A social critique of the judgement of taste, P Bourdieu

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Content: A Social Critique of Judgement of Taste Classes and Classifications
Pierre Bourdieu
Taste is an acquired disposition to
`differentiate' and `appreciate', as Kant
says -- in other words, to establish and
mark differences by a process of dis-
tinction which is not (or not necessar-
ily) a distinct knowledge, in Leibniz's
meaning and value of the chosen practice
sense, since it ensures recognition (in
or thing will probably be, given their dis-
the ordinary sense) of the object without
tribution in social space and the practi-
implying knowledge of the distinctive
cal knowledge the other agents have of
features which define it. The schemes of
the correspondence between goods and
the habitus, the primary forms of classi-
groups.
fication, owe their specific efficacy to the
fact that they function below the level of
Thus, the social agents whom the
sociologist classifies are producers not
only of classifiable acts but also of acts of
classification which are themselves clas-
sified. Knowledge of the social world has
to take into account a practical knowl-
edge of this world which pre-exists it
and which it must not fail to include in
its object, although, as a first stage, this
knowledge has to be constituted against
the partial and interested representa-
tions provided by practical knowledge.
To speak of habitus is to include in the
object the knowledge which the agents,
who are part of the object, have of the ob-
ject, and the contribution this knowledge
makes to the reality of the object. But it
is not only a matter of putting back into
Embodied social structures
the real world that one is endeavouring to
know, a knowledge of the real world that
contributes to its reality (and also to the
This means, in the first place, that
force it exerts). It means conferring on
social science, in constructing the social
this knowledge a genuinely constitutive
world, takes note of the fact that agents
power, the very power it is denied when,
are, in their ordinary practice, the subjects
in the name of an objectivist conception
of acts of construction of the social world;
of objectivity, one makes common knowl-
but also that it aims, among other things,
to describe the social genesis of the prin-
ciples of construction and seeks the basis
of these principles in the social world.
Breaking with the anti-genetic prejudice
which often accompanies recognition of
the active aspect of knowledge, it seeks
in the objective distributions of proper-
ties, especially material ones (brought to
light by censuses and surveys which all
presuppose selection and classification),
the basis of the systems of classification
which agents apply to every sort of thing,
not least to the distributions themselves.
In contrast to what is sometimes called
the `cognitive' approach, which, both in
its ethnological form (structural anthro-
schemes, which receive the beginnings of
pology, ethnoscience, ethnosemantics,
objectification in the pairs of antagonis-
ethnobotany etc.) and in its sociological
tic adjectives commonly used to classify
form (interactionism, ethnomethodology
and qualify persons or objects in the most
etc.), ignores the question of the genesis
varied areas of practice. The network of
of mental structures and classifications,
oppositions between high (sublime, ele-
social science enquires into the relation-
vated, pure) and low (vulgar, low, mod-
ship between the principles of division
est), spiritual and material, fine (refined,
and the social divisions (between the
elegant) and coarse (heavy, fat, crude,
brutal), light (subtle, lively, sharp, adroit)
and heavy (slow, thick, blunt, laborious,
clumsy), free and forced, broad and nar-
row, or, in another dimension, between
unique (rare, different, distinguished, ex-
clusive, exceptional, singular, novel) and
common (ordinary, banal, commonplace,
trivial, routine), brilliant (Intelligent) and
dull (obscure, grey, mediocre), is the ma-
trix of all the commonplaces which find
such ready acceptance because behind
them lies the whole social order. The
network has its ultimate source in the
opposition between the `elite' of the dom-
inant and the `mass' of the dominated, a
contingent, disorganized multiplicity, in-
terchangeable and innumerable, existing
polar positions, whether in the field of the
only statistically. These mythic roots only
dominant class, organized around an op-
have to be allowed to take their course
position homologous to the opposition
in order to generate, at will, one or an-
constituting the field of the social class-
other of the tirelessly repeated themes of
es, or in the field of cultural production,
the eternal sociodicy, such as apocalyptic
which is itself organized around opposi-
denunciations of all forms of `levelling',
tions which reproduce the structure of the
`trivialization' or `massification', which
dominant class and are homologous to it
(e.g., the opposition between bourgeois
and avant-garde theatre). So the funda-
mental opposition constantly supports
second, third or nth rank oppositions
(those which underlie the `purest' ethical
or aesthetic judgements, with their high
or low sentiments, their facile or difficult
notions of beauty, their light or heavy
styles etc.), while euphemizing itself to
the point of misrecognizability.
Thus, the opposition between the
heavy and the light, which, in a number
of its uses, especially scholastic ones,
serves to distinguish popular or pet-
it-bourgeois tastes from bourgeois tastes,
can be used by theatre criticism aimed
at the dominant fraction of the domi-
of the system of self-evidences and pre-
nant class to express the relationship
suppositions that are taken for granted in
between `Intellectual' theatre, which is
the field in relation to which the speakers'
condemned for its `laborious' pretensions
strategies are defined. But each of the
and `oppressive' didacticism, and `bour-
couples specified by usage has for un-
geois' theatre, which is praised for its tact
dertones all the other uses it might have
and its art of skimming over surfaces. By
-- because of the homologies between
contrast, `Intellectual' criticism, by a
the fields which allow transfers from one
field to another -- and also all the other
couples which are interchangeable with
it, within a nuance or two (e.g., fine/crude
for light/heavy), that is, in slightly differ-
ent contexts.
