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Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste Paperback – Mar 1 1984

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 1 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674212770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674212770
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 3.2 x 23.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #255,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


A book of extraordinary intelligence. (Irving Louis Horowitz Commonweal)

One of the more distinguished contributions to social theory and research in recent years...There is in this book an account of culture, and a methodology of its study, rich in implication for a diversity of fields of social research. The work in some ways redefines the whole scope of cultural studies. (Anthony Giddens Partisan Review)

Bourdieu's analysis transcends the usual analysis of conspicuous consumption in two ways: by showing that specific judgments and chokes matter less than an esthetic outlook in general and by showing, moreover, that the acquisition of an esthetic outlook not only advertises upper-class prestige but helps to keep the lower orders in line. In other words, the esthetic world view serves as an instrument of domination. It serves the interests not merely of status but of power. It does this, according to Bourdieu, by emphasizing individuality, rivalry, and 'distinction' and by devaluing the well-being of society as a whole. (Christopher Lasch Vogue)

From the Back Cover

This is at once a vast ethnography of contemporary France and a dissection of the bourgeois mind. The subject is the study of culture, and the objective is most ambitious: to provide an answer to the problems raised by Kant's Critique Of Judgment by showing why no judgment of taste is innocent.

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Format: Paperback
This is a fantastic explication of how social class prearranges our tastes and interests. I disagree with the reader who thinks that it is not applicable to American society--to the contrary. It is true that American culture is not so obviously stratified in the exact same ways as French culture (of the 1960s, I would add, when Bourdieu collected his data). Also, in American culture there is less of a tendency to exploit the social markers (dress, etc.) that one might find in Europe, and it's hip nowadays for the middle-class to adopt the style and dress of the street (e.g., hip-hop); nevertheless, I'd say that this is a veneer of street-cred, and that if you were to look at how the middle-class actually lives compares to those where hip-hop originated, you'd find some pretty significant differences.
However, his basic differentiation between working class/petit bourgeois (small business owners, clerical workers and the like)/grand bourgeois (professionals, executives, and large industrialists) certainly carries over into American society. And most interesting is his claim that the higher up in the food chain one goes, the more one's taste in the "aesthetic" inclines towards Kant's idea of disinterested formalism, while the lower classes tend to want their art to be informed by ethics and morality.
Bourdieu sees these tendencies as "embodied" and largely unconsciously adopted through our upbringing. One only has to watch a television show like "The O.C." and how they cast Ryan's mother in comparison to the trophy wives of Orange County to see that even in America class and taste and body language are still encoded in our body language, choice of dress, manners, and conversational style.
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Format: Paperback
I come back to this book time and again in my own work and see it as one of the most indispensible books today on issues of aesthetics, class distinctions, group identity, and covert social inequality. Bourdieu takes on the Kantian aesthetics of the "subjective universal," showing that the value judgments about things reflect material and social conditions and in fact index social and class differences. The way we classify things (operas, desserts, leisure activities) is inextricably tied up with the way we classify ourselves as social beings and others as members of other social groups.
Distinction is a long and difficult book, but from start to finish it is full of fascinating and original insights. Bourdieu's language is loaded with big words and long sentences, but I find that after I get used to the kinds of words and structures he uses, his language actually becomes pretty clear and straight-forward. It's definitely worth the time and brain-power needed to read it.
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Format: Paperback
In 1998 Pierre Bourdieu's *Distinction* was voted by members of the International Sociological Association to be the sixth most important sociological treatise of the 20th century: but if Bourdieu's "theodicy" for the cultural market of the hexagonal 70s maintains its appeal today we have plenty of reasons. Presented with a country in stasis and a market full of options, Bourdieu took the liberty of declaring the case for economic determinism airtight: in his theory of social fields (presented to the reader in a variety of ways) we are given "templates" for freedom of economic choice which maintain their plausibility *in the breach*.
In the *pathetiques* gamely reporting likes and dislikes, and that matter-of-fact two-dimensionality characterizing interactions guided by cultural partisanship, we have something less than postwar French culture and something more than a damning indictment of Fifth Republic scandals: *Distinctions* is veritably a history of 70s France *as it was available to the common man*, and as such provides a model for cultural history well worth emulating for various purposes. Bourdieu's later union agitation to the contrary, it is advisable that a tenable market is absolutely the precondition of "edifying" cultural products: and here he goes quite a distance towards *vetting* France in this respect. A great work for a wide readership.
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Distinction is the most cited book from Bourdieu, one of France's most prolific scholars. The book tends to assume that its readers are familiar with his key terms, developed mostly in _Outline of a Theory of Practice_ and _Logic of Practice_. Although it is the most cited, beginning readers of Bourdieu should probably start with _Partical Reason_ to get a handle on these concepts before getting involved in this larger tome.
Word for word, Bourdieu's writing style is not economical, and he is almost as cumbersome as Derrida. He does not approach the overly-complex mode of Deleuze and Guattari. His concepts bear the most resemblance to those of an early Baudrillard or a late Gramsci in terms of their interpretation of the social world, although he will depart into some more Marxist modes of interpretation.
Bourdieu's _Distinction_ is most valuable for his diagrams, as they provide a clear graphic representation of what he is trying to say. If one wants the read Bourdieu for content and/or argument, she would be better directed to one of his other books named above, as his arguments are more on-point and rpecide.
In addition, _Distinction_ is careful to limit itself to a data set collected in the late 60s and early 70s. Although the theory seems to be a sound one, Bourdieu makes claims of greater applicability in his books about the Bayle: _Outline_ and _Logic_. For discussions of modern Europe, his newer _Weight of the World_ provides a better, and more recent, analysis of the same social trends as in _Distinction_.
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