A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste was written by Pierre Bourdieu in 1984. This is pretty much influenced by structuralism and the idea that our concept of what “taste” is, is also a means of “cultural hegemony.” Taste is something that controls social, political and economic means within a region and is ingrained in people from a young age in order to keep a hierarchy of wealth in tact. This means of taste is also a means of gatekeeping disallowing any form of social mobility, while also setting up the notion of disapproval if not following these notions that dominate society. Bourdieu states “whereas the ideology of charisma regards taste in legitimate culture as a gift of nature, scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education: surveys establish that all cultural practices and preferences in literature, painting or music, are closely linked to educational level and secondarily to social origin (1). As Bourdieu explains cultural nobility and the conscious or competence that’s a code embedded. When someone is lost to this they are confused and call upon the “sensible properties,” unable to move from a more sentimental understanding of what occurs.
Then, we as readers are given evidence as to this intellectualist theory of artistic perception and how it contradicts the experience of the art-lovers closest to the legitimate definition. The ‘pure’ gaze is a historical invention linked to the emergence of an autonomous field of artistic production, that is, a field capable of imposing its own norms on both production and consumption of said products. On one end we have the idea that the artist retains a sort of divine like influence and autonomy over their work, making their way the only way. However, away from this idea of the ‘pure gaze,’ there’s also ‘the popular aesthetic,’ which ignores the facile involvement and as an overall refusal to the base of formal experiment and taste that resides there.
Regardless of style and form, aesthetic always has an ethical basis. There’s the further analysis of the idea of representation. Intellectuals, for examples believe in representation–literature, theatre, painting — more than in the things represented, whereas the people chiefly expe representations and the conventions we govern them to allow them to believe; naively’ in the thing represented. Pure aesthetic is rooted in ethic,. Different ways of fiction relate to different ways of social space one is in. This entire notion is ridiculous for the example given is the idea of ballerinas within an Opera, how they’re considered refined and unsexual, yet the idea of vulgar/base passions are everywhere breaking the hegemony at large right there with the use of nakedness, positions, and such. It’s the way we view these things, rather, that Bourdieu argues and how social class and standing forces us to. Ultimately the idea of cultured vs. not is just a structure used to keep classes separate, a predisposed one to fulfill social function and create social differences.
With the books we’re reading, I think this can be used for a lot of them. Really, it’s almost indispensable to whatever you read. The first thing that comes to mind is The Sellout for me in particular because of the way satire is used as a way to deconstruct and establish itself as a certain type of novel talking about racism in a very specific way all at once. This is great to use with any of the poetry on the exam as well, because poetry is a form that’s usually associated with a sort of gatekeeping or social class difference. However, the ways Boyer, Dante, and Auden all use this say different things about social class, norm, and breaking those barriers.
How does something like Bourdieu’s theories relate to the differences in feminism exhibited in novels such as House of Mirth, Boyer’s poems, and The Sellout in aspects of race, social standing, and modernity?
How is the way social class presented amongst a genre indicative of its target audience and what does that mean? When something has multiple genres or tends to fit into one than more category what might that say about Bourdieu’s theory and the nature of society?
The thesis: the theory that Bourdieu makes and aims to prove is that there is a learned code that decides the way we take in art in all of its forms. Using terms like Taste and Consumption, Bourdieu proves that the way we interpret and analyze art comes from the cultural and social elements that tell us how to do so and by noticing those elements that decide our consumption can we defend ourselves against it to have a more autonomous independent view on art. “Consumption is, in this case, a stage in a process of communication, that is, an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher or code. In a sense, one can say that the capacity to see (voir) is a function of the knowledge, or concepts, that I, the words, that are available to name visible things, which are, as it were, programmes for perception.”