The fact that the semi-codified op-
positions contained in ordinary language
reappear, with very similar values, as the
basis of the dominant vision of the social
world, in all class-divided social forma-
tions (consider the tendency to see the
`people' as the site of totally uncontrolled
appetites and sexuality) can be under-
stood once one knows that, reduced to
their formal structure, the same funda-
mental relationships, precisely those or constantly arising from the meetings
which express the major relations of or-
and interactions of everyday life, the so-
der (high/low, strong/weak etc.) reappear
cial order is progressively inscribed in
in all class-divided societies. And the
people's minds. Social divisions become
recurrence of the triadic structure stud-
principles of division, organizing the im-
ied by Georges Dumйzil, which Georges
age of the social world. Objective limits
Duby shows in the case of feudal society
become a sense of limits, a practical an-
to be rooted in the social structures it le-
ticipation of objective limits acquired by
gitimates, may well be, like the invariant
experience of objective limits, a `sense of
one's place' which leads one to exclude
oneself from the goods, persons, places
and so forth from which one is excluded.
The sense of limits implies forget-
ting the limits. One of the most important
effects of the correspondence between
real divisions and practical principles
of division, between social structures
and mental structures, is undoubtedly
the fact that primary experience of the
social world is that of doxa, an adher-
ence to relations of order which, because
they structure inseparably both the real
world and the thought world, are ac-
cepted as self-evident. Primary percep-
is opposed to a taxonomy based on explic-
tion of the social world, far from being
it and explicitly concerted principles in
a simple mechanical reflection, is always
the same way that the dispositions con-
an act of cognition involving principles
stituting taste or ethos (which are dimen-
of construction that are external to the
sions of it) are opposed to aesthetics or
constructed object grasped in its imme-
ethics. The sense of social realities that
diacy; but at the same time it is an act
is acquired in the confrontation with a
of miscognition, implying the most abso-
particular form of social necessity is what
makes it possible to act as if one knew the
structure of the social world, one's place
within it and the distances that need to
be kept.
The practical mastery of classifi-
cation has nothing in common with the
reflexive mastery that is required in or-
der to construct a taxonomy that is si-
multaneously coherent and adequate to
social reality. The practical `science' of
positions in social space is the compe-
tence presupposed by the art of behaving
comme il faut with persons and things
that have and give `class' ('smart' or `un-
smart'), finding the right distance, by a
sort of practical calculation, neither too
close (`getting familiar') nor too far (`be-
used to situate oneself in social space or
ing distant'), playing with objective dis-
to place others, the sense of social space,
tance by emphasizing it (being `aloof',
like every practical sense, always refers
`stand-offish') or symbolically denying it
to the particular situation in which it has
(being `approachable,' `hobnobbing'). It
to orient practices. This explains, for ex-
in no way implies the capacity to situate
ample, the divergences between surveys
oneself explicitly in the classification (as
of the representation of the classes in a
so many surveys on social class ask peo-
small town (`community studies') and sur-
veys of class on a nation-wide scale. But
if, as has often been observed, respond-
ents do not agree either on the number
of divisions they make within the group
in question, or on the limits of the `strata'
and the criteria used to define them, this
is not simply due to the fuzziness inher-
ent in all practical logics. It is also be-
cause people's image of the classification
is a function of their position within it.
So nothing is further removed from
an act of cognition, as conceived by the
intellectualist tradition, than this sense
of the social structure, which, as is so
well put by the word taste -- simultane-
ously `the faculty of perceiving flavours'
riences. The elementary actions of bodily
and `the capacity to discern aesthetic val-
gymnastics, especially the specifically
ues' -- is social necessity made second
sexual, biologically pre-constructed as-
nature, turned into muscular patterns
pect of it, charged with social meanings
and bodily automatisms. Everything
and values, function as the most basic of
takes place as if the social conditionings
metaphors, capable of evoking a whole
linked to a social condition tended to
relationship to the world, `lofty' or `sub-
inscribe the relation to the social world
missive', `expansive' or `narrow', and
through it a whole world. The practical
`choices' of the sense of social orienta-
tion no more presuppose a representation
of the range of possibilities than does
the choice of phonemes; these enacted
choices imply no acts of choosing. The
logocentrism and intellectualism of in-
tellectuals, combined with the prejudice
inherent in the science which takes as
its object the psyche, the soul, the mind,
consciousness, representations, not to
mention the petit-bourgeois pretension
to the status of `person', have prevent-
ed us from seeing that, as Leibiniz put
it, `we are automatons in three-quarters
of what we do', and that the ultimate
values, as they are called, are never an-
ything other than the primary, primitive
dispositions of the body, `visceral' tastes
and distastes, in which the group's most
vital interests are embedded, the things
on which one is prepared to stake one's
own and other people's bodies. The sense
of distinction, the discretio (discrimina-
tion) which demands that certain things
consciousness and language, beyond the
reach of introspective scrutiny or control
by the will. Orienting practices practi-
cally, they embed what some would mis-
takenly call values in the most automatic
gestures or the apparently most insignif-
icant techniques of the body -- ways of
walking or blowing one's nose, ways of
eating or talking -- and engage the most
fundamental principles of construction
and evaluation of the social world, those
which most directly express the division
of labour (between the classes, the age
groups and the sexes) or the division of
the work of domination, in divisions be-
tween bodies and between relations to
the body which borrow more features
than one, as if to give them the appear-
ances of naturalness, from the sexual di-
vision of labour and the division of sexu-
al labour. Taste is a practical mastery of
distributions which makes it possible to
sense or intuit what is likely (or unlikely)
to befall -- and therefore to befit -- an
individual occupying a given position in
edge or theoretical knowledge a mere re-
social space. It functions as a sort of so-
flection of the real world.
