At the foundation of sociology is the banal (but stubbornly surprising to some) finding that the individual beings that populate human societies mutually constitute each other as social beings. I would not be me without you, and you would not be you without me, ad infinitum. Each and every encounter is both an interaction and a world building activity. Our social activity recreates and regenerates social norms and queues, but at the same time our behaviour as social beings are conditioned by the conduct we reproduce. Thus social order is maintained by the mundane practices of the everyday. As Bourdieu pithily put it, we're structures structuring structure.
What's this got to do with anything? In a small 1978 article Bourdieu wrote on 'The Linguistic Market', he argued forms of speech could be understood as the marrying of two of his concepts - a (linguistic) habitus and a (linguistic) market. For those not conversant with Bourdieu,
Subjects are active and knowing agents endowed with practical sense, that is, an acquired system of preferences, of principles of vision and division (what is usually called taste), and also a system of durable cognitive structures (which are essentially the product of the internalisation of objective structures) and of schemes of action which orient the perception of the situation and the appropriate response. The habitus is this kind of practical sense for which is to be done in a given situation – what is called in sport a “feel” for the game, which is inscribed in the present state of play. (Practical Reason 1998, p.25)Habitus then is practical sense/reason, a series of dispositions one picks up and continues to pick up consciously and unconsciously. There is always choice here, but free will is everywhere and always conditioned by our habitus and the conditions. We make our own history, but not under circumstances of our choosing said someone, once. And those circumstances include our accumulated habits of life. It follows then that Bourdieu's linguistic habitus "is the product of social conditions and is not a simple production of utterances but the production of utterances adapted to a 'situation' or, rather, adapted to a market or field." (Sociology in Question 1993, p.78)
What constitutes this linguistic market? In Bourdieu's scheme, the organisation of social space is stretched across a series of interlacing fields. A field is an analytical model that can be applied to a range of phenomena to make sense of the stakes, power struggles, and the trajectories of participants. Your workplace can be understood as a field. Political blogging can be understood as a field. And so are the modes of speech, the particular vernaculars and private languages appropriate to certain fields. Medical science has a specialist vocabulary that serves to distinguish professionals from quacks. Sociology has its own verbose technical language that all have to deploy effectively if one is to be taken seriously as a scholar, and so on (more here).
A linguistic market then is abstract and concrete. Performative competence means a capacity to align one's linguistic habitus with the rarefied rules of the game. Thus a mastery of a private, specialist language can convey a special kind of power that legitimises the speaker to particular participants in a field.
Yet, as we have seen, management jargon does not do this. We have an alignment of a linguistic habitus, of someone who can talk about strategic staircases and back office functions while effecting a serious manner, with an appropriate linguistic market (the workplace meeting) and yet it does not appear to have the effect Bourdieu's model suggests it might. If it did, surely no one would be leaving the meeting eager to see who won buzzword bingo.
That misses the point. This isn't a model of domination, but rather a model of distinction. In management/staff meetings the cascades and the low hanging fruit are linguistic strategies that distinguish between the manageriat and the staff. If any of the latter break out in a rash of touching bases and key performance indicators, that says something about their desired trajectory. They are verbally signalling their acceptance of management talk and are fishing for admittance via a virtuoso display of linguistic verisimilitude. It also underlines the separation of managers as a specialist cadre with certain authority. And, of course, because our habitus is constantly enriched only semi-consciously us "normals" might find the language creeping into our everyday. Before you know it you're in the pub asking if anyone wants a round going forward.