The motive: Bourdieu’s motive with this theoretical piece is that once we are able to identify the code in which we perceive things, we are able to discard them and see art with a more independent eye and understand how that code exists in all realms of the medium while also understanding what it means to perceive things in the cultural system of the code. “This predisposes tastes to function as markers of ‘class’” (1) “A beholder who lacks the specific code feels lost in a chaos of sounds and rhythms, colors and lines, without rhyme or reason.”(2) “the ‘eye’ is a product of history reproduced by education”(3)
The Evidence: In regards to evidence, much of what Bourdieu uses either comes from his already written work and texts that discuss temporal art from specific time periods. Bourdieu uses his evidence in a way that does not necessary dives deep on their basis but uses it as a springboard to back up and defends the claims he is making. While a strong use of evidence it is hard to say exactly what proves his point and how.
B. Bourdieu’s theory, I believe, would work really well with poetry by Wheatley or with Rankine’s Citizen and Beatty’s the sellout because they are more open works that allow us to notice how codes of perception work within and outside of the text. Bourdieu makes the claim that, ”An art which ever increasingly contains reference to its own history demands to be perceived historically; it asks to be referred not to an external referent, the represented or designated ‘reality’, but to the universe of past and present works of art. ” Therefore, in that way we can assess Citizen and Wheatley poems as art declared open works that goes against traditions like Bourdieu discusses on p. 4 but also as texts that refer to history and demand from its viewers to take that historical context into consideration in their analysis.
Pierre Bourdieu is a French sociologist who was heavily influenced by concepts of Marxism. Much of this text is coded with ideas of commoditization and indoctrination and how those factors contribute to people’s success in a capitalist society. The focal point, though, is taste; how it’s acquired and what different levels of taste mean in elite strata.
Starting from the beginning, Bourdieu states that taste is “appropriated” (1). Having a desirable level of taste can be expressed easily through one’s knowledge of art. Because what people regard as fine art can change depending on the time period, Bourdieu makes the argument that the consistency must be in the way humans transmit culture. He says, “Scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education… Preferences in literature, painting, or music, are closely linked to education level” (1). Because people think they were born having a certain taste for a certain thing, they unconsciously make a distinction *wink wink* (the title of the theory) between themselves and those who do not have the same taste as them. What then follows is a “social hierarchy of the consumers” that “predisposes taste to function as markers of class” (1). Essentially, people think they are innately better than others because they like certain things, but this is fallacious because their likes were learned and informed by their environment. People do not realize this because they pick their tastes up involuntarily. Similar to how when we read something, we are not actively interpreting those words. Our brains recognize the formations of letters and (hopefully) soaks up the information. That process is not like raising a hand, which we actively need to choose to do. Culture, like the alphabet, is imbedded in people from a young age and that knowledge allows us to participate in experiences without trying. These pieces of information grant people their passports into “refined” circles.
Their display of their culture also serves to let others around them know how sophisticated they are. There is nowhere else in the text where Bourdieu makes this point more explicitly clear than when he says, “Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier” (6). On one hand, the individual themselves feels a sense of superiority when they compare themselves to others who are not as cultured as them; even though their culture is the direct product of their education, not some inexplicable refinement. And on the other hand, exhibiting culture is performative and signals to others that the performer is of a certain caliber.
Distinction one of the most flexible theories on our list and I think there is a way we could apply it to most, if not all, of the literary texts in one way or another. With the exception of some of the older texts, most works on our exam list deal with people demonstrating their culture. Whether or not it was intentional or not, characters will often use a skill or reveal some knowledge about something, which then might impress another character. In modern terms, think about characters that “flex” on others. This modern comparison might prove useful because it is a much more common practice in our society to see through people who are trying to seem better than other people. Two texts that immediately come to mind are Mrs. Dalloway and House of Mirth because their characters seem to constantly interact with this idea or aristocracy and value.