cial orientation, a `sense of one's place',
guiding the occupants of a given place in
Those who suppose they are produc-
social space towards the social positions
ing a materialist theory of knowledge
adjusted to their properties, and towards
when they make knowledge a passive re-
the practices or goods which befit the
cording and abandon the `active aspect'
occupants of that position. It implies a
of knowledge to idealism, as Marx com-
practical anticipation of what the social
plains 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 be-
tween conditions of existence and prac-
tices 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.
However, the principle of this structuring
activity is not, as an intellectualist and
anti-genetic idealism would have it, a
system of universal forms and categories
generations, the sexes etc.) on which they
but a system of internalized, embodied
are based, and into the variations of the
schemes which, having been constitut-
use made of these principles according to
ed in the course of collective history, are
the position occupied in the distributions
acquired in the course of individual his-
(questions which all require the use of
tory and function in their practical state,
statistics).
for practice (and not for the sake of pure
knowledge).
The cognitive structures which so-
cial agents implement in their practical
knowledge of the social world are inter-
nalized, `embodied' social structures. The
practical knowledge of the social world
that is presupposed by `reasonable' be-
haviour within it implements classifica-
tory schemes (or `forms of classification',
`mental structures' or `symbolic forms'
-- apart from their connotations, these
expressions are virtually interchange-
able), historical schemes of perception
and appreciation which are the prod-
uct of the objective division into class-
es (age groups, genders, social classes)
and which function below the level of
consciousness and discourse. Being the
identify the decline of societies with the
product of the incorporation of the funda-
decadence of bourgeois houses, i.e., a fall
mental structures of a society, these prin-
into the homogeneous, the undifferentiat-
ciples of division are common to all the
ed, and betray an obsessive fear of num-
agents of the society and make possible
ber, of undifferentiated hordes indifferent
the production of a common, meaningful
to difference and constantly threatening
world, a common-sense world.
to submerge the private spaces of bour-
geois exclusiveness.
All the agents in a given social for-
mation share a set of basic perceptual
The seemingly most formal oppo-
sitions within this social mythology al-
ways derive their ideological strength
from the fact that they refer back, more
or less discreetly, to the most fundamen-
tal oppositions within the social order:
the opposition between the dominant
and the dominated, which is inscribed
in the division of labour, and the opposi-
tion, rooted in the division of the labour
of domination, between two principles
of domination, two powers, dominant
and dominated, temporal and spiritual,
material and intellectual etc. It follows
that the map of social space previously
put forward can also be read as a strict
simple inversion of values, expresses the
table of the historically constituted and
relationship in a scarcely modified form
acquired categories which organize the
of the same opposition, with lightness,
idea of the social world in the minds of
identified with frivolity, being opposed
all the subjects belonging to that world
to profundity. Similarly, it can be shown
and shaped by it. The same classificatory
that the opposition between right and left,
schemes (and the oppositions in which
which, in its basic form, concerns the re-
they are expressed) can function, by be-
lationship between the dominant and the
ing specified, in fields organized around
dominated, can also, by means of a first
transformation, designate the relations
between dominated fractions and domi-
nant fractions within the dominant class;
the words right and left then take on a
meaning close to the meaning they have
in expressions like `right-bank' theatre or
`left-bank' theatre. With a further degree
of `de-realization', it can even serve to
distinguish two rival tendencies within
an avant-garde artistic or literary group,
and so on.
It follows that, when considered in
each of their uses, the pairs of qualifi-
ers, the system of which constitutes the
conceptual equipment of the judgement
oppositions in which the relationship of
of taste, are extremely poor, almost in-
domination is expressed, simply a nec-
definite, but, precisely for this reason,
essary outcome of the intersection of the
capable of eliciting or expressing the
two principles of division which are at
sense of the indefinable. Each particular
work in all class-divided societies -- the
use of one of these pairs only takes on its
division between the dominant and the
full meaning in relation to a universe of
dominated, and the division between the
discourse that is different each time and
different fractions competing for domi-
usually implicit -- since it is a question
nance in the name of different principles,
bellatores (warriors) and oratores (schol-
ars) in feudal society, businessmen and
intellectuals now.
