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Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

4.3 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674212770
ISBN-10: 0674212770
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Editorial Reviews

Review

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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 613 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (January 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674212770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674212770
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 (!) although the bookstore was offering me $50 for it and if that doesn't tell you something about this work, I don't know what will. Bourdieu outlines some very interesting concepts and analyzes them in detail, concepts that I've used time and time again for literary analysis. Is it maybe an oversimplification of culture and how we behave? Sure. But we are social creatures, and this book beautifully argues for some of the extensive conditioning we've internalized, without being aware of it.
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Format: Paperback
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 this is a good book to start with. There's not much I can say besides that!
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