In this article, Bourdieu attempts to dissect the notion of “taste.” Positing that taste is built upon/embedded in cultural states (education and economic status), he explains that taste itself is a means through which social distinction and status difference can be maintained. Relying on examples that overlap closely with Melamed’s notion of a neoliberal multicultural citizen, Bourdieu analyzes the cultural capital held by those in places of educational and status privilege. Topics like understanding cultural codes and forgetting the education that creates the difference are notable segments within this short piece. His thesis is restated in a few different places throughout the essay, but two places in particular seem to state the point clearly. In the first sentence of the second paragraph, Bourdieu states: “Whereas the ideology of charisma regards taste in legitimate culture as a gift of nature, scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education: surveys establish that all cultural practices (museum visits, concert -going, reading, etc.), and preferences in literature, painting or music, are closely linked to educational level (measured by qualifications or length of schooling) and secondarily to social origin” (1). The final sentence of the essay similarly makes his point: “That is why art and cultural consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (7).
Since my classmates have done a good job above going into this article and more of the particulars of what Bourdieu is saying, instead I’ll focus on some potential applications of this text on our exam. In terms of mapping it along with our other theory pieces, this essay connects easily to both Casanova and Melamed’s articles, as all are dealing (to varying degrees) with the economic dimensions of literature and the global reader/consumer. To some extent, Sedgwick’s article can also tie into Bourdieu’s discussion on code-reading. As far as the fiction on our list goes, I would pair this text with both Mrs. Dalloway and The House of Mirth for the discussion on artistic/other appreciations of society. Further, I could imagine writing about this text in the negative. That is, writing about a writer/text that runs counter to Bourdieu’s thesis. Maybe that would be someone outside of the canon (Boyer comes to mind), or about a character whose education does not assure their cultural status (The Sellout).
Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste was published in English in 1984.
The main thing that Bourdieu seems to focus on is the idea of “taste” and what “taste” is. Taste is the elements that influence us, like culture, or political and economic factors that determine and keep social structures complete. Bourdieu is trying to explain how the elite got to their position, and how their power and “taste” allows them to maintain those positions, which make people of lower classes, feel as if those with better taste” are from a more elite level. With this in mind, it then limits people, because they feel as if they don’t have this “taste.” In Distinction, Bourdieu states, “This predisposes tastes ti function as markers of ‘class’” (1). Clearly the idea of “taste’ is put in place in order to maintain a class system and create that tension and difference between the classes. He discusses this through the idea of art and how we engage with it, analyze, and understand the art. It’s odd how Bourdieu chooses to discuss “taste” because these elements around people is what influence them, it shouldn’t just be limited to a social system. Economic, political, and cultural factors all play a role in determining what people like or dislike, it naturally influences you. So this shouldn’t be a factor in determining your “taste” or position as an elite.
The idea of “taste” being used to influence people and maintaining a social structure relates back to capitalism. It relates to the relationship that exists between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie being the one who has the upper hand, and controls and is involved with production would be the ones who have the taste. Whereas, the ones who don’t believe they have that trait would be considered the proletariat.
One of the main literary texts you can relate this to is The Sellout by Paul Beatty. By applying Bourdieu’s idea of “taste” in relation to the social structures, you can not only relate it to Marx, but you can relate it to the relationship between the Sellout and Homini with their master and slave relationship. This could also be applied to Rankine’s Citizen, which you could also see the people with “taste” as the ones who are abusing the system, and the figures that Rankine chooses to highlight, who are not typically associated with “taste” and who is being exploited. The idea of keeping a social system in place, and the idea of an elite and lower class could also relate to House of Mirth, in which the main character, Lily, tries to make her way up the social class system.
You could argue that Federici’s “The Great Caliban” can relate to Bourdieu’s Distinction. Bourdieu discusses how “taste” determines the social class, and other you fit into the elite. This could relate to Federici and how the capitalist system exploits people, which we see between the ideas of the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. The idea of “taste” in a way exploits the people, making them feel as if they must be conformed to certain standards. This relates back to Federici because people are exploited in other ways, like labor and how that leads to their dehumanization. So you can make a connection in how the system exploits the minds of people, as well as their bodies.
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