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on 20 January 2003
'Distinction' is the product of several studies and is an attempt to trace the links between a person's position in social space and their judgement of 'taste', what is 'tasteful' and 'desirable' and so on; but, in addition to this, it is an examination of how different groups in society try to define their particular styles and aesthetics and promote them as 'legitimate'. Bourdieu draws on data pertaining to many areas of life: eating and drinking, choices in clothing, music, holidays, and all sorts of other lifestyle practices - even down to the way people interact and comport themselves (he speaks, for example, of 'the slow, measured, confident delivery of the old bourgeoisie'). He shows how different groups engage in different practices - so that, for example, one class fraction might attend a football match while another would prefer to visit an art gallery, and explains why this is so. Another part of the book deals with the development of the refined sense of aesthetics possessed by those who claim to be 'cultured'.
In a nutshell, the book describes how a person's taste is a product not just of their own innate desires, but is actually something that comes from that person's position in the social field. A central concept employed by Bordieu is that of 'habitus': this is essentially a distillation of our own objective social position, which fundamentally determines the choices we make as we go about the business of living our lives. Another central concept is that of capital. Bourideu argues that different types of groups are generally in possession of different types of capital; some groups possess economic capital (i.e. money and property), some possess cultural capital (such as knowledge of artistic, literary, and academic fields), and some are rich in social capital (links with 'movers and shakers', 'old boys' networks') and so on.
There is so much contained in this book, it is frankly a huge injustice to try and sum it up in less than 1000 words. It was written with French society in mind, but the arguments employed can just as easily be applied, with a little discretion, to any other modern capitalist nation. And although Bourdieu's style of writing (or that of the translator) can at times seem long-winded, you soon realise that this is necessary in order to convey the subtlety of his arguments.
My review has brutally hacked up bits of Bourdieu's ideas which unfortunately does them little justice; the whole book is characterised by subtlety, detail and perceptiveness. It has enriched my view of the social world immeasurably, and now when people make judgements on the taste or choices of others, I feel I have a clearer idea of where these judgements come from and on what basis they are made. I wholeheartedly recommend this astonishingly perceptive work.
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on 6 July 2000
A great, disturbing book, a destroyer of social illusions detached from a programme (though not from political sympathies). It's an attempt by a professor to prove to his fellow professors that he still acknowledges extra-academic reality and Big Issues. Yet it's so brilliant that I will even forgive him his professorial sentences.
The thesis in brief: Aesthetic judgment as such is intended to construct a mystified form of social superiority. High culture defines itself by devising endless baroque unsatisfying "aesthetic" pleasures. Angry professors play the game harder than anyone, and resent the fact that it doesn't make them rich. The workers know they can't really play at all, but must give it a go, and look silly. Even the most angry leftists fail to recognise the cultural machine of their alienation, and find themselves helpless in its grip. The bureaucratic and professional Top Cats (this is France, after all...), the products of the grandes e'coles, know (without realising) that it's all a game for their benefit, and escape the trap by not being serious about what they make everyone else worry over - thereby establishing their "natural" right to inherit everything and rule the world.
The book is nostalgic for "pure" class politics (precisely as a guarantee of Bourdieu's purity of heart, to be proven to a purely academic audience). Thus, we have direct, deeply reverent, appeals to Marx (and hardly anyone else), and gush about the "realism" of the working class, the Worker as Noble Savage, deprived and oppressed and confused but mysteriously In Touch with Really Important Stuff. Mysticism is predictably derided.
The annoying thing is that Bourdieu is very, very penetrating and intelligent. He does his job so well that he manages to corrode the self-confidence of anyone who wants to make even the most modest assertion of cultural autonomy. The notions of critical distance and of disinterested truth are given the same kind of treatment that the USAF gave Laos. That Bourdieu persuaded himself to write it is either proof that he's quite wrong or evidence of how completely right he is. Or both at once?
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on 11 March 2007
This superbly written (and excellently translated) book should be on the shelves of any academic, irrespective of his or her discipline.

The text contains not one redundant word, but does not devalue itself by brevity. It states, without apology, the factors that militate upon taste in social classes. Whilst the analysis is broadly of the Marxist discipline, the author factors in opinions upon developing trends in taste, particularly in regard to fast food, that display original thought not corralled by slavish adherence to doctrinaire requirements.

