Distinction Book Summary By Pierre Bourdieu

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

Distinction is a game-changing book in the field of sociology.

Written by research mastermind Pierre Bourdieu, this 1979 sociological masterpiece presents groundbreaking theories about the relationship between taste and class.

This book is renowned for its empirical investigation, which thoroughly drills down on a number of important topics, from social discrepancy to symbolic power.

It's also well known for introducing new concepts that have since become staples in the social sciences.

All in all, it's an essential work of twentieth century sociology that should not be missed.

Distinction Book

Book Name: Distinction (A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste)

Author(s): Pierre Bourdieu

Rating: 4.5/5

Reading Time: 46 Minutes

Categories: Society & Culture

Author Bio

Renowned academic Pierre Bourdieu was one of the most influential sociologists of the twentieth century.

He was an esteemed professor at Paris' School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences and Collège de France, where his vast knowledge touched upon a broad array of topics from education sociology to aesthetics.

The Goffman Prize from the University of California, Berkeley, a Huxley Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute and Médaille d'Or awarded to him by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique are just some of his impressive accolades.

Understand The Origins Of Your Tastes And Determine What They Say About You

Tastes And Determine

Distinction, a book by Pierre Bourdieu, offers a groundbreaking theory about the relationship between taste and class.

According to Bourdieu, there is an underlying connection between our likes and dislikes and our standing in society.

Our tastes – from the clothes we wear to the newspapers we read to the art we appreciate – are all connected in some way to our class structure.

Bourdieu’s study focuses on how economic capital affects cultural capital through a process he calls ‘cultural reproduction’.

He finds that those with high economic status tend to have better access to cultural capital and thus greater influence on what is considered ‘good’ taste by those lower down the socio-economic ladder.

Therefore, those with more economic power often experience greater acceptance and success in their social circles if they conform to certain tastes deemed appropriate for their class level.

In Distinction, readers can gain a deeper understanding of how class influences what we like and don’t like, as well as how this influences how other people view us.

Through showing how our personal likes reveal something about ourselves and our social standing, Bourdieu sheds light on one of the most interesting issues surrounding class today.

It’s a fact that people associate different tastes with different social classes.

We often think of our social class as being organized into a hierarchy with low, middle, and high classes – and for the most part, each of these categories come with its own set of preferences in terms of leisure activities, music, and art.

For example, someone from the working class is likely to enjoy watching wrestling matches or going to amusement parks while someone from a higher social class may prefer attending classical music concerts or visiting galleries and museums.

What’s more, certain types of tastes carry more prestige than others.

The cultural elite, which includes opinion makers such as academics and artists, exert a great influence on what we consider “refined” or “legitimate” taste.

On the lower end of the spectrum are the “popular” tastes of the working class.

While some cultures do have universal tastes that remain constant across time periods, the details tend to vary depending on ethnicity, gender, age and geographic location.

For instance, those living in trendy cities are likely to have more fashionable tastes than individuals living in small towns.

In short, it’s clear that we associate different tastes with different social classes – but there can be many variations within any given culture at any given period in history.

Common Sense Gives Us The Key To Understanding Taste And Class

In order to scientifically understand the tastes of people, it is important to take into account their everyday ways of thinking about them.

This is especially relevant when it comes to studying a social phenomenon like taste, which often relates to ideas of class.

For example, observations of French elites in the 1960s reveal how what was considered an acceptable leisure activity was defined by one’s position in society.

Attending a circus was viewed as beneath those in the elite class, whereas attending an opera performance was considered something that befitted their status.

This same experiment conducted on members of the working class would have elicited a different response – preferring the circus over the opera because it was seen as more suitable for their level in society.

It is this understanding of how people respond based upon preconceived notions and conceptions that must be taken into consideration when seeking to fully comprehend tastes and preferences.

Therefore, looking beyond just common sense can help us analyze taste more thoroughly and accurately.

How Our Ideas Of Taste And Class Help Shape The Reality Of Society

Ideas Of Taste

In the book Distinction, the author outlines how people’s conceptions of taste and class heavily influence the realities of these two ideas.

People’s ideas about taste and class actually help shape those realities in their own lives.

