Assembling and Governing Habits

This project aims to examine how modern Western disciplines conceived of habits, and how these conceptions informed the techniques of mundane governance which managed habits. As cities face increasing pressures, the challenges of governing everyday habits prompt urgent questions about how habits are understood and managed. This project will study the governance of 'city habits' from the late 19th century to the present. The project will apply and deepen its description of habit through case studies focused on contemporary Sydney. Its findings are expected to benefit city planners and policy makers by informing the organisation and regulation of habits.

Since 2017 a team of ICS scholars has been working on this project, investigating how urban habits are shaped and governed. This year, just as we were entering the final year of the project, the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and we were faced with an eruption of new habits and the loss of many familiar ones.

Covid 19 has made us hesitate in the face of the once routine. It demands unprecedented forms of self-care.  Adopting the conduct required to avoid contact, to avoid contagion, we have to deploy the vigilance of ‘social distancing’: hand washing, not touching our faces, mask wearing, self-isolation and more. It also provokes profound disruption of the ways in which our work, social and domestic lives are organized: with the lockdown of cities and borders, working from home, closed venues, expanded online shopping and socializing, our habitual behaviors have been dramatically interrupted by Covid restrictions. Our habits have also come under new scrutiny by an array of experts – medical professionals, economists, mental health practitioners, urban planners, journalists, life-style columnists and so on are all urging us to reflect on our habits so that we adjust effectively and efficiently to the new pandemic reality.

The Habit project will be investigating these issues. The pandemic offers a rare opportunity to see new habits in the making and to understand the complexities of governing and protecting populations through the reform of habits.

Researchers: Professor Tony Bennett, Professor Gay Hawkins, Professor Gregory Noble, Professor Nikolas Rose

Funding: Australian Research Council (opens in a new window), Discovery Project

Period: 2017-2020