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Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  2,068 Ratings  ·  81 Reviews

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.

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Paperback, 640 pages
Published July 1st 1987 by Harvard University Press (first published 1979)
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Dec 09, 2011 Eric rated it it was ok
Bourdieu is getting high praise here on Goodreads and, no offense, but did you read the whole thing?

Now, don't get me wrong, if I were to teach a class on aesthetics, the first chapter, an absolute masterpiece, would be required reading. But for crying out loud, read the whole thing and read it critically. There's no point in reading philosophy or sociology if you don't read it critically.

Part I, "The Aristocracy of Culture" is a masterpiece, if you ignore Bourdieu's crappy methodology. Or near
May 27, 2008 louisa rated it it was amazing
Recommended to louisa by: RWP
Shelves: theory
God, how I hate this bastard. And, god, how smart he is. I have quibbles with his methodology and instrument and the wholesale applicability of his findings outside L'Hexagone, but fuck. I might prefer Thorsten's Midwestern flair and more straightforward style, but Bourdieu has a lot of potent things to say about the myth of the natural eye and the way taste encodes and propagates social, cultural, and educational capital. You will never look at your preferences, favorites, and consumption the s ...more
Michael Sutherland
Feb 28, 2011 Michael Sutherland rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People that like drowning in prose.
Bourdieu’s distinction offers a lot. By a lot, I mean 600 pages of analyses, graphs, and studies, in some of the densest prose imaginable. Bourdieu seems to be able to expand a simple sentence’s worth of information into entire paragraphs that flow like dense molasses. Distinction does have a lot to offer, though. I am reading it as a part of a look into hipster subcultures in the United States—obviously far removed from the 1980s French society that Bourdieu analyzed; most of the figures, table ...more
Damn, it's better than you'd think to have someone tell you how bullshit the way you and everyone you know does life and how you need to watch out for internal fascism!
Aug 24, 2014 Hadrian marked it as read-parts-of
Only read the beginning and conclusion. Lots of interesting ideas here, but my internal statistician is wondering how he could draw such wide-reaching conclusions from a single set of surveys.
Bourdieu looks at cultural productions--- art, music, books ---and asks which social groups regard particular authors or painters or composers as "theirs": in other words, defining points for membership in a certain class. Aesthetic sensibility, he argues, is the means by which educational and cultural capital are converted into class markers. An aristocratic bloodline has been replaced by the 'aesthetic sensibility' as a way to define entitlement to deference in society. "Distinction" thus has ...more
Tony Gualtieri
Jan 19, 2014 Tony Gualtieri rated it it was amazing
It's dated, overlong, and the prose is convoluted; however, the insights into the social construction of taste are thought provoking. Why do we like what we like? How much of our preferences are due to class envy, education, or economic circumstances?

The final chapter, on Kant's Critique of Judgment, shows how even so-called pure aesthetics is "grounded in an empirical social relation," how pleasure itself becomes part of the way "dominant groups...ride roughshod over difference, flouts distin
Oct 23, 2012 Corey rated it liked it
Pierre Bourdieu in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste offers an ethnography of 1960s French taste. Largely, based on interviews, the research illustrates how taste is inherently judgemental and a product of, to use, Bourdieuan terms, the habitus and individual agency acting within the ‘cultural’ field. Intervieews answered questions based on preferences in taste, opinions, and something close to Bourdieu’s heart- institutional pedadgogies and knowledge, regarding movies, a ...more
Mar 01, 2011 Esme rated it it was ok
This not easy in the slightest. As one reader previously wrote: "sometimes I wish Bourdieu knew what a simple sentence was." Or something like that. The point is, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste is ridiculously dense and stuffed the very brim with analyzation and graphs and information, and reading it can be hell, but also really interesting. Just a few pages is enough to give the reader perspective and allow them to think a little differently about things. The ...more
Loubna Mckouar
When I first read this it gave me a trauma from how smart a man can be and how stupid I could get struggling with every sentence, graph, example trying to understand it within an everyday context. But hey, it's not any "everyday life" it's a Middle Eastern one. I used this guy to theorise the power of a Saudi media Mogul, his empire, his prince field, and the "others" around the same empire. Distinction is about the individual and his strategies in every single field of life. In defining the ter ...more
Marisol García
Jun 11, 2016 Marisol García rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ensayo, favorites, 2016
No es un libro fácil. Este tratado francés de sociología se presenta como tal, con cuadros y encuestas, y una prosa de frases largas y palabras inventadas (como la recurrente enclasante y sus derivados). Pero el tema que aborda es tan familiar que incluso su foco francés y ochentero (en casos y en ejemplos) resulta cercano. No podemos escapar a los criterios del gusto, ya sea observándolos en nosotros mismo o por cómo determinan a las personas a nuestro alrededor. El gusto levanta negocios y rel ...more
Oct 10, 2013 ch rated it it was ok
This book is rather shoddy in many respects. The sociological methodology is poor in several aspects and presented even more poorly - unintelligibly, at times. In general it seems that Bourdieu actually doesn't know what he's talking about. He doesn't seem to be able to pin down any classifications and when he elaborates he relies on his own shifting impressions rather than the (paucity of) data that he presents. He starts by identifying the aristocratic social order as aesthetes but seems to dr ...more
Nicole Spiegel
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste is a both dense and interesting book. Due to how long the book is it covers a lot of good points, as well as go into great detail. This could be seen as both positive and negative. It was nice because while reading this you won't feel cheated from any information but in my opinion, it was a little much. Usually out of a whole paragraph, I feel that everything could be summed up in just a few sentences.
Surprisingly it wasn't as hard to rea
Vern Glaser
Mar 07, 2010 Vern Glaser rated it liked it
This is my second exposure to Bourdieu...the writing is a little rough, but the ideas are really quite provocative and interesting...his general way of looking at the world is to suggest that we have dispositions that come from our class upbringing (he calls this the "habitus") and that these dispositions define our tastes. This is interwoven into his two-by-two matrix that talks about the difference between cultural capital and economic capital.