This can be illustrated through the example of French elites’ attraction to the opera but aversion to circuses.

The idea here is that as more people associated opera as an elite activity, so too did it become one; likewise for the circus and working-class activity.

Through a kind of feedback loop, elite people go to operas while working-class people frequented circuses – this reinforced their beliefs on which class engaged in which leisure activity.

Over time, this forms part of what marks out each distinct class: what they choose to consume (in terms of entertainment or luxury items), where they go, etc., are all shaped ultimately by their beliefs about taste and class.

Therefore, our views on tastes and classes are far from inconsequential – rather, they help construct societies by guiding our behaviors and reinforcing identities among social groups over time.

Bourdieu’S Hypothesis Clarifies The Intricate Relationship Between Class And Taste

Pierre Bourdieu, a sociologist of the 1960s, developed a hypothesis regarding the relationship between taste and class.

Based on intuitive understanding of class and taste that separated into discrete levels—working-class “popular” tastes, middle-class “middle-brow” tastes, and upper-class “bourgeois” and cultural elite’s “legitimate” tastes—Bourdieu set out to find empirical data to study the correlation they shared.

He conducted research using surveys in order to collect data from a variety of people from different classes with different levels of taste in order to understand the relationships between them.

With his research he was able to identify how these two worlds were related, but more importantly how individuals who ascribed to one world also defined themselves within another one—for example upper-class people who also belonged to the cultural elite and had legitimate taste, or intellectuals and artists with working class or middle class backgrounds who still enjoyed the higher stature of having legitimate tasteful appreciation for literature and cinema.

Bourdieu was then able to further refine our intuition about the relationship between taste and class by defining who was higher on an overall scale; either within members belonging in distinct classes as well as crossing over between these classes.

His work helps us to better comprehend not only why we have different ideas concerning taste based on our social standing but how it can ultimately help form realities that are self-fulfilling prophecies.

We Misrecognize Our Practical Knowledge When Tackling Complex Social Issues Like Taste And Class

Have you ever heard the idea that taste and class come down to knowledge rather than money? It’s a concept that has been thrown around for decades, but haven’t you ever wondered just how deep it truly goes? According to Distinction Book Summary, our notions about taste and class represent a “misrecognized” form of practical knowledge– a type of understanding which consists of facts and observations based on everyday experience.

This means that even if our understanding of how class affects us or why certain food or artwork is judged as preferable over others is a bit foggy, we still know what to do in order to make the right decisions.

Take the example of someone who wants to stay informed on art and artist preferences in the elite circles.

They’ll need practical knowledge of art: knowing which paintings are considered good or bad by other members in elite society.

That way, they can make choices and judgments themselves without ever needing an intricate explanation for why those judgments are made.

As long as their decision meets societal standards, then their practical knowledge is “correct” according to social standards – and thus their understanding remains misrecognized from scientific or sociological perspectives.

The Theory Of Taste And Class: Going Beyond A One-Dimensional Hierarchy To Investigate Capital Volume, Composition, And Social Trajectory

Theory Of Taste

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu hypothesized that taste and class could be understood in terms of a three-dimensional space, rather than the one-dimensional line suggested by our everyday conversations.

According to this theory, there are three elements that allow us to understand class and taste – volume of capital, composition of capital, and social trajectory.

Volume of capital is the sum total of your economic and cultural capital.

This means that it includes both money and possessions, but also how you present yourself to other people – your lifestyle, education or credentials all contribute to your volume of capital as well.

Composition of capital looks at what proportion of your wealth comes from economic resources compared to cultural ones.

Depending on which category makes up a larger percentage of an individual’s wealth will affect their class standing in different ways.

For example, a high amount of economic capital may come off as “old money” while a larger share of cultural capital could be seen as “new money.”

Reaping The Benefits Of Capital Reconversion Strategies For Your Social Trajectory

It is widely accepted that our overall social status reflects both our economic and cultural capital.

This means that how well-off we are in terms of money, as well as the level of education and knowledge we possess, affects where we fit in society.

Knowing this interplay between economic and cultural capital puts us at an advantage because it allows us to convert one type of capital into the other.

For example, if you come from a wealthy family but lack the educational credentials, you could use your inherited wealth to put yourself through university and make up for your deficiency in cultural capital.

