Bourdieu supports that people’s taste or preference is developed from various social influences. It not a genetic disposition, it is a condition formed using different social sources. This taste eventually becomes the yardstick by which they are measured or the category that identifies their place in the society. This classification or distinctions are self-nurtured. In other words, it persists because people continue to believe in them. This makes taste a representation of a person and social weapon. It is what identifies who is supposed to be respected and ignored, who are genuine and who are just posing, and who deserves attention and who does not. The most physical outlet of taste is apparel but Bourdieu emphasizes that the concept extends to every choice one makes including food, jobs, music, and others.
Formation and Reproduction of Class Distinction
Bourdieu's comprehensive interpretation of consumer behaviour is a further exploration of his lifelong sociological project. He constructed a social framework that seeks to understand how human beings that are supposed to be programmed to make individual decisions and choices end up making decisions based on social influences. There has been many other exploration on social behaviour and how it affects consumerism including Marx and Durkheim. Mark and Durkheim argue that social class and powerful institutions are the primary drivers of one’s decisions even when those two are well outside of the consciousness. Schutz formed the social phenomenology while Garfinkel believed that decisions are mostly driven by common sense based on how one intends to survive. Bourdieu intended to transcend all these analysis by establishing that people form their principles and opinions based on social factors. These external inputs become the map that guides the decision. These influences are regularly summoned for social divisions to be maintained (Bourdieu 1990, pp. 125-26).
Bourdieu believes that interaction between people and society, consumers and sellers are complementary rather than oppositional. The exchange of good or the process of consumerism is a world grounded on power that is determined by the size of one’s wealth or possession. There are different kinds of wealth but the most valuable is financial or material and cultural.
The financial capital, naturally, is the most outright expression of one’s ability to own something or make something happen. Cultural wealth, on the other hand, pertains to skills, education, contributions to society or achievements, and connections. Cultural wealth is valuable because it is almost impossible to be taken away and it cannot be bought. It may be acquired through family and through relationships and achievements.
Mobilization of Capital
The upper class or those who have more financial power are often associated with expensive cultural items such as opera, white collar jobs, travel, and art. Their association with these items also give these items the distinction of the legitimate sources of power. Often, this results to the middle and lower class expressing disdain over it. They, in turn, create their own cultural items, items that they tag as more sincere and more personal. However, the mere creative of alternative art forms or forms of entertainment only reinforces their position in the society and affirms the power and influence of the upper class over the mainstream culture.
This system is not always acknowledged, of course. The cycle has been such a familiar occurrence that hardly anyone every bothers to acknowledge its existence. The middle class or the new rich, for example, will most likely struggle to transition toward the higher forms of art but will be refused on the old forms of art. As a result, they will create their own cultural art forms and their own product. These, however, will not rise to the level of the legitimate culture. As a result, a new culture has formed altogether, one that caters to those who is not down there but not yet high up there.
The persistence of social division is reliant on the people that believe in them. As new generations come, the desire to alter the prevailing frameworks, beliefs and practices are natural. These attempts to alter the status quo are not always intentional. In fact, the people involved in this struggle are not always aware of the violence they are inflicting. These struggles often involve the definition or re-definition of what is legitimate, middlebrow, and mainstream. Naturally, those who have the greater amount of capital win. They end up possessing the control to dictate what is socially accepted, what can never be seen and what things are to remain alternative.
Symbolic violence may be more common today than ever. Alternative media forms such as the internet and alternative TV programs are instilling new styles, new beliefs, new social norms. They do this by getting already influential entities to advocate the change or by visually romanticizing their concept. Make over shows like What Not To Wear, Fashion Runway and other reality programs are creating new social divisions.
Bourdieu reinforces the concept of a self-sustaining social structure. It has no beginning and no end which makes it harder to knock down. Cultural frameworks are strengthened as it is passed on from generations to generation. Taste is the primary method by which social division is preserved. As individuals continue to develop the preference for certain things and disdain towards others, the concept of social class will continue.
The social and financial capital both serve to afford someone to subscribe to certain styles and for as long as money is used as the primary tool in owning things, those who are on the upper class will remain there and will continue to keep their influence.
Bourdieu, P. 1979. Distinctions. A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Conclusion. 1984, translated by Richard Nice, published by Harvard University Press, 1984, 604pp. – selected from pp. 466-484.
… Knowledge Policy, proofed/corrected this html version (1) by comparing it with a .pdf image of the article from a book found at: The Eltan Burgos School of Economics. First published: Bourdieu, P. (1986) The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (New York, Greenwood), 241-258.
McRobbie, A., 2005. Post Feminism and Popular Culture, Feminist Media Studies. 4(3): 255–64
Tyler, I., 2008. Chav Mum, Chav Scum: Class Disgust in Contemporary Britain, Feminist Media Studies, 8 (1), 17-34