Knowledge without Concepts
Thus, through the differentiated and
differentiating conditionings associated
with the different conditions of existence,
through the exclusions and inclusions,
unions (marriages, affairs, alliances etc.)
and divisions (incompatibilities, sepa-
rations, struggles etc.) which govern the
social structure and the structuring force
lute form of recognition of the social order.
it exerts, through all the hierarchies and
Dominated agents, who assess the value
classifications inscribed in objects (espe-
of their position and their characteris-
cially cultural products), in institutions
tics by applying a system of schemes of
(for example, the educational system)
perception and appreciation which is the
or simply in language, and through all
embodiment of the objective laws where-
the judgements, verdicts, gradings and
by their value is objectively constituted,
warnings imposed by the institutions
tend to attribute to themselves what the
specially designed for this purpose, such
distribution attributes to them, refusing
as the family or the educational system,
what they are refused ('that's not for the
likes of us'), adjusting their expectations
to their chances, defining themselves as
the established order defines them, re-
producing in their verdict on themselves
the verdict the economy pronounces on
them, in a word, condemning themselves
to what is in any case their lot, ta heaut-
ou, as Plato put it, consenting to be what
they have to be, `modest', `humble' and
`obscure'. Thus the conservation of the
social order is decisively reinforced by
what Durkheim called `logical conform-
ity,' i.e., the orchestration of categories of
perception of the social world, which, be-
ple to do), still less to describe this clas-
ing adjusted to the divisions of the estab-
sification in any systematic way and state
lished order (and thereby to the interests
its principles.
of those who dominate it) and common to
all minds structured in accordance with
The practical `attributive judgement'
those structures, present every appear-
whereby one puts someone in a class by
ance of objective necessity.
speaking to him in a certain way (there-
by putting oneself in a class at the same
The system of classificatory schemes
time) has nothing to do with an intellec-
tual operation implying conscious refer-
ence to explicit indices and the imple-
mentation of classes produced by and
for the concept. The same classificatory
opposition (rich/poor, young/old etc.) can
be applied at any point in the distribution
and reproduce its whole range within any
of its segments (common sense tells us
that one is always richer or poorer than
someone, superior or inferior to someone,
more right-wing or left-wing than some-
one -- but this does not entail an ele-
mentary relativism).
It is not surprising that it is possi-
ble to fault the practical sense of social
in a lasting, generalized relation to one's
space which lies behind class-attribu-
own body, a way of bearing one's body,
tive judgement; the sociologists who use
presenting it to others, moving it, making
their respondents' self-contradictions as
space for it, which gives the body its so-
an argument for denying the existence
cial physiognomy. Bodily hexis, a basic
of classes simply reveal that they under-
dimension of the sense of social orienta-
stand nothing of how this `sense' works
tion, is a practical way of experiencing
or of the artificial situation in which they
and expressing one's own sense of social
are making it work. In fact, whether it is
value. One's relationship to the social
world and to one's proper place in it is
never more clearly expressed than in the
space and time one feels entitled to take
from others; more precisely, in the space
one claims with one's body in physical
space, through a bearing and gestures
that are self-assured or reserved, expan-
sive or constricted (`presence' or `insig-
nificance') and with one's speech in time,
through the interaction time one appro-
priates and the self-assured or aggres-
sive, careless or unconscious way one
appropriates it.
There is no better image of the logic
be brought together and others kept apart,
of socialization, which treats the body as
which excludes all misalliances and all
a `memory-jogger', than those complexes
unnatural unions -- i.e., all unions con-
of gestures, postures and words -- sim-
trary to the common classification, to the
ple interjections or favourite clichйs --
diacrisis (separation) which is the basis of
which only have to be slipped into, like
collective and individual identity -- re-
a theatrical costume, to awaken, by the
sponds with visceral, murderous horror,
evocative power of bodily mimesis, a uni-
absolute disgust, metaphysical fury, to
verse of ready-made feelings and expe-
everything which lies in Plato's `hybrid
zone', everything which passes under-
standing, that is, the embodied taxonomy,
which, by challenging the principles of
the incarnate social order, especially the
socially constituted principles of the sex-
ual division of labour and the division of
sexual labour, violates the mental order,
scandalously flouting common sense.
