Friday, April 9, 2010

Pro-Choice &Pro-Life Advertisements on Edmonton Transit- Why the Bus?


We will discuss the impact context can have in displaying pro-life and pro-choice advertisements to the consumers using the Edmonton transit services. Through the presentation of pro-life and pro-choice ads on public transportation services, discourses become evident surrounding the demographics of the audience this subject matter is targeting. The visual phenomenon of these advertisements has been photographically documented on city buses and LRT system. Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of habitus will be discussed in correlation to the selection of transit services for these specific advertisements. To determine habitus in relation to these advertisements specific demographic groups will be critically analyzed.

ETS Bus. March 16, 2010.

Demographically, there is a variation in the type of people and groups that use the transit system, ranging in social classes. By using transportation services provided by the city there are going to be discourses that arise in characterizing the type of social classes using the transit system. We believe that the pro-life and pro-choice ads are targeting specific groups including the lower income classes, minority ethnic groups and students. And the most obvious group being targeted by these ads are women.

Bourdieu’s theory of habitus is a useful theory to determine the concept of why city transportation services are used to advertise these pro-choice posters. Additionally, according to habitus, what type of groups are being the targets for these ads. Prior to determining how Bourdieu’s habitus corresponds with this subject, habitus needs to be defined. A formal definition of habitus is provided in the Practices of Looking : An Introduction to Visual Culture, where it is defined as “a set of dispositions and preferences we share as social subjects that are related to our class position, education, and social standing” (Sturken and Cartwright, 60). From this definition, class position and social standings are useful indicators in characterizing the types of groups most consistently using the transit services provided by the city of Edmonton.

University LRT Station, April 6, 2010.

To better depict the theory of habitus and the discourses arising for the social groups most commonly using the transit systems. We will closely focus on the following groups:

Lower Income Classes & Minority Groups

One of the most common discourses arising with the individuals taking the city bus is that they do not have financial means to use other sources of transportation. Hence only people with lower incomes/ status in society use the bus or LRT system. In the case of habitus, Bourdieu states that this is where society is divided by class positions. The transit system is available for people who have lower income and may not be able to afford a vehicle. Therefore if an individual categorized within this social class were in the position of expecting a child it may be beyond their financial state to be able to care for it. By having pro-choice posters displayed to the targeted audience, they are provided with alternate options to resolve their concern.

Another aspect of the low income status could be minority groups that have just immigrated to Edmonton. In the immigration position the groups are facing many different pressures, including moving into a new home, finding a job and customizing themselves to the values and norms of a new society. On top of all these pressures to be a bear a child in their new environment may impose too much stress while adapting to their new environment. By having the pro-choice posters presented to them, the viewer is provided with other possibilities that may not have been considered socially acceptable in their home country.

Century Park, March 16,2010.


Part of a students’ role in society is deal with the pressures from their families to attain education to improve their well being. To be in the position of bearing a baby would be not socially acceptable and would hinder their educational attainment. To have a baby would include other responsibilities, including monetary values and a certain level of maturity. This idea of meeting social norms is further elaborated by Bourdieu, where he states “the parents feel what they feel and do what they do partly or largely because of the influence of such norms”(Malmquist and Zeiler, 133). Every parent has a planned life for their kids; to have a baby at a young age may not be an ideal option. Therefore the norm would be to have an education before settling down to have children. As a student having to deal with these pressures, the marketing strategy is to try to influence our behavior by displaying these ads. It is uncertain whether this strategy does work, but overall it is the student’s agency that will determine their own behaviors.


Among the groups being targeted by the pro-choice ads, women are the most apparent stakeholders due to their biological capabilities of bearing children. In the text, Sturken and Cartwright state that ads are setting up a relationship between the signifier (social class) and the signified (ads) “to create signs in order to sell not simply products but the connotations we attach to the product” (276). Even if this is the case for other groups listed above, in the position of women, the ad is not selling simply a connotation, but that women have the power to choose whether they want to bare a child or not.

