Cultural capital

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This article is about the sociological term. See also European Capital of Culture.

The term cultural capital refers to non-financial assets that involve educational, social, and intellectual knowledge provided to children who grow up in non-wealthy but highly-educated and intellectually-sophisticated families. Such children are often the offspring of well-educated artists, writers, teachers, ministers, and college professors, who make little money, comparatively speaking, but are socially and educationally savvy, especially when it comes to obtaining financial aid that will allow their children to attend elite private schools and universities.

Cultural capital (le capital culturel) is a sociological concept that has gained widespread popularity since it was first articulated by Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron first used the term in "Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction" (1973). In this work he attempted to explain differences in educational outcomes in France during the 1960s. It has since been elaborated and developed in terms of other types of capital in The Forms of Capital (1986); and in terms of higher education, for instance, in The State Nobility (1996). For Bourdieu, capital acts as a social relation within a system of exchange, and the term is extended ‘to all the goods material and symbolic, without distinction, that present themselves as rare and worthy of being sought after in a particular social formation (cited in Harker, 1990:13) and cultural capital acts as a social relation within a system of exchange that includes the accumulated cultural knowledge that confers power AND status. [1]



Relation to other types of capital

In 'The Forms of Capital' (1986), Bourdieu distinguishes between three types of capital:

Later he adds symbolic capital (resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition) to this list.

Types of Cultural Capital

Cultural Capital has three subtypes: embodied, objectified and institutionalised (Bourdieu, 1986:47). Bourdieu distinguishes between these three types of capital:

Relation to Bourdieu's other concepts

The concept cultural capital is fundamentally linked to the concepts of fields and habitus. These three concepts have been continually developed throughout all of Bourdieu’s work. A field can be any structure of social relations (King, 2005:223). It is a site of struggle for positions within that field and is constituted by the conflict created when individuals or groups endeavor to establish what comprises valuable and legitimate capital within that space. Therefore one type of cultural capital can be at the same time both legitimate and not, depending on the field in which it is located. It can be seen therefore, that the legitimation of a particular type of cultural capital is completely arbitrary. The power to arbitrarily determine what constitutes legitimate cultural capital within a specific field is derived from symbolic capital.

Habitus is also important to the concept of cultural capital, as much of cultural capital can be derived from an individual’s habitus. It is often defined as being dispositions that are inculcated in the family but manifest themselves in different ways in each individual. (Harker, 1990:10; Webb, 2002:37; Gorder, 1980:226). It is formed not only by the habitus of the family (Harker et al., 1990:11) but also by the objective chances of the class to which the individual belongs (King, 2005:222), in their daily interactions (Gorder, 1980:226) and it changes as the individual’s position within a field changes (Harker, 1990:11).

Use of the concept in theory and research

The concept of cultural capital has received widespread attention all around the world, from theorists and researchers alike. It is mostly employed in relation to the education system, but on the odd occasion has been used or developed in other discourses. Use of Bourdieu’s cultural capital can be broken up into a number of basic categories. First, are those who explore the theory as a possible means of explanation or employ it as the framework for their research. Second, are those who build on or expand Bourdieu’s theory. Finally, there are those who attempt to disprove Bourdieu’s findings or to discount them in favour of an alternative theory. The majority of these works deal with Bourdieu’s theory in relation to education, only a small number apply his theory to other instances of inequality in society.

Traditional use of concept

Those researchers and theorists who explore or employ Bourdieu’s theory use it in a similar way as it was articulated by Bourdieu. They usually apply it uncritically, and depending on the measurable indicators of cultural capital and the fields within which they measure it, Bourdieu’s theory either works to support their argument totally, or in a qualified way. These works help to portray the usefulness of Bourdieu’s concept in analysing (mainly educational) inequality but they do not add anything to the theory.

One work which does employ Bourdieu’s work in an enlightening way is that of Emirbayer & Williams (2005) who use Bourdieu’s notion of fields and capital to examine the power relations in the field of social services, particularly homeless shelters. The authors talk of the two separate fields that operate in the same geographic location (the shelter) and the types of capital that are legitimate and valued in each. Specifically they show how homeless people can possess “staff-sanctioned capital” or “client-sanctioned capital” (2005:92) and show how in the shelter, they are both at the same time, desirable and undesirable, valued and disparaged, depending on which of the two fields they are operating in. Although the authors do not clearly define staff-sanctioned and client-sanctioned capital as cultural capital, and state that usually the resources that form these two capitals are gathered from a person’s life as opposed to their family, it can be seen how Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital can be a valuable theory in analysing inequality in any social setting.

