La Distinction
La Distinction is a book by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu
Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher.Starting from the role of economic capital for social positioning, Bourdieu pioneered investigative frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, and the concepts of habitus, field or location,...

 (1930–2002), based on Bourdieu's empirical research
Empirical research
Empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Empirical evidence can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively...

 on French culture. Taken from studies conducted by Bourdieu in 1963 and concluded in 1967-68, the book was originally published in France in 1979. Richard Nice translated the work into English, and it appeared in the United States in 1984 under the title Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. In 1998 the International Sociological Association
International Sociological Association
International Sociological Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to scientific purposes in the field of sociology and social sciences...

 voted it one of the ten most important sociological books of the 20th century.


In his often densely worded prose, Bourdieu discusses how those in power
Power (sociology)
Power is a measurement of an entity's ability to control its environment, including the behavior of other entities. The term authority is often used for power perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to...

 define aesthetic
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste...

 concepts such as taste. Referring to surveys of French citizens from different economic and educational backgrounds, he shows how social class
Social class
Social classes are economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, economists, anthropologists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'...

 tends to determine a person's likes and interests, and how distinction
*Distinction may refer to:* Distinction is a social force that places different values on different individuals....

s based on social class get reinforced in daily life. He observes that even when the subordinate classes may seem to have their own particular idea of good taste, "the working-class 'aesthetic' is a dominated 'aesthetic' which is constantly obliged to define itself in terms of the dominant aesthetics..."


Bourdieu claims that aesthetic choices both create class-based social groups or "class fractions," and actively distance people in one class from another. Predispositions to certain kinds of food, music, and art are instilled at an early age in children and guide them to their appropriate social positions, by forcing them to internalize a preference for objects and behaviors that are suitable for them and an aversion towards the preferred objects and behaviors of other classes. When an individual encounters the culture or art of another class, he or she feels "disgust provoked by horror or visceral intolerance (‘feeling sick’) of the tastes of others."

Taste is an important example of how class fractions are determined not only by social and economic capital, but also cultural capital
Cultural capital
The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets; they may be educational or intellectual, which might promote social mobility beyond economic means....

, a more insidious mechanism for ensuring social
Social reproduction
Social reproduction is a sociological term referring to processes which sustain or perpetuate characteristics of a given social structure or tradition over a period of time....

 and cultural reproduction
Cultural reproduction
Cultural reproduction is the transmission of existing cultural values and norms from generation to generation. Cultural reproduction refers to the mechanisms by which continuity of cultural experience is sustained across time...

. Because tastes are learned early and internalized to such a high degree, they are much more difficult to change and thus tend to permanently mark people of certain classes and impede their social mobility
Social mobility
Social mobility refers to the movement of people in a population from one social class or economic level to another. It typically refers to vertical mobility -- movement of individuals or groups up from one socio-economic level to another, often by changing jobs or marrying; but can also refer to...

. In this way, the tastes of the dominant class tend to dominate those of the other classes, forcing individuals in economically and culturally dominated class strata to conform to certain aesthetic preferences at the risk of appearing crude, vulgar, or tasteless.

External links

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