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Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste [Paperback]

Pierre Bourdieu , Richard Nice
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 1984 0674212770 978-0674212770

No judgement of taste is innocent. In a word, we are all snobs. Pierre Bourdieu brilliantly illuminates this situation of the middle class in the modern world. France's leading sociologist focusses here on the French bourgeoisie, its tastes and preferences. Distinction is at once a vast ethnography of contemporary France and a dissection of the bourgeois mind.

In the course of everyday life people constantly choose between what they find aesthetically pleasing and what they consider tacky, merely trendy, or ugly. Bourdieu bases his study on surveys that took into account the multitude of social factors that play a part in a Frenchperson's choice of clothing, furniture, leisure activities, dinner menus for guests, and many other matters of taste. What emerges from his analysis is that social snobbery is everywhere in the bourgeois world. The different aesthetic choices people make are all distinctions-that is, choices made in opposition to those made by other classes. Taste is not pure. Bourdieu finds a world of social meaning in the decision to order bouillabaisse, in our contemporary cult of thinness, in the "California sports" such as jogging and cross-country skiing. The social world, he argues, functions simultaneously as a system of power relations and as a symbolic system in which minute distinctions of taste become the basis for social judgement.

The topic of Bourdieu's book is a fascinating one: the strategies of social pretension are always curiously engaging. But the book is more than fascinating. It is a major contribution to current debates on the theory of culture and a challenge to the major theoretical schools in contemporary sociology.

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Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste + Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison + The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction
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Editorial Reviews


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)

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674212770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674212770
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) was one of the most influential social scientists of the twentieth century. A professor of sociology at the Collège de France, he is the author of thirty-six books, including Distinction, named one of the twentieth century's ten most important works of sociology.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
151 of 152 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read! April 3, 2004
By malvais
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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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant look at the social implications of taste September 11, 2000
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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86 of 103 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars read it for the diagrams October 28, 2000
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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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have read on this topic June 9, 1997
By A Customer
While the text is academic and sometimes rather heavy going, Pierre Bourdieu has written a clear-eyed, erudite exposition on class and taste: how taste is judged by various classes and how heavily choices based on "taste" can weigh in a sociological sense
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening April 10, 2000
This book contains a really interesting theory about the way that groups of people make different choices because of their position relative to other groups. Stated so simply it perhaps doesn't sound so exciting - but it is. It is one of those books that changed the way I look at life. I took from it an analytical framework which I use to give me amusing insights into behavior.
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26 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bourdieu hates taste. May 10, 2000
Pierre Bourdieu in the philosophe (probably more than the sociologue) of determinism. According to him all our acts are led by social pressures. And this is why this book is so interesting. Even if he sometimes go too far, he shows in a brilliant way, that what we consider today natural is definitely cultural. Our tastes in food drink, music, cinema... do not depend on us but on our social background. Perfect conterpoint of today simplification and illusion of freedom, this book reminds us that "what is true is probably too complicated"(P.Valery).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A heavy, thorough and important read.
Published 8 days ago by Mesquite
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Interesting
I had to read this for my theory class and was surprised at how interesting it turned out to be. I actually kept the book (! Read more
Published 1 month ago by Adella
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic
What can I say? This is maybe the most important piece of social theory written in the last 40 years. A bit dense, but a great read, and a beautiful book.
Published 2 months ago by M. Forstrom
4.0 out of 5 stars A must for anyone who likes sociology and is interested in class...
During my college years Bourdieu was one of my favourite things to read. His theory isn't too dry, I find, and if you're studying sociology or are interested in class relations... Read more
Published 9 months ago by G. Manuel
5.0 out of 5 stars Distinction a social critique of the judgment of taste
Great book if you want to read taste on Bourdieu. This book is very interesting. I read it two times.
Published 15 months ago by AE
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for Canon theorists
This is a must-read for Canon Theory specialists. I used it in as a primary source in my doctoral dissertation in the field.
Published 16 months ago by Dr. Christopher M. Minio
3.0 out of 5 stars Kinda Busted
A slightly busted book that fell apart after only a few weeks. It was received on time but was not exactly what I thought I was getting as far as condition went. Thanks...
Published 17 months ago by amariah hash
5.0 out of 5 stars Iconic Bourdieu
This book is probably Bourdieu's best known one. It is a fascinating read for scholars and the general public alike. It will make you fall in love with Pierre Bourdieu. Amazing!
Published 17 months ago by Lara
5.0 out of 5 stars I get it now!
A fantastic, thorough and intriguing look at why we like the things we like and how taste is developed among social groups. Read more
Published on November 17, 2011 by R. Fitzsimmons
4.0 out of 5 stars This book was long and slow going.
I found most of the descriptions of the characteristics of the various classes, based on surveys in France during the 60s and 70s, to be dull. Read more
Published on October 25, 2011 by Miles
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