Expansion of concept

A number of works expand Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital in a beneficial manner, without deviating from Bourdieu’s framework of the different forms of capital. In fact, these authors can be seen to explore unarticulated areas of Bourdieu’s theory as opposed to constructing a new theory. For instance, Stanton-Salazar & Dornbusch (1995:121) examine how those people with the desired types of cultural (and linguistic) capital in a school transform this capital into “instrumental relations” or social capital with institutional agents who can transmit valuable resources to the person, furthering their success in the school. They state that this is simply an elaboration of Bourdieu’s theory. Similarly, Dumais (2002) introduces the variable of gender to determine the ability of cultural capital to increase educational achievement. The author shows how gender and social class interact to produce different benefits from cultural capital. In fact in Distinction (1984:107), Bourdieu states “sexual properties are as inseparable from class properties as the yellowness of lemons is inseparable from its acidity”. He simply did not articulate the differences attributable to gender in his general theory of reproduction in the education system. That allows a certain thing to exist, or not exist....that is the question.

On the other hand, two authors have introduced new variables into Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital. Emmison & Frow’s (1998) work centres on an exploration of the ability of Information Technology to be considered a form of cultural capital. The authors state that “a familiarity with, and a positive disposition towards the use of bourgeoisie technologies of the information age can be seen as an additional form of cultural capital bestowing advantage on those families that possess them”. Specifically computers are “machines” (Bourdieu, 1986:47) that form a type of objectified cultural capital, and the ability to use them is an embodied type of cultural capital. This work is useful because it shows the ways in which Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital can be expanded and updated to include cultural goods and practices which are progressively more important in determining achievement both in the school and without.

Hage uses Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital to explore multiculturalism and racism in Australia. His discussion around race is distinct from Bourdieu’s treatment of migrants and their amount of linguistic capital and habitus. Hage actually conceives of “whiteness” (in Dolby, 2000:49) as being a form of cultural capital. ‘White’ is not a stable, biologically determined trait, but a “shifting set of social practices” (Dolby, 2000:49). He conceptualises the nation as a circular field, with the hierarchy moving from the powerful centre (composed of ‘white’ Australians) to the less powerful periphery (composed of the ‘others’). The ‘others’ however are not simply dominated, but are forced to compete with each other for a place closer to the centre. This use of Bourdieu’s notion of capital and fields is extremely illuminating to understand how people of non-Anglo ethnicities may try and exchange the cultural capital of their ethnic background with that of ‘whiteness’ to gain a higher position in the hierarchy. It is especially useful to see it in these terms as it exposes the arbitrary nature of what is “Australian”, and how it is determined by those in the dominant position (mainly ‘white’ Australians).

Criticisms of concept

Criticisms of Bourdieu's concept often rest on a specific understanding on his concepts. Researchers (e.g. De Graaf et al., 2000; Kalmijn & Kraaykamp, 1996) often tend to define cultural capital very narrowly in terms of participation in and understanding of highbrow (De Graaf et al., 2000:93) culture (that is, theatre, classical musical, museums, art, etc) and then proceed to argue that this narrow definition is not useful in understanding educational inequality. Similarly, a number of theorists (Gorder, 1980; Robbins, 1991; Kingston, 2001) read Bourdieu’s work as discounting the notion of a working class culture, by saying that cultural capital is something that only people from elite or dominant social classes have, and that to succeed in education, lower class people must acquire cultural capital. Defining cultural capital in either of these ways, does indeed limit the usefulness of the term in understanding inequality.

However Bourdieu includes any and all cultural resources available to any individual or group in any field. Capital is valued, or not, depending on the field it is located within. An example of this would be a person from a lower class who in the field of the classroom may speak in a blunt and inelegant manner, so not possess the legitimate and valued linguistic cultural capital of that field, but in the field of the playground, surrounded by other lower class people, this manner of speaking constitutes the most legitimate type of linguistic cultural capital. Therefore cultural capital is not narrowly defined to include only ‘highbrow’ culture and it does allow for the existence and value of working class cultures in particular fields.

In addition, theorists often tend to point to the deterministic nature of Bourdieu’s work. For example, in the work of Robinson & Garnier (1986:147) the authors write that an educational curriculum “can be appreciated only by those from well-educated families” and that “the level of education obtained is nothing more than certified cultural capital”. These interpretations of Bourdieu purport him to be structuralist allowing no room for other factors or individual agency.

This is also a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Bourdieu’s theory. In fact, in current social theory Bourdieu is often described as a theorist who tackles the idea of structure versus agency, and of objectivism versus subjectivism (King, 2005; Webb, 2002; Harker, 1990) and attempts to move beyond these dichotomies. As Webb states, “Bourdieu insists that practice is always informed by a sense of agency…but that the possibilities of agency must be understood and contextualised in terms of its relations to the objective structures of a culture” (2002:36). Certainly Bourdieu talks about “objective chances” (1990:156) and “objective probabilities” (1990:157) rather than certainties. Harker believes that the misunderstanding mainly stems from the fact most people only read his English, educational works. He argues Bourdieu’s later ethnographic work, further develops the concepts of habitus and capital, and explores in more detail the role of agency. However Bourdieu’s attempts to reformulate his theory of education around the greater role of agency have not been translated into English.