On the other hand, in relation to habitus, the ad is selling connotations to women as well. In the article Bourdieu, Feminism and Female Physical Culture: Gender Reflexivity and the Habitus-Field Complex, depicts Bourdieu’s work around the habitus theory as having gender binaries of masculinity being dominant and femininity being subordinate in society (Thorpe, 492). Here it is stated that from the perspective of male being dominant in society and the subordination of women, women then can be classified as a lower class group that would typically use available public transportation services. The topic of gender classification will also be discussed as a conflict with habitus.

University LRT Station, April 6, 2010.

Conflicts between Habitus & Ads

For each of the circumstances of the social groups these advertisements are targeting, the ads only offer choices, it does not determine the individual’s decision. An individual’s agency is what determines their outcome decision. This arises an issue surrounding the concept of habitus and can be summarized as follows: it is an invitation to understand what influences the view that agents have of their own actions without reducing them to a model, and by doing so “doing away with the agent” (Collet,419). The habitus theory is a useful way of illustrating why the bus and LRT system is used to describe the advertisements targeting specific groups. It still is up to the individual agency of the person to read the poster and allow it to influence their actions. In Henderikus Stam’s article Habitus, Psychology and Ethnography: Introduction to the Special Section he provides further evidence of Bourdieu’s belief in a person’s freedom of choice where he is cited as saying that ‘an acquired system of generative schemes, the habitus makes possible the free production of all the thoughts, perceptions and actions inherent in the particular conditions of its production”’ (708). By a person viewing the ads they may acknowledge the text and absorb the information, but in the end it is their own freedom to make the choice. Therefore even though marketers for the ads think they are being strategic by placing these ads in the context of public transportation, it is still up to the audience to determine the outcome.

Holly Thorpe in her article Bourdieu, Feminism and FemalePhysical Culture: Gender Reflexivity and the Habitus-Field Complex, highlights another interesting conflict within Bourdieu’s theory that can be applicable of why public transit services are determined as an appropriate context to display the pro-choice posters. She elaborates that Bourdieu’s writings are discussed as stating that men are dominant while women are the subordinate group. This is further stated where “his insights into gender reproduce standard binaries of masculine domination and female subordination as if these structures are unitary, coherent and unchanged by and in contemporary social life” (492). According to this statement, it could assumed that men are the head of family and in control, hence if the family only own one vehicle, women are required to take the bus, since they are the subordinate group. In Edmonton this does not always seem to be the case, there seems to be a growing trend of sustainability and economical consciousness, due to the recent recession, therefore both genders use the transit system for convenience.


The presentation of pro-life and pro-choice advertisements on Edmonton transit services is a form of social marketing where they are trying to sell you a choice. Rather the strategic marketing in this context is creating discourses surrounding the different demographics being targeted by these pro-choice ads. To determine the significance of this context in relation to the audience of these ads, Bourdieu’s theory of habitus is an interesting approach to explain why transit services are used for this type of advertising. His habitus theory states how as social subjects we have habits that associate us to certain class positions and social standings in society. Even if this theory is possible within certain contexts, there is not a single class that specifically uses transportation services offered by Edmonton. The strategic planning of using these ads on the bus may not be as effective as they assumed. The theory of habitus also acknowledges how a person has the freedom of choice. Stam recognized this in his article where “the habitus is made up of multiple layers, but freedom ultimately resides in one’s capacity to objectivize one’s own conditions”(709). Therefore even if the ads are suppose to influence the decision of a specific individual, it is their own agency that will determine the outcome. The selection of transit services for posting these ads only creates discourses then and does not serve any other purpose.


Collet, Francois. 2009. Does Habitus Matter? A Comparative Review or Bourdieu’s Habitus and

Simon’s Bounded Rationality with Some Implications for Economic Sociology.

Sociological Theory. 27(4): 419-434.

Malmquist, Erik and Kristin Zeiler. 2010. Cultural Norms, the Phenomenology of Incorporation,

and the Experience of Having a Child Born with Ambiguous Sex. Social Theory and

Practice. 36 (1): 133-156.

Stam, Henderikus. 2009. Habitus, Psychology and Ethnography: Introduction to the Special

Section. Theory & Psychology. 19 (6): 707-711.

Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Usual

Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Thorpe, Holly. 2009. Bourdieu, Feminism and Female Physical Culture: Gender Reflexivity and

the Habitus- Field Complex. Sociology of Sport Journal. 26: 491-516.

1 comment:

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