Advantageous Attributions
The basis of the pertinence principle which is implemented in perceiving the social world and which defines all the characteristics of persons or things which can be perceived, and perceived as positively or negatively interesting, by all those who apply these schemes (another definition of common sense), is based on nothing other than the interest the individuals or groups in question have in recognizing a feature and in identifying the individual in question as a member of
the set defined by that feature; interest in
the aspect observed is never completely
independent of the advantage of observ-
ing it. This can be clearly seen in all the
classifications built around a stigmatized
feature which, like the everyday opposi-
tion between homosexuals and heterosex-
uals, isolate the interesting trait from all
the rest ( i.e., all other forms of sexuality),
which remain indifferent and undifferen-
tiated. It is even clearer in all `labelling
judgements', which are in fact accusa-
tions, categoremes in the original Aristo-
telian sense, and which, like insults, only
wish to know one of the properties consti-
tuting the social identity of an individual
or group (`You're just a ...'), regarding, for
example, the married homosexual or con-
verted Jew as a `closet queen' or covert
Jew, and thereby in a sense doubly Jew-
ish or homosexual. The logic of the stig-
ma reminds us that social identity is the
stake in a struggle in which the stigma-
tized individual or group, and, more gen-
erally, any individual or group insofar as
he or it is a potential object of categori-
manage to forget, between the art of con-
zation, can only retaliate against the par-
vincing and the art of persuading, it is
tial perception which limits it to one of
clear that scholastic usage of language is
its characteristics by highlighting, in its
to the orator's, advocate's or politician's
self-definition, the best of its character-
usage what the classificatory systems
istics, and, more generally, by struggling
devised by the logician or statistician
to impose the taxonomy most favourable
concerned with coherence and empirical
to its characteristics, or at least to give to
adequacy are to the categorizations and
categoremes of daily life. As the etymolo-
gy suggests, the latter belong to the logic
of the trial. Every real inquiry into the di-
visions of the social world has to analyse
the interests associated with membership
or non-membership. As is shown by the
attention devoted to strategic, `frontier'
groups such as the `labour aristocracy',
which hesitates between class struggle
and class collaboration, or the `cadres', a
category of bureaucratic statistics, whose
nominal, doubly negative unity conceals
its real dispersion both from the `inter-
ested parties' and from their opponents
and most observers, the laying down of
boundaries between the classes is in-
spired by the strategic aim of `counting counterpose, who fight over them while
in' or `being counted in', `cataloguing' or
striving to turn them to their own advan-
`annexing', when it is not the simple re-
tage. Georges Duby shows how the model
cording of a legally guaranteed state of
of the three orders, which fixed a state of
the power relation between the classified
the social structure and aimed to make it
groups.
permanent by codifying it, was able to be
used simultaneously and successively by
Leaving aside all cases in which
antagonistic groups: first by the bishops,
the statutory imposition of an arbitrary
who had devised it, against the heretics,
the monks and the knights; then by the
aristocracy, against the bishops and the
king; and finally by the king, who, by set-
ting himself up as the absolute subject of
the classifying operation, as a principle
external and superior to the classes it
generated (unlike the three orders, who
were subjects but also objects, judges
but also parties), assigned each group its
place in the social order, and established
himself as an unassailable vantage-point.
In the same way it can be shown that the
schemes and commonplaces which pro-
vide images of the different forms of dom-
ination, the opposition between the sexes
and age-groups. as well as the opposition
ity) the readier they are to break with the
between the generations, are similarly
irresponsible behaviour assigned to them
manipulated. The `young' can accept the
and, freeing themselves from the inter-
definition that their elders offer them,
nalized limits (those which may make a
take advantage of the temporary licence
50-year-old feel `too young reasonably
they are allowed in many societies (`Youth
to aspire' to a position or an honour), do
must have its fling'), do what is assigned
not hesitate to push forward, `leap-frog'
to them, revel in the `specific virtues' of
and `take the escalator' to precipitate
their predecessors' fall into the past, the
outdated, in short, social death. But they
have no chance of winning the struggles
over the limits which break out between
the age-groups when the sense of the lim-
its is lost, unless they manage to impose
a new definition of the socially complete
person, including in it characteristics
normally (i.e., in terms of the prevailing
classificatory principle) associated with
youth (enthusiasm, energy and so on) or
characteristics that can supplant the vir-
tues normally associated with adulthood.
In short, what individuals and groups
invest in the particular meaning they give
to common classificatory systems by the
use they make of them is infinitely more
within and for the purposes of the strug-
than their `interest' in the usual sense of
gle between social groups; in producing
the term; it is their whole social being,
concepts, they produce groups, the very
everything which defines their own idea
groups which produce the principles and
of themselves, the primordial, tacit con-
the groups against which they are pro-
tract whereby they define `us' as opposed
duced. What is at stake in the struggles
to `them', `other people', and which is the
about the meaning of the social world is
basis of the exclusions (`not for the likes
power over the classificatory schemes
and systems which are the basis of the
representations of the groups and there-
fore of their mobilization and demobili-
zation: the evocative power of an utter-
ance which puts things in a different light
(as happens, for example, when a single
word, such as `paternalism', changes the
whole experience of a social relationship)
or which modifies the schemes of percep-
tion, shows something else, other prop-
erties, previously unnoticed or relegated
to the background (such as common in-
terests hitherto masked by ethnic or na-
tional differences); a separative power, a
distinction, diacrisis, discretio, drawing
discrete units out of indivisible continui-
ty, difference out of the undifferentiated.
of mental structures.