Misunderstanding is widespread. Indeed, one author goes so far as to remark that the concept of cultural capital is inherently limited in its usefulness because, “after all, (Bourdieu) is an economic reductionist” (Martin & Szelenyi, 1987:282). However, in Distinction (1984), Bourdieu incorporates into his social class framework a number of non-economic criteria for stratification, in such a way that economic capital is not the only or necessarily even the most relevant way of determining class groupings. This is a distinct move away from an economic reductionist view of class and society.

Finally some theorists critique Bourdieu for his omission of gender differences in the reproduction of classes. Kanter (in Robinson & Garnier, 1986) identifies a process called “homosocial reproduction” whereby men in managerial positions tend to reproduce themselves by hiring those people on the basis of social and gender similarity to themselves. That means, that even women who have the same class background (and therefore same cultural capital) as men may face exclusion from high-level managerial positions. Robinson & Garnier (1986) believe that theory of cultural capital is incapable of explaining this phenomenon, and therefore conclude that cultural capital is not very useful in understanding class reproduction. It was, however, noted above that Bourdieu recognised the importance of gender. It is however a weakness of his theory that he did not explore this area in his work.

Strengths of the theory

As is apparent many critiques have been given of Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital, depending on the orientation of the author, their interpretation of Bourdieu’s theory and the area of the study. Especially with regards to the deterministic, structuralist, or economic reductionist claims, a reading of his complete works, (those in French as well as English) show that Bourdieu has developed his theory of habitus to encompass both structural considerations and agency, and his incorporation of culture and cultural capital into his framework of social class and social reproduction demonstrates that he clearly does not reduce everything to economics.[citation needed] The other weaknesses identified above, emerge not so much from erroneous ideas in his theory but from a lack of exploration and articulation of a range of issues. This is understandable, as it is almost impossible to construct a theory which addresses every issue, in every context, and does so accurately.

One of the main strengths of the theory is that it does to some extent focus on how structures and institutions play a part in producing inequality.[citation needed] With so much focus now on the individual, it seems that so often inequality and disadvantage are seen as the result of an individual’s actions. Bourdieu, by exposing the reproductive role that educational institutions have, provides a way of examining other institutions in society to uncover any roles they may have in reproducing inequality. In the example of schools provided by Bourdieu, one[who?] can identify many or all of the impediments to removing inequality by analysing the forces and influences that act on students to either increase or decrease the chance of success, and allows for the future removal of these impediments and the progression towards a just and equitable society for all.

Other strengths are:


See also

Further reading

Taste (sociology)

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Taste as an aesthetic, sociological, economic and anthropological concept refers to a cultural patterns of choice and preference. While taste is often understood as a biological concept, it can also be reasonably studied as a social or cultural phenomenon. Taste is about drawing distinctions between things such as styles, manners, consumer goods and works of art. Social inquiry of taste is about the human ability to judge what is beautiful, good and proper.

Social and cultural phenomena concerning taste are closely associated to social relations and dynamics between people. The concept of social taste is therefore rarely separated from its accompanying sociological concepts. An understanding of taste as something that is expressed in actions between people helps to perceive many social phenomena, like fashion, that would otherwise be inconceivable.

Some judgements concerning taste may appear more legitimate than others, but most often there is not a single conception which would be shared by all members of society. People with their individual sensibilities are not very unique either. For instance, aesthetic preferences and attendance to various cultural events are associated with education and social origin. Different socioeconomic groups are likely to have different tastes, and it has been suggested that social class is one of the prominent factors structuring taste.



Taste and Aesthetics

The concept of aesthetics has been the interest of philosophers such as Plato, Hume and Kant, who understood aesthetics as something pure and searched the essence of beauty, or, the ontology of aesthetics. But it was not before the beginning of the cultural sociology of early 19th century that the question was problematized in its social context, which took the differences and changes in historical view as an important process of aesthetical thought [1]. Although Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement (1790) did formulate a non-relativistic idea of aesthetical universality, where both personal pleasure and pure beauty coexisted, it was concepts such as class taste that began the attempt to find essentially sociological answers to the problem of taste and aesthetics. Metaphysical or spiritual interpretations of common aesthetical values have shifted towards locating social groups that form the contemporary artistic taste or fashion.

Kant also followed the fashion of his contemporaries.

In his aesthetic philosophy, Kant denies any standard of a good taste, which would be the taste of the majority or any social group. For Kant, beauty is not a property of any object, but an aesthetic judgement based on a subjective feeling. He claims that a genuine good taste does exist, though it could not be empirically identified. Good taste cannot be found in any standards or generalizations, and the validity of a judgement is not the general view of the majority or some specific social group. Taste is both personal and beyond reasoning, and therefore disputing over matters of taste never reaches any universality. Kant stresses that our preferences, even on generally liked things, do not justify our judgements.[2]

Every judgement of taste, according to Kant, presumes the existence of a sencus communis, a consensus of taste. This non-existent consensus is an idea that both enables judgements of taste and is constituted by a somewