On Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979), introduction, chapter 1 through p. 63, conclusion, and postscript.
How do our tastes in music, art, and everything else reflect our social position? This philosophically trained sociologist administered a few detailed questionnaires in 1960s France and used the resulting differences in what people in different classes preferred and how they talked about these preferences to theorize about the role that taste plays in our social games. People with more education and/or with an upper-class social background use their ability to appreciate fine art (which requires some know-how to decode) to distinguish themselves: to prove that they deserve their social status. Other classes’ tastes were in reaction to this dominant taste: middle-class responders aspired to have the taste of the elite (often getting it wrong by favoring simply pretentious works), while lower-class workers either made excuses for their lack of appreciation (“it’s good but not not my cup of tea”) or rebelled by reveling in low-class art. In all cases there was gamesmanship at work: the distinctions were at work in cementing or trying to move within or rebelling against the social order. (Seth posted the lists of classes as they were asked their opinions about a high-brow, middle, and low-brow work.) Buy the book.
Mark, Wes, and Seth were joined by Tim Quirk, famed as singer from the 90s band Too Much Joy and recent guest on Mark’s Nakedly Examined Music podcast. Here’s that presentation, “Good News for Yo La Tengo,” that he talks about.
Recommended prerequisites: This can be seen as a reaction to the snobbiness displayed by Adorno (ep. 136), but Bourdieu explicitly identifies the un-worldly (which requires being shielded from economic necessity), aesthetic (and ultimately ascetic, i.e., denying of immediate pleasures) stance with Kant’s theory of taste (ep. 105), and also explicitly discusses Schopenhauer’s view (ep. 115).
End song: “When She Took Off Her Shirt” from Tim’s band Wonderlick’s Topless At The Arco Arena (2005).
Bourdieu picture by Solomon Grundy.