So in the book he is describing the results of a m
Aug 28, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
It's impossible to read this book and not see the social world differently. You'll find yourself thinking about the world around you in terms of the book's analytical imagination. Its effect is deep and lasting, and sometimes revolting. The reading has the consistency of peanut butter-sticky and dense. The abstractions come fast and the clunky prose is unrelenting. But the effort is rewarded many times over in deep disclosures of the social world around.
Allison Keilman
Mar 04, 2015 Allison Keilman rated it really liked it
A little hard to get into at first, but it speeds up as you delve into Bourdieu's research. You will likely question the relevancy of his theories in modern society, and at times feel uncomfortable with what he is saying. He really does come off as a smug elitist, but - for better or worse - some of his points still hold true today.
Luke Echo
Aug 26, 2016 Luke Echo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
yeah - I can see why this is quite influential.
Irene Lidia Wang
Nov 06, 2016 Irene Lidia Wang rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Mar 05, 2011 Sps rated it liked it
Shelves: 300s, not-portable
"What is at stake is indeed 'personality', i.e., the quality of the person, which is affirmed in the capacity to appropriate an object of quality. The objects endowed with the greatest distinctive power are those which most clearly attest the quality of the appropriation, and therefore the quality of their owner, because their possession requires time and capacities which, requiring a long investment of time, like pictorial or musical culture, cannot be acquired in haste or by proxy, and which t ...more
Gizem Kendik
Oct 05, 2013 Gizem Kendik rated it really liked it
Shelves: only-articles
Selamlar Simmel, Schutz, Adorno, Bourdieu,

Herkesler, müzik büyülü/sihirli/gökten indi dedi. Bende bir sorun var sanırım, hayatımın bir bölümünü müziksiz geçirdim ve ölmedim. O yüzden:
Biraz müzik sosyolojisi okumasına ihtiyacım vardı. Müzik soyolojisinin soruları nelerden başladım. Şunlara denk geldim: Kitlesel popülarite açısından müziğin gücü, popüler müziğin yansımaları, tüketim ilişkilerinde müziğin rolü, internet, medyanın müzik kapsamındaki etkileri ve müzik beğenilerinin günümüzdeki dayana
Damla Tosmak
Oct 16, 2016 Damla Tosmak marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sosyoloji
her ne kadar içerik açısından basit gözüken ancak dolu bir metin olsa da Bourdieu'nun dili, cümleleri iç içe girmiş olması anlamdırmak için zaman alıyor bana göre.
Etha Williams
Jul 26, 2011 Etha Williams rated it it was amazing
Well, this definitely reinforced my tendency to feel somewhat deterministic about social class, but/and I really liked it and have thought about my own social world differently ever since reading it. It goes well beyond simply discussing the narrow definition of 'aesthetic' (though it does that brilliantly) and also touches on topics such as larger questions of modes of acquiring knowledge (in particular the intellectual élite's not-disinterested distaste for pedantry and book-learning); the que ...more
Aug 13, 2016 Maria rated it really liked it
Distinction is truly a monumental read and a must, I think, not only for sociologists, but for anyone interested in the cultural, in how taste works and how class is involved. I’ve felt partly dismayed by it, partly amazed. As it’s often stressed, the correspondence analysis Bourdieu draws between cultural consumption, class and taste, can be applied to any society, not just the French. It’s really a refreshing read for keeping your opinions at bay and a case in point for seeing through and with ...more
Jul 26, 2016 Anne rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Anne by: Keith Roe
This book is a classic for sociologists, but not many have been able to read the entirety of it.

