Anchors, Habitus, and Practices Besieged by War: Women and Gender in the Blockade of Leningrad

TitleAnchors, Habitus, and Practices Besieged by War: Women and Gender in the Blockade of Leningrad
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsHaas, Jeffrey K.
JournalSociological Forum
Volume32
Issue2
Pagination253 - 276
Date Published2017///
Abstract

As war challenges survival and social relations, how do actors alter and adapt dispositions and practices? To explore this question, I investigate women's perceptions of normal relations, practices, status, and gendered self in an intense situation of wartime survival, the Blockade of Leningrad (1941-1944), an 872-day ordeal that demographically feminized the city. Using Blockade diaries for data on everyday life, perceptions, and practices, I show how women's gendered skills and habits of breadseeking and caregiving (finding scarce resources and providing aid) were key to survival and helped elevate their sense of status. Yet this did not entice rethinking “gender.” To explore status elevation and gender entrenchment, I build on Bourdieu's theory of habitus and fields to develop anchors: field entities with valence around which actors orient identities and practices. Anchors provide support for preexisting habitus and practices, and filter perceptions from new positions vis-à-vis fields and concrete relations. Essentialist identities and practices were reinforced through two processes involving anchors. New status was linked to “women's work” that aided survival of anchors (close others, but also factories and the city), reinforcing acceptance of gender positions. Women perceived that challenging gender relations and statuses could risk well-being of anchors, reconstructing gender essentialism.

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