Pierre Bourdieu: Taste and Class
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Sociology|
|✅ Wordcount: 2416 words||✅ Published: 19th Jul 2018|
‘Taste, a class culture turned into nature, that is, embodied, helps to shape the class body. It follows that the body is the most indisputable materialization of class taste’ (Bourdieu, 1984: 190). Do you agree with Bourdieu’s statement about the importance of social class to embodiment?
Not only do I disagree with Bourdieu’s statement as presented above, it is my contention that this does not accurately represent the intention and focus of Bourdieu. For not only do I disagree that class is central to embodiment, rather believing that all forms of social differentiation – class, ethnicity, age and gender – are embodied, but that Bourdieu himself believed that it is gender that provides the models for the other, therefore secondary, forms of social differentiation. To support my argument, I first provide a brief outline of Bourdieu’s theory of social practice, discussing the relationship between class and embodiment within it. Next I examine Chris Schillings’ interpretation of Bourdieu, demonstrating that, in common with other theorists, Schilling interpreted Bourdieu as being ultimately concerned with class as an axis of social differentiation, thereby ignoring the role of gender in his theory: that even as Schilling seeks to extend Bourdieu’s theory to include gender, ethnicity and age his interpretation is fundamentally flawed.
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In the final section I contest this class-focussed interpretation of Bourdieu by arguing that, following Beate Krais, by examining both his later work and his early ethnography it is evident that gender is a primary concern in his work: that Bourdieu believes that gender provides the model for all other forms of social differentiation. However, whereas Bourdieu seems pessimistic regarding the individual’s ability to resist their class or gender differentiation, the women interviewed by Beverley Skeggs (1997) actively resisted their class position, even as they were shaped by it. In the conclusion I summarise my argument that not only are other social differentiations of central importance to embodiment – namely gender, age, and ethnicity – gender was of central importance to Bourdieu, providing the model for other forms of differentiation, before concluding that work still needs to be done before age and ethnicity can be adequately incorporated into Bourdieu’s schema.
Embodiment and Social Class in the Work of Bourdieu
In this section I first briefly outline Bourdieu’s theory of social practice, and then discuss the relationship between class and embodiment within it, before then examining Chris Schillings’ (1994) account of Bourdieu. I argue that Schilling focuses on Bourdieu’s class analysis, in common with many other theorists, and therefore misses the way in which Bourdieu is ultimately concerned with gender as a form of social differentiation. Pierre Bourdieu developed his theory of cultural capital and social practice with Jean-Claude Passeron in France in the 1970s, as part of an effort to explain class-based differences in educational achievement. In his theory the forms of capital – cultural, social and economic – interact to mask the way in which social hierarchies are reproduced. Cultural capital is, for Bourdieu, divided into three subcategories; ‘embodied’, ‘objectified’ and ‘institutionalised’. Embodied capital is imbued during the period of socialisation, is linked to the body, and represents ‘external wealth converted into an integral part of the person’ (Bourdieu, 1986: 244-5): whether an individuals’ accent, their taste for opera, or their preference for rugby over football this form of capital ‘cannot be accumulated beyond the appropriating capacity of an individual agent [and] remains marked by its earliest conditions of acquisition’ (Bourdieu, 1986: 245). Objectified capital refers to goods such as paintings, antiques and fine wines; objectified capital thus entails both the material wealth needed to own such items and the embodied capital needed to ‘consume’ them. Institutionalised capital is those academic qualifications which enable an individual to exchange between cultural and economic capital, while social capital are those friendships and networks which enable an individual to ‘produce and reproduce lasting, useful relationships that can secure material or symbolic profits’ (Bourdieu, 1986: 249. The three forms of capital combine to produce a persons habitus, or set of preferences and predispositions.
Class is thus central to Bourdieu’s theory of embodiment; within his schema the financial, educational, social and cultural resources of an individual shape not only their ‘taste’ but also their life chances:
Taste, a class culture turned into nature, that is, embodied, helps to shape the body. It is an incorporated principle of classification which governs all forms of incorporation, choosing and modifying everything that the body ingests and digests and assimilates, physiologically and psychologically’ (Bourdieu, 1999: 190, my emphasis added).
Finally, embodiment is central to his theory; for it is via the process of socialization that the dynamics of power are written onto the very bodies of the individual (Bourdieu, 1999: 190). Schilling argues that Bourdieu does not engage with the body as simultaneously social and biological, but rather concentrates on its ‘unfinishedness’ at birth (Schilling, 1994: 128): that ‘acts of labour are required to turn bodies into social entities and that these acts influence how people develop and hold the physical shape of their bodies’ (Schilling, 1994: 128). Schilling stresses the way in which Bourdieu argues that social class imprints on the body of an individual by focussing on the way people’s taste for food both marks their class position and affects their bodies:
Bodies develop through the interrelation between an individual’s social location [their class-based material circumstances], habitus and taste. These factors serve to naturalize and perpetuate the different relationships that social groups have towards their bodies (Schilling, 1994: 130).
Similar readings have resulted in Bourdieu’s theory being criticized for being essentialist; John Frow argues that Bourdieu simply ‘reads off’ an individuals culture from their class position (Frow, 1995: 63). Or that his theory is therefore deterministic; in that it minimizes the ability of the individual to shape their own destiny. Finally, such a reading of Bourdieu leads one to conclude that he prioritized the role of class in society, thus minimizing the effects of other forms of differentiation, such as gender, ethnicity and age:
the conflict between classes is of greatest importance to Bourdieu’s work, and attempts by the dominant classes to define lower class body implicating activities as ‘crude’, or attempts on the part of the working classes to define upper class practices as ‘pretentious’, occupy a prominent place in his book on French life, Distinction (1984) (Schilling, 1994: 141).