Bourdieu's ideas on the concept of 'taste', and the driving force behind it (spoiler: the economic field and the struggle of the classes within), were (and still are) quite revolutionary, despite the clear influences he refers to (Marxism, Robert Merton, etc). Bourdieu sprinkles many examples throughout the book to help you grasp his deeply theoretical book.

Despite these many examples, you might have
Oct 31, 2014 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste
Pierre Bourdieu
If you thought you knew why some things are good and others bad, read on and be exposed as the follower of fashion that you are. Chock with data. One of the key concepts here is that of habitus, a set of linked practices and beliefs which persons of a particular class, economic status, or other group hold in common. These things come in packages. If you believe or prefer this thing, then you are more likely to prefer this othe
Raúl Vázquez
Mar 17, 2015 Raúl Vázquez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
El marxismo pulula en todas las ramas académicas-humanistas: con un marco tan vasto y universal se explica la historia de la humanidad y punto, no necesitamos más. Pero (y esta es la duda que plantea Bourdieu, la cuál ya había sido sembrada por Gramsci) ¿la dominación sólo se ejerce a través de las relaciones de producción? ¿No estamos pasando por alto que las desigualdades así como violencia inherente a estas también se ejercen en un plano símbolico? ¿Que también se insertan en ese campo irregu ...more
Fred R
May 17, 2012 Fred R rated it really liked it
I think Bourdieu's genius is held back by certain aspects of French culture. High-brow French thinkers exist in a rarified world where cultural production is so sophisticated that its personal (as opposed to theoretical) effects and purposes are almost entirely concealed, and therefore have this sense that all cultural production is arbitrary. This leaves them vulnerable to over-simplified Marxist explanations. In reality, the competition he discovers as the basis of aesthetic production and app ...more
Mar 31, 2010 Magnus rated it liked it
Having started reading this book in high school I never actually have been to be able to finish it. The wording is confusing, the thoughts sometimes to complex for normal minds, and the structure of the sentence pure madness. Therefore, I must confess my sins of not feeling myself able to finish this book. Anyways, the main interests of this book is not so much on what it says to us now, but more to make us, in hindsight, appreciate the development of Bordieu`s philosophy.

for anyone interested
Sep 17, 2011 John rated it really liked it
This book was long and slow going, and 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. However, many of the insights were surprisingly relevant, decades later and a world away. To me, the postscript, one of the most brilliant essays I've ever read, is more than worth the effort of slogging through the many boring parts that precede it.
Michael Mena
Jun 28, 2016 Michael Mena rated it it was amazing
Utterly profound work. This book should only be attempted by those very familiar Bourdieu and basic knowledge in statistics will be useful as you will be asked to read many, many multiple correspondence analysis diagrams. Unfortunately, even though I would consider myself a somewhat advanced bourdieu reader, parts of this book were still above my comprehension. I will attempt this book again in a couple years!
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Bourdieu pioneered investigative frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, and the concepts of habitus, field or location, and symbolic violence to reveal the dynamics of power relations in social life. His work emphasized the role of practice and embodiment or forms in social dynamics and worldview construction, often in opposition to universalized Western philo ...more
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“The radical questionnings announced by philosophy are in fact circumscribed by the interests linked to membership in the philosophical field, that is, to the very existence of this field and the corresponding censorships.” 5 likes
“Those who suppose they are producing a materialist theory of knowledge when they make knowledge a passive recording and abandon the “active aspect” of knowledge to idealism, as Marx complains in the theses on Feuerbach, forget that all knowledge, and in particular all knowledge of the social world, is an act of construction implementing schemes of thought and expression, and that between conditions of existence and practices or representations there intervenes the structuring activity of the agents, who, far from reacting mechanically to mechanical stimulations, respond to the invitations or threats of a world whose meaning they have helped to produce.” 4 likes
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