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Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste “There is an economy of cultural goods, but it has a specific logic”.

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Presentation on theme: "Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste “There is an economy of cultural goods, but it has a specific logic”."— Presentation transcript:

1 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste “There is an economy of cultural goods, but it has a specific logic”.

2 “one cannot fully understand cultural practices unless ‘culture’, in the restricted, normative sense of ordinary usage, is brought back into ‘culture’ in the anthropological sense, and the elaborated taste for the most refined objects is reconnected with the elementary taste for the flavours of food” (1).

3 “Lifestyles,” he says, “[...] become sign systems that are socially qualified (as ‘distinguished’, ‘vulgar’ etc)” (172). “Lifestyles are thus the systematic products of habitus, which, perceived in their mutual relations through the schemas of habitus, become sign systems that are social qualified (as ‘distinguished’, ‘vulgar’ etc). The dialectic of conditions of existence and habitus is the basis of an alchemy which transforms the distribution of capital, the balance sheet of a power-relation, into a system of perceived differences, distinctive properties, that is, a distribution of symbolic capital, legitimate capital, whose objective truth is misrecognised.”


5 Bourdieu intervening in debate over relative primacy of structure vs. agency Objectivism vs. subjectivism Bourdieu dissatisfied with what he saw as the “absurd opposition” between individual and society that structured many of the approaches in the social science to the analysis of the social world vs. existential phenomenology (eg. Sartre) vs. structuralism (eg. Lévi-Strauss)

6 If the world of action is nothing other than this universe of interchangeable possibles, entirely dependent on the decrees of the consciousness which creates it and hence totally devoid of objectivity, if it is moving because the subject chooses to be moved, revolting because he chooses to be revolted, then emotions, passions and actions are merely games of bad faith, sad farces in which one is both bad actor and good audience. (Outline of a Theory of Practice, 74)

7 Richard Jenkins: Bourdieu is “emphatic that social life cannot be understood as simply the aggregate of individual behaviour. Nor does he accept that practice can be understood solely in terms of individual decision- making, on the one hand, or as determined by supra- individual ‘structures’, as the metaphysics of objectivism would have it, on the other. His refinement and use of the notion of the ‘habitus’ is a bridgebuilding exercise across the explanatory gap between these two extremes, another important device for transcending the sterility of the opposition between subjectivism and objectivism. (74)

8 Jenkins: “the habitus only exists in, through and because of the practices of actors and their interaction with each other and with the rest of their environment: ways of talking, ways of moving, ways of making things, or whatever. In this respect, the habitus is emphatically not an abstract or idealist concept. It is not just manifest in behaviour, it is an integral part of it (and vice versa).” (75)

9 “Bodily hexis is political mythology realised, em- bodied, turned into a permanent disposition, a durable manner of standing, speaking and thereby of feeling and thinking…The principles em-bodied in this way are placed beyond the grasp of consciousness, and hence cannot be touched by voluntary, deliberate transformation, cannot even be made explicit…” (Outline of a Theory of Practice, 93-94).

10 “This classificatory system, which is the product of the internalization of the structure of social space, in the form in which it impinges through the experience of a particular position in that space, is, within the limits of economic possibilities and impossibilities (which it tends to reproduce in its own logic), the generator of practices adjusted to the regularities inherent in a condition. It continuously transforms necessities into strategies, constraints into preferences, and, without any mechanical determination, it generates the set of 'choices’ constituting life-styles, which derive their meaning, i.e., their value, from their position in a system of oppositions and correlations. It is a virtue made of necessity which continuously transforms necessity into virtue by inducing 'choices' which correspond to the condition of which it is the product” (175)

11 “The idea of taste, typically bourgeois, since it presupposes absolute freedom of choice, is so closely associated with the idea of freedom that many people find it hard to grasp the paradoxes of the taste of necessity. Some simply sweep it aside, making practice a direct product of economic necessity (workers eat beans because they cannot afford anything else), failing to realize that necessity can only be fulfilled, most of the time, because the agents are inclined to fulfil it, because they have a taste for what they are anyway condemned to.” (178)

12 “As structured products (opus operatum) which a structuring structure (modus operandi) produces through retranslations according to the specific logic of the different fields, all the practices and products of a given agent are objectively harmonized among themselves, without any deliberate pursuit of coherence, and objectively orchestrated, without any conscious concentration, with those of all members of the same class” (172-73)

13 A field is the structured space of a particular social arena in which there exists a series of possible positions occupied by ‘agents’ or ‘products’ The field is a field of forces, of struggles over specific resources or stakes and access to them 4 principal categories of capital: Economic capital Social capital (various kinds of valued relations with significant others) Cultural capital (primarily legitimate knowledge of one kind or another) Symbolic capital (prestige and social honour).

14 Discussing the literary field, Bourdieu argues that the “important fact, for the interpretation of works, is that this autonomous social universe functions somewhat like a prism which refracts every external determination: demographic, economic or political events are always retranslated according to the specific logic of the field, and it is by this intermediary that they act on the logic of the development of works.” (Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, 164).

15 “The true basis of the differences found in the area of consumption, and far beyond it, is the opposition between the tastes of luxury (or freedom) and the tastes of necessity. The former are the tastes of individuals who are the product of material conditions of existence defined by distance from necessity, by the freedoms or facilities stemming from possession of capital; the latter express, precisely in their adjustment, the necessities of which they are the product. Thus it is possible to deduce popular tastes for the foods that are simultaneously most 'filling' and most economical from the necessity of reproducing labour power at the lowest cost which is forced on the proletariat as its very definition.”


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