As a trained Chef and a qualified Social Scientist, I found this book to be perceptive from both viewpoints. Furthermore, the intensity of the arguments, the quality of language employed and the cogency of the authors intellectual debate put to shame the rambling, inconclusive and theory-riddled works of Sociological Post-Modernists who apologetically paw at truth like an elderly bachelor feeling middle-aged cabbages in a dowdy market.

Thoroughly and totally recommended. An academic gem in these days of fudge.
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This is one of the big beasts, obtuse, brimming and spilling with meaning. Bourdieu changed perception, when he ranged his gaze onto the habitus of middle class manners, building on Elias Cannetti to look at the creation of style. fashion and taste. Being middle class is the antithesis of being working class, as it requires a "refined" set of manners. The habitus rests upon the tension within this polarity. Within the modern, era as workers no longer work, the middle classes define themselves by putting in double shifts; doing white collar work tapping computer keys, having meetings, doing tenders and change management. Life and business is reduced to the "game."

The non workers drink strong lager, the middle classes drink strong wine but all get drunk on the meaninglessness of the system they have created. The non workers listen to rap the middle classes listen to something unstructured. Holidays in Spain, holidays in Thailand, Peckham and Barking becomes Clapham and Notting Hill. Areas of geography and taste intertwine to demarcate "us and "them."

The problems with MC Culture, as Bourdieu points out is its inherent sterility. "Culture" is composed of a collection of sterile facades masquerading as roles that need to be imbibed to create the habitus. Ultimately all is ersatz and fake. The middle class habitus also co-exists in a tension with the upper class culture. Whilst the middle classes have morality, the upper classes have none. They are the despoilers and live a life like the poor, except they have "class" and money, but are equally morally dysfunctional, according to the middle class habitus. The middle classes are entrapped in a strange dynamic of fawning and anatogonism when compared to the upper classes. They want the lifestyle but abhor the lack of the middle class habitus with its brash or austere dynamics. However the middle classes aspire to send their children to middle class school to continue the pantomine.

Bourdieu lays it all out, how magazines, programmes, music, food, TV are all created around education, taste, refinement and social class. These are used as social markers to define human and non human. The middle classes, just like their portrayal in Midsommer Murders hide behind a pretense where a seething culture of manners, disguises a naked will to power. There are no friends only associates.

This is a big book and and is replete with stats and accounts of how these cultures have developed and accrued. Bourdieu showed that attending theatre and artfilms does not make a better person in terms of authenticity. It does provide emblems for dinner parties to be dropped into the conversation.

As devastating as Nietzsche and Gramsci, this shows how ideologies are formed and sustained creating wounds. The essence of being middle class is colonising exotica to counter the sterility as this provides a veneer of authenticity within a plastic lifestyle- the middle class craze for world music but not the desire to live next to an immigrant is one example. There are numerous others.
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on 12 November 2014
if the publishers (who expect you to pay GBP 16.55 for this facsimile) really valued this work, they could have invited the translator to correct some of the errors in translation that had been noted in the previous 25 years. They could also have commissioned an introduction by someone who knows that Paul Claudel did not write in the Middle Ages.
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This book is a unique piece of sociological literature. I am not a big fan of french thinkers, but this books allows a deep knowledge of the sociology of taste. I still find the style of the author difficult to read, but the knowledge that you can get with this book deserves a careful read.
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on 9 June 1997
While the text is academic and sometimes rather heavy going, Pierre Bourdieu has written a clear-eyed, erudite exposition on class and taste: how taste is judged by various classes and how heavily choices based on "taste" can weigh in a sociological sense.
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on 7 September 2013
A classical sociological reading. However, it is very difficult and you might want to search for interpretations of different authors as well, to come to an understanding of the theories Bourdieu presents in this book. Overall it is well worth it because of the significance in the field of sociology and for those interested in art it seems like a worthy recommendation as well!
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on 17 February 2015
Book came in perfect condition like described! The context itself is very complex but very interesting and perfect for my dissertation!
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on 6 May 2015
Heavy going but well worth a read.
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