Likewise, if you possess a high level of knowledge regarding literature or art but have limited funds, you may be able to find work as an instructor or tutor to convert your cultural capital into financial gain.

This entire process is known as a “capital reconversion strategy.”

Besides commingling two types of capital to convert them into their complimentary counterpart, such strategies can also affect our overall volume of existing capital.

In the end this can even change one’s social trajectory since membership and acceptance within different levels or classes of society often require both economic and cultural forms of asset accumulation.

The Need For Capital Reconversion Strategies To Preserve Social Status

It is a well-known fact that in order to protect and improve their social status, people often convert both economic and cultural capital into each other.

This holds true even when large segments of society are lumped together in terms of general categories such as “working class” or “middle class”, as different individuals within these groups often have varying levels and types of capital.

Class fractions—or groups of people with shared levels and compositions of capital—emerge within traditional social classes.

An example might be farmer sons who possess a certain level of economic capital but whose family’s farming business has started to decline.

In such cases, the sons may try to change their job in order to maintain their relative position in the social hierarchy by converting the existing economic capital into cultural capital by getting a university degree, for instance.

By doing this, they gain access to new professions like office work or engineering that bring higher returns and stability than farming does in its current state.

People’s Tastes Reflect Their Positions In The Social Hierarchy

Social Hierarchy

One of the key findings in Distinction is that the class position one holds within the three-dimensional space of the social hierarchy impacts their tastes and preferences.

This is based on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory wherein each individual occupies a position in terms of volume and composition of capital, which defines their place in the social order.

The three dimensions mentioned are economic capital, cultural capital, and symbolic capital.

Those with high volumes of economic capital couple it with low amounts of cultural or symbolic capital to create a distinct class fraction or subset within their general class placement.

In contrast, those with higher levels of cultural capital will possess lower levels of economic or symbolic capital.

In Bourdieu’s vision, each group should have its own unique taste profile reflective of their relative standing in the social structure.

For instance, university lecturers and artists would exist within a similar location on this X-Y graph – having modest but higher than average overall volume of combined economic and cultural capital – resulting in similar tastes related to artistic expression and education respectively.

In contrast, lower-level executives and shopkeepers would have differing compositions primarily composed by greater levels of economic capital than cultural or symbolic; leading to different tastes more closely linked to money making and practicality than art appreciation or educational backgrounds.

Social Trajectory Adds An Important Dimension To Understanding Class And Taste

Taste and class can often be correlated.

But if we want to understand this relationship in greater detail, then we need to understand the role that social trajectory plays.

Social trajectory is essentially a third dimension, beyond volume of capital and composition of capital, that can affect our tastes.

To illustrate this point, let’s look at two middle-class men who occupy similar positions on the X-Y graph.

For example, Pierre and Bruno might both have modest incomes and some cultural capital (such as having decent degrees).

However, the way their lives have changed over time, in terms of their social trajectories, will affect the types of tastes they display.

For instance, Pierre might still prefer the ornate antique furniture he grew up with while Bruno favors simpler utilitarian furniture from his childhood home.

It’s also worth noting that when a class fraction is subject to an upward or downward trajectory – like when someone moves up or down in socio-economic standing – it also affects their taste preferences.

This is why upwardly mobile people might engage in conspicuous consumption: buying luxury goods primarily for status signaling purposes rather than functional ones.

So by exploring how social trajectory shapes tastes and class distinctions – understanding how our class backgrounds shape our taste preferences over time – we can gain more insight into the correlations between these two aspects of society.

Bourdieu’S Hypothesis Is Confirmed Through His Surveys

Pierre Bourdieu’s hypothesis was that one’s tastes should match their volume of capital, composition of capital, and social trajectory.

To test this, he conducted two surveys – in 1963 and then again in 1967-68 – to get a comprehensive picture of the tastes and class backgrounds of a broader range of French society.

The survey questionnaire asked questions about the respondents’ class background (e.g., occupations, income levels, education levels) as well as their tastes (furniture styles, music preferences, opinions on modern art).

At the same time, interviewers made observations about their clothing choices and other attributes.