Only in and through the struggle do
the internalized limits become bound-
Systems of classification would not
aries, barriers that have to be moved.
be such a decisive object of struggle if
And indeed, the system of classificatory
they did not contribute to the existence
schemes is constituted as an objectified,
of classes by enhancing the efficacy of
institutionalized system of classification
the objective mechanisms with the re-
only when it has ceased to function as
inforcement supplied by representations
structured in accordance with the classi-
fication. The imposition of a recognized
name is an act of recognition of full so-
cial existence which transmutes the thing
named. It no longer exists merely de fac-
to, as a tolerated, illegal or illegitimate
practice, but becomes a social function,
i.e., a mandate, a mission (Beruf), a task,
a role -- all words which express the
difference between authorized activity,
which is assigned to an individual or
group by tacit or explicit delegation, and
mere usurpation, which creates a `state
of affairs' awaiting institutionalization.
But the specific effect of `collective rep-
resentations', which, contrary to what the
Durkheimian connotations might sug-
relation to the structure of the distribution
gest, may be the product of the applica-
of capital, and more precisely, it is the
tion of the same scheme of perception or
time-lag (partly resulting from the inertia
a common system of classification while
inherent in classification systems as qua-
still being subject to antagonistic social
si-legal institutions sanctioning a state
uses, is most clearly seen when the word
of a power relation) between changes in
precedes the thing, as with voluntary
jobs, linked to changes in the productive
associations that rum into recognized
apparatus, and changes in titles, which
professions or corporate defence groups
creates the space for symbolic strategies
aimed at exploiting the discrepancies be-
tween the nominal and the real, appropri-
ating words so as to get the things they
designate, or appropriating things while
waiting to get the words that sanction
them; exercising responsibilities without
having entitlement to do so, in order to
acquire the right to claim the legitimate
titles, or, conversely, declining the mate-
rial advantages associated with devalued
titles so as to avoid losing the symbolic
advantages bestowed by more prestigious
labels or, at least, vaguer and more ma-
nipulable ones; donning the most flatter-
ing of the available insignia, verging on
imposture if need be -- like the potters
and properties that are already classified
who call themselves `art craftsmen', or
(as vulgar or distinguished, high or low,
technicians who claim to be engineers
heavy or light etc. -- in other words, in
-- or inventing new labels, like physio-
the last analysis, as popular or bourgeois)
therapists (kinйsйthйrapeutes) who count
according to their probable distribution
on this new title to separate them from
between groups that are themselves clas-
mere masseurs and bring them closer
sified. The most classifying and best clas-
to doctors. All these strategies, like all
sified of these properties are, of course,
those which are overtly designated to
function as signs of distinction or marks
of infamy, stigmata, especially the names
and titles expressing class membership
whose intersection defines social identity
at any given time -- the name of a nation,
a region, an ethnic group, a family name,
the name of an occupation, an education-
al qualification, honorific titles and so on.
Those who classify themselves or others,
by appropriating or classifying practices
or properties that are classified and clas-
sifying, cannot be unaware that, through
distinctive objects or practices in which
their `powers' are expressed and which,
being appropriated by and appropriate
to classes, classify those who appropri-
ate them, they classify themselves in the
uncovering `laws' -- that is, significant (in
eyes of other classifying (but also clas-
the sense of non-random) relationships
sifiable) subjects, endowed with classifi-
between distributions -- and, on the oth-
catory schemes analogous to those which
er hand, the aim of grasping, not `reality',
enable them more or less adequately to
but agents' representations of it, which
anticipate their own classification.
are the whole `reality' of a social world
conceived `as will and representation'.
Social subjects comprehend the so-
In short, social science does not
have to choose between that form of so-
cial physics, represented by Durkheim
-- who agrees with social semiology in
acknowledging that one can only know
`reality' by applying logical instruments
of classification -- and the idealist semi-
ology which, undertaking to construct `an
account of accounts', as Harold Garfin-
kel puts it, can do no more than record
the recordings of a social world which is
ultimately no more than the product of
mental, i.e., linguistic, structures. What
we have to do is to bring into the science
of scarcity, and of competition for scarce
goods, the practical knowledge which the
agents obtain for themselves by produc-
object of mental representations, reduces
ing -- on the basis of their experience
the social world to the sum of the (mental)
of the distributions, itself dependent on
representations which the various groups
their position in the distributions -- di-
have of the theatrical performances put
visions and classifications which are
on by the other groups, has the virtue of
no less objective than those of the bal-
insisting on the relative autonomy of the
ance-sheets of social physics. In other
logic of symbolic representations with
words, we have to move beyond the oppo-
respect to the material determinants of
sition between objectivist theories which
socio-economic condition. The individ-
ual or collective classification struggles
aimed at transforming the categories of
perception and appreciation of the social
world and, through this, the social world
itself, are indeed a forgotten dimension
of the class struggle. But one only has
to realize that the classificatory schemes
which underlie agents' practical rela-
tionship to their condition and the rep-
resentation they have of it are themselves
the product of that condition, in order to
see the limits of this autonomy. Position
in the classification struggle depends on
position in the class structure; and social
subjects -- including intellectuals, who
are not those best placed to grasp that
which defines the limits of their thought
of the social world , that is, the illusion
of the absence of limits -- are perhaps
never less likely to transcend `the limits
of their minds' than in the representa-
tion they have and give of their position,
which defines those limits.
the dominant taxonomy the content most flattering to what it has and what it is.
