jacob, Paris, 2002.

(3) In « Les Neurones et la créativité », revue Lieux d’Etre, n°36, Lille, 2003.

(4) Cambridge University Press, 1977. Published in France under the title La Raison graphique (Editions de Minuit, 1979) in the collection directed by... Pierre Bourdieu.

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