Custom and habit(us): The meaning of traditions and legends in early medieval western Britain
University of Exeter (David Harvey)
Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography
Blackwell Publishing Ltd
This paper discusses some well-known legends and hagiographic stories, and explores the context of their production and consumption. From an examination of Welsh foundation legends and Cornish hagiographical accounts, we focus on the methods by which versions of history were used in the Middle Ages to provide a context for fundamental changes in the way in which society was organised. It is found that, far from abandoning traditional versions of history, accounts of the past were promoted that sought to couch newer territorial notions of organisation within existing constructions of identity and mediations with the past. In an examination of the production and reception of these popular stories, we attempt to relate the legends to the generation of communal identity and memory. Consequently, drawing on Bourdieu's notion of habitus, we argue that pre-existing beliefs and customs were an important part in the development of newer institutional structures. Rather than initiating new practices that had no grounding in any particular past, institutional developments gained social currency by being inherently grounded in existing facets of cultural identity. In essence therefore, changing societal and institutional structures were unintentionally couched in the language and understandings of existing structures, so that in many ways a concept of continuity was at the very heart of actual change.
This a post-print, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography. Copyright © Blackwell publishing 1999. The definitive version is available at www.blackwell-synergy.com
Geografiska Annaler, Series B: Human Geography 81 (4), 1999: pp. 223-233