Those who are surprised by the par-
adoxes that ordinary logic and language
engender when they apply their divisions
to continuous magnitudes forget the par-
adoxes inherent in treating language as
a purely logical instrument and also for-
get the social situation in which such a
relationship to language is possible. The
contradictions or paradoxes to which or-
dinary language classifications lead do
not derive, as all forms of positivism sup-
pose, from some essential inadequacy of
ordinary language, but from the fact that
these socio-logical acts are not directed
towards the pursuit of logical coherence
and that, unlike philological, logical
or linguistic uses of language -- which
ought really to be called scholastic, since
they all presuppose schole, i.e., leisure,
distance from urgency and necessity, the
absence of vital stakes, and the scholas-
tic institution which in most social uni-
boundary (such as a 30-kilo limit on bag-
verses is the only institution capable of
gage or the rule that a vehicle over two
providing all these -- they obey the logic
tons is a van) suffices to eliminate the
of the parti pris, which, as in a court-
difficulties that arise from the sophism of
room, juxtaposes not logical judgements,
the heap of grain, boundaries -- even the
subject to the sole criterion of coherence,
most formal-looking ones, such as those
but charges and defences. Quite apart
between age-groups -- do indeed freeze
from all that is implied in the opposi-
a particular state of social struggles, i.e.,
tions, which logicians and even linguists
a given state of the distribution of advan-
tages and obligations, such as the right
to pensions or cheap fares, compulsory
schooling or military service. And if we
are amused by Alphonse Allais's story
of the father who pulls the communica-
tion cord to stop the train at the very mo-
ment his child becomes three years old
(and so needs a ticket to travel), it is be-
cause we immediately see the sociolog-
ical absurdity of an imaginary variation
which is as impeccably logical as those
on which logicians base their beloved
paradoxes. Here the limits are frontiers
to be attacked or defended with all one's
strength, and the classificatory systems
youth, virtъ, virility, enthusiasm, and get
which fix them are not so much means of
on with their own business -- knight-er-
knowledge as means of power, harnessed
rantry for the scions of the mediaeval ar-
to social functions and overtly or covert-
istocracy, love and violence for the youth
ly aimed at satisfying the interests of a
of Renaissance Florence, and every form
group.
of regulated, ludic wildness (sport, rock
etc.) for contemporary adolescents -- in
Commonplaces and classificatory
short, allow themselves to be kept in the
systems are thus the stake of struggles
state of `youth', that is, irresponsibility,
between the groups they characterize and
enjoying the freedom of irresponsible be-
haviour in return for renouncing respon-
sibility. In situations of specific crisis,
when the order of successions is threat-
ened, `young people', refusing to remain
consigned to `youth', tend to consign the
`old' to `old age'. Wanting to take the re-
sponsibilities which define adults (in the
sense of socially complete persons), they
must push the holders of responsibilities
into that form of irresponsibility which
defines old age, or rather retirement. The
wisdom and prudence claimed by the el-
ders then collapse into conservatism, ar-
chaism or, quite simply, senile irrespon-
of us') and inclusions they perform among
sibility. The newcomers, who are likely
the characteristics produced by the com-
to be also the biologically youngest, but
mon classificatory system.
who bring with them many other distinc-
tive properties, stemming from changes
The fact that, in their relationship
in the social conditions of production of
to the dominant classes, the dominated
the producers (i.e., principally the family
classes attribute to themselves strength
and the educational system), escape the
in the sense of labour power and fighting
more rapidly from `youth' (irresponsibil-
strength -- physical strength and also
strength of character, courage, manli-
ness -- does not prevent the dominant
groups from similarly conceiving the re-
lationship in terms of the scheme strong/
weak; but they reduce the strength which
the dominated (or the young, or women)
ascribe to themselves to brute strength,
passion and instinct, a blind, unpredict-
able force of nature, the unreasoning
violence of desire, and they attribute
to themselves spiritual and intellectual
strength, a self-control that predisposes
them to control others, a strength of soul
or spirit which allows them to conceive
their relationship to the dominated --
the `masses', women, the young -- as that
a sense of limits so that the guardians of
of the soul to the body, understanding to
the established order must enunciate,
sensibility, culture to nature.
systematize and codify the principles of
production of that order, both real and
The Classification-Struggle
represented, so as to defend them against
heresy; in short, they must constitute the
doxa as orthodoxy. Official systems of
Principles of division, inextrica-
classification, such as the theory of the
bly logical and sociological, function
three orders, do explicitly and systemati-
cally what the classificatory schemes did
tacitly and practically. Attributes, in the
sense of predicates, thereby become at-
tributions, powers, capacities, privileges,
prerogatives, attributed to the holder of
a post, so that war is no longer what the
warrior does, but the officium, the specific
function, the raison d'кtre, of the bellator.
