Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste

Text

'We'd seen a lot of mediocre stuff'

The dining-room tables and chairs, mahogany, 18th-century English style, were bought in London as soon as they were married. 'I don't know if we'd do the same thing today… I can't remember why we bought them, but from a bourgeois point of view they must be a good investment.' After visiting many antique shops, they 'finally chose something very expensive. It would have cost twice as much in Paris. We'd seen a lot of mediocre stuff and decided we didn't like it. Importing the furniture 'was no problem. It's exempt from custom duties. You just have to pay VAT [value-added tax].' In the living-room they have some modern and some old furniture, a bookcase from Roche-Bobois, a sofa from a shop in Le village suisse….

Michel's car is 'only an old Peugeot 404', whereas his bosses 'have got Jaguars, the director of the agency has an Alfa-Romeo, a Lancia'. 'From time to time they say, “So you aren't trading it in?” They'd be relieved if I got a new car. They're afraid I'll visit clients in my car.'

Commentary

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's major study La Distinction. Critique sociale du jugement (1979) was first published in English in 1984 as Distinction. A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. It resulted from an extensive survey of the French population undertaken in the 1960s, which set out to study how taste operated. Through a large number of interviews and questionnaires, organised by social categories based on the French national educational system, Bourdieu and his team assembled data on how people lived, and their likes and dislikes in a number of areas of cultural practice, including food and fine and performance arts. The study was to have a profound impact on Arts and Humanities disciplines in the years to follow, although subsequent interpretations are divided on the extent to which Bourdieu's study was intended to unmask prevailing middle-class tastes and the preoccupations of what he called the 'petit-bourgeoisie' at the level of critique.

Important to Bourdieu's method were key concepts which he outlined in theoretical sections. These included those of cultural capital, distinction and habitus. The latter referred to a set of dispositions through which taste became manifest. In this, the domestic interior and the arrangement of people's homes were central and subsequently the study gives many detailed descriptions of actual interiors.

p.298
The Sense of Distinction
'A Young Executive Who 'Knows How to Live'
Bourdieu commented on the following extract:
“All these interviews ….. were carried out in 1974, with the aim of collecting, as systematically as possible, the most significant features of each of the life-styles that had emerged from analysis of the survey, which had already reached a fairly advanced stage.”




Themes

Consumer Practices
Social Position
Identities

Dominant Representational Strategies

Elements

Dwelling

Type
Residential
Detail
Other / Unknown
Apartment
Historical Terminology
Specified Social Level
Upper Middle

Activities

Type
Commercial
Hygiene and Upkeep
Detail
Buying
Decorating

Rooms

Type
Dining Room
Historical Terminology

Inhabitants

Type
People
Detail
Children
Adults
Male
Female

Objects

Type
Furniture
Detail
Seating
Supporting, Storage and Display

Bibliography

Direct Cross-References

Indirect Cross-References

Names
Bourdieu, Pierre
Date(s)
1979
Country
France
Historical Region
Description
Format
Book
Type
Genre
Other Non-Fictional Prose
Publication
Bourdieu, Pierre, Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste, Nice, Richard (trans.), Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE, 1989, pp. 298-9.
Copyright
This translation copyright by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and Routledge & Kegan Paul 1984.
Location
Record ID
JA2053