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Monday, February 07, 2011

A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste - Pierre Bourdieu

the following is a write up on A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste by Josy Mary Edwin


Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was a French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher. His best known book is Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Bourdieu’s work is influenced by much of traditional anthropology and sociology which he undertook to synthesize into his own theory. His key terms were habitus(which is adopted through upbringing and education), capital and field. He extended the idea of capital to categories such as social, capital, cultural capital and symbolic capital. For Bourdieu each individual occupies a position in a multidimensional social space. He or she is not defined only by social class membership, but by every single kind of capital he or she can articulate through social relations.

Bourdieu claims that how one chooses to present one’s social space to the world, one’s aesthetic disposition depicts one’s status and distances oneself from lower groups. Specifically he says that these dispositions are internalized at an early age and guide the young towards their appropriate social positions, towards the behaviors that are suitable for them, and a dislike towards other behaviors. Bourdieu theorizes that class fractions which are determined by a combination of the varying degrees of social, economic and cultural capital, teach aesthetic preferences to their young.

The development of aesthetic dispositions are very largely determined by social origin rather than accumulated capital and experience over time. The acquisition of cultural capital depends heavily on the family background. People inherit their cultural attitudes and accepted definitions that their elders offer them. According to Bourdieu, tastes in food, culture and presentation are indicators of class because trends in their consumption seemingly correlate with an individual’s fit in society. He believes that class distinction and preferences are most obvious in the ordinary choices of everyday life, such as furniture, clothing or cooking. In fact the strongest and most important mark of infant learning would probably be in the tastes of food. Meals served on special occasions are an interesting indicator of the mode of self presentation adopted in showing off a life-style. The idea is that their likes and dislikes should mirror those of their associated class fractions.

The degree to which social origin affects these preferences surpasses both educational and economic capital. At equivalent levels of educational capital, social origin remains an influential factor in determining these dispositions. How one describes one’s social environment is closely related to social origin because the instinctive narrative springs from early stages of development. Also, across the divisions of labor economic constraints tend to relax without any fundamental change in the pattern of spending. This observation according to Bourdieu reinforces the idea that social origin, more than economic capital, produces aesthetic preferences because regardless of economic capability, consumption patterns remain stable..

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