In the end, Bourdieu’s data confirmed his hypothesis: it showed that people’s tastes were heavily dictated by their class backgrounds.

His X-Y graph indicated that those with similar positions often had similar sets of taste if they had similar trajectories.

So yes – Pierre Bourdieu’s survey results confirmed his hypothesis!

People’s Tastes Are Shaped By The Material Conditions Of Their Class Positions

People's Tastes

People’s tastes and preferences are shaped by the material conditions of their class position.

This means that what we like and dislike, from food to clothing, can be traced back to an underlying material basis.

For example, in 1960s France working-class men had a preference for meals that were filling and nutritionist, as well as clothing that was low-cost but hardwearing due to their involvement in manual labor.

Similarly, a person’s income can greatly determine their food preferences; those with a higher income may choose more expensive ‘gourmet’ meals while those with lower incomes may opt for cheaper dishes instead.

There are also psychological factors at play here; desires for physical strength due to manual labor could expose working-class men to certain types of food.

The key takeaway here is that it isn’t by chance that people’s tastes cluster around different classes – there are tangible elements at play behind it.

People’s tastes are influenced by the material conditions of their social status which make each individual selection unique based on where they fit in society.

The Power Of Habitus: Understanding How Social Conditions Shape Taste And Lifestyle Decisions

At the core of every person’s likes and dislikes lies their habitus.

This term is used by philosopher Pierre Bourdieu to refer to the underlying logic that dictates a person’s lifestyle choices.

It reflects how they value substance over form, making decisions about what foods to eat, clothes to wear and even which films to watch according to the utility each will provide rather than the esthetics.

In practical terms, this might mean relying on cheap but filling foods or buying sturdy clothing instead of fashionable outfits.

For entertainment options, it means sticking with movies that have straightforward plots and likeable characters rather than those with avant-garde narrative structures or experimental film-editing techniques.

The habitus is an important concept for understanding why people make the decisions they do about elements of their daily lives – from food to clothing and beyond.

At its root, a person’s tastes are informed by their habitus and it explains why certain lifestyle choices are made over others.

The Habitus Of The Cultural Elite Is Defined By Their Refined Tastes That Mark Them As Members Of The Elite

The affluent members of the cultural elite often utilize their wealth to mark themselves off from people of other classes by establishing specific tastes related to food, clothing, and culture.

This gives them a sense of superiority as they can differentiate between high-end products and ordinary ones better than people from other social strata.

For example, appreciating the formal, aesthetic elements of a painting requires one to know what distinguishes it from other works in its category.

A person would have to invest time in learning art history and theories related to esthetics in order to recognize which details make a piece of artwork distinctive.

This education is usually passed on through parents or informal visits to museums and homes filled with artwork.

By having this knowledge and “refined” taste for higher culture, elites are able to identify themselves as belonging in the upper class.

Tastes regarding culture serves as a way for elites to distinguish themselves from others economically and socially.

The finer points these privileged individuals learn allow them to categorize artifacts into those suited for simply living life vs those associated with affluence.

In doing so they create an atmosphere that reinforces that they are, indeed, part of the elite class.

Bourdieu’S Theory Of Taste And Class Illuminates How Our Tastes Allow Us To Distinguish Ourselves And Others According To Social Standing

Taste is a powerful social tool that can be used to make class distinctions.

Pierre Bourdieu famously argued that the tastes of different classes correspond to one another, enabling people to identify, delineate, and distinguish themselves and others in terms of class.

Bourdieu argued that our sense of taste guides how we look and act in terms of class.

In other words, what we wear, eat, and which events we attend are informed by our sense of taste.

Meanwhile, those same preferences are recognizable by others as having distinct lower or higher-class associations.

For example, upper-class people will often have hairstyles or dress codes that differ from the middle class, who may themselves have distinct ways of dressing compared to the working class.

As a result, members of a certain class can not only recognize their own lifestyle choices as belonging to their particular group; they can also tell who does not belong – simply through recognizing differences in taste.

In simpler terms: taste acts as a way for us to make distinctions between classes in society.

It enables us to identify and classify different layers in society based on shared experiences related to cultural tastes and social backgrounds.

With this level of clarity comes an understanding that even within the same broad socio-economic categories exist variances created by personal expression.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.