Classificatory discretio, like law, freezes a
certain state of the power relations which
it aims to fix forever by enunciating and
codifying it. The classificatory system as
a principle of logical and political divi-
sion only exists and functions because it
reproduces, in a transfigured form, in the
symbolic logic of differential gaps, i.e., of
(such as the trade union of the `cadres'),
discontinuity, the generally gradual and
which progressively impose the rep-
continuous differences which structure
resentation of their existence and their
the established order, but it makes its
unity, both on their own members and on
own, that is, specifically symbolic, con-
other groups.
tribution to the maintenance of that or-
der only because it has the specifically
A group's presence or absence in the
symbolic power to make people see and
official classification depends on its ca-
believe which is given by the imposition
pacity to get itself recognized, to get it-
self noticed and admitted, and so to win a
place in the social order. It thus escapes
from the shadowy existence of the name-
less crafts of which Emile Benveniste
speaks: business in antiquity and the
Middle Ages, or illegitimate activities,
such as those of the modern healer (for-
merly called an `empiric'), bone-setter or
prostitute. The fate of groups is bound up
with the words that designate them: the
power to impose recognition depends on
the capacity to mobilize around a name,
`proletariat', `working class', `cadres' etc.,
to appropriate a Common Name and to
commune in a proper name, and so to mo-
processes of competition, a paper-chase bilize the union that makes them strong,
aimed at ensuring constant distinctive
around the unifying power of a word.
gaps, tend to produce a steady inflation
of titles -- restrained by the inertia of
In fact, the order of words never ex-
the institutionalized taxonomies (collec-
actly reproduces the order of things. It is
tive agreements, salary scales etc.) -- to
the relative independence of the struc-
which legal guarantees are attached. The
ture of the system of classifying, classi-
negotiations between antagonistic inter-
fied words (within which the distinct val-
est groups, which arise from the estab-
ue of each particular label is defined) in
lishment of collective agreements and
which concern, inseparably, the tasks
entailed by a given job, the properties
required of its occupants (e.g., diplo-
mas) and the corresponding advantages,
both material and symbolic (the name),
are an institutionalized, theatrical ver-
sion of the incessant struggles over the
classifications which help to produce the
classes, although these classifications are
the product of the struggles between the
classes and depend on the power rela-
tions between them.
The Reality of Representation and
cial world which comprehends them. This
the Representation of Reality
means that they cannot be characterized
simply in terms of material properties,
starting with the body, which can be
The classifying subjects who classi-
counted and measured like any other ob-
fy the properties and practices of others,
ject in the physical world. In fact, each of
or their own, are also classifiable objects
these properties, be it the height or vol-
which classify themselves (in the eyes
ume of the body or the extent of landed
of others) by appropriating practices
property, when perceived and appreciat-
ed in relation to other properties of the
same class by agents equipped with so-
cially constituted schemes of perception
and appreciation, functions as a sym-
bolic property. It is therefore necessary
to move beyond the opposition between
a `social physics' -- which uses statis-
tics in objectivist fashion to establish
distributions (in both the statistical and
economic senses), quantified expres-
sions of the differential appropriation
of a finite quantity of social energy by a
large number of competing individuals,
identified through `objective indicators'
-- and a `social semiology' which seeks
to decipher meanings and bring to light
identify the social classes (but also the sex
the cognitive operations whereby agents
or age classes) with discrete groups, sim-
produce and decipher them. We have to
ple countable populations separated by
refuse the dichotomy between, on the one
boundaries objectively drawn in reality,
hand, the aim of arriving at an objective
and subjectivist (or marginalist) theories
`reality', `independent of individual con-
which reduce the `social order' to a sort
sciousnesses and wills', by breaking with
of collective classification obtained by
common representations of the social
aggregating the individual classifications
world (Durkheim's `pre-notions'), and of
or, more precisely, the individual strate-
gies, classified and classifying, through
which agents class themselves and oth-
ers.
One only has to bear in mind that goods are converted into distinctive signs, which may be signs of distinction but also of vulgarity, as soon as they are perceived relationally, to see that the representation which individuals and groups inevitably project through their practices and properties is an integral part of social reality. A class is defined as much by its being-perceived as by its being, by its consumption -- which need not be conspicuous in order to be symbolic -- as much as by its position in the relations of production (even if it is true that the latter governs the former). The Berkeleian -- i.e., petit-bourgeois -- vision which reduces social being to perceived being, to seeming, and which, forgetting that there is no need to give theatrical performances (representations) in order to be the
Aeron Bergman and Alejandra Salinas · Seattle · 2014

P Bourdieu

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