Yet I would contend that Schilling has misinterpreted Bourdieu’s theory; that whilst it is true that in his middle years – of which Distinction forms a part – he did focus on the dynamics of class in society and as it is written on the body of the individual, however in Bourdieu’s early ethnography his focus was instead on the primary differentiation of gender, and it was to this concern that he returned in his later years.
Gender as the Primary Form of Social Differentiation for Bourdieu
In this section I argue, in agreement with Beate Krais (2006), that gender is a primary concern in the work of Bourdieu: that he believes it is gender that provides the model for all other forms of social differentiation. However, whereas Bourdieu seems unduly pessimistic regarding the individual’s ability to resist their class social differentiation, the women interview by Skeggs (1997) actively resisted their class positioning even as they were shaped by it. However, she provides little evidence of these women’s attempts to resist their gender.
Beate Krais argues that gender is ‘one of the most powerful classifications’ for Bourdieu (Krais, 2006: 120) and that he chooses his early ethnography in Algeria for inclusion in his 2001 Masculine Domination, as among the Kabylia at this time there existed ‘practically no other form of social differentiation’ (Krais, 2006: 120). She demonstrates that, for Bourdieu, it is the social construction of femininity and masculinity that first ‘shapes the body, defines how [it] is perceived […] and thus determines an individuals identity’ (Krais, 2006: 121). This interpretation is borne out by my reading of Bourdieu when he discusses the Kabylia: ‘the opposition between male and female is realized in posture, in the gestures and movements of the body’ (Bourdieu, 1999a: 70). He continues: ‘classificatory schemes through which the body is practically apprehended are always grounded twofold, both in the social division of labour and in the sexual division of labour’ (Bourdieu: 1999a: 72). Thus Bourdieu argues that social differentiation according to gender is both universal and historically constant: ‘the same system of classificatory schemes is found, in its essential features, through the centuries and across economic and social differences’ (Bourdieu, 2001: 82).
However, Krais goes on to criticise him for presenting gender as ‘hermetic and indestructible’; that by using the example of such a traditional society, rather than that of a modern society such as that of France or Britain, he misses the role of gender as a site of ‘open and political struggle’ (Krais, 2006: 123). Yet Bourdieu’s pessimism seems borne out by the work of Beverley Skeggs (1997), in that the women she interviewed, whilst resisting their class position do not appear to resist their gender: ‘in the women’s claims for a caring/ respectable/ responsible personality class was rarely directly figured but was constantly present. It was the structuring absence’ (Skeggs, 1997: 74, my emphasis added); although she argues that ‘gender and class are inseparable. The women never see themselves as just women; it is always read through class’ (Skeggs, 1997: 91), she provides little evidence of the way in which these women resist their gender: each seems keen to position themselves as gendered individuals, as women, even as they deny their class.
In conclusion, not only do I disagree that class is central to embodiment, rather believing that all forms of social differentiation – class, ethnicity, age and gender – are embodied, but that Bourdieu himself believed that gender provides the models for the other, therefore secondary, forms of social differentiation. Many have accused Bourdieu of economic determinism, taking his theory of the three forms of capital to prioritise the role of class in creating social inequality. However, for Bourdieu ‘capital’ is both metaphoric and materialistic and should be viewed as similar to power (Ashall, 2004: 24): although Bourdieu believes that all of the forms of capital can be converted into economic capital, for him none are reducible to it (Bourdieu, 1986: 243).
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Embodiment is central within his theory, for it is in this way that social differentiation becomes incorporated into – shapes and delineates – the body, as made evident through his focus on food and sport in Distinction. Although much of his writing is concerned with the operation of class throughout society, by examining his early ethnography in Algeria, and his later use of this material in Masculine Domination, we can see that he believed gender to be the model for all other forms of social differentiation, and therefore central to his work. One next must ask how other forms of social differentiation, namely age and ethnicity, can be incorporated into his theory, for though Schilling argues that this can be done by taking his definition of class in its broadest sense (Schilling, 1994: 147) this would appear to damage the sociological understanding and definition of both class and gender. What is needed is a way to conceptualise how the differing forms of social differentiation interact.
Ashall, Wendy (2004) ‘Masculine Domination: Investing in Gender?’ Studies in Social and Political Thought, Vol. 9, pp. 21-39, available URL at http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/SPT/journal/archive/pdf/issue9-2.pdf, date accessed 25/11/06.
Bourdieu, Pierre (2001) Masculine Domination, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1999) ‘The Habitus and the Space of Life-Styles’, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, London: Routledge, pp. 169-225.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1999a) ‘Belief and the Body’, The Logic of Practice, Cambridge: Polity, pp. 66-79.
Bourdieu, Pierre and Passeron, Jean-Claude (1998) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (2nd Edition), London: Sage.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1986) ‘The forms of Capital’ in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, London: Greenwood Press, pp. 241-258.
Frow, John (1995) ‘Accounting for Tastes: Some Problems in Bourdieu’s Sociology of Culture’, Cultural Studies, Vol. 1(No. 1), pp. 59-73.
Krais, Beate (2006) ‘Gender, Sociological Theory and Bourdieu’s Sociology of Practice’, Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 23, (No. 6), pp. 119-134.
Schilling, Chris (1994) ‘The Body and Physical Capital’, The Body and Social Theory, London: Sage, pp. 127-149.
Skeggs, Beverley (1997) ‘(Dis)identifications of Class: On Not Being Working Class’, Formations of Gender: Becoming Respectable, London: Sage, pp. 74-97.
 Bourdieu, Pierre and Passeron, Jean-Claude (1998) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (2nd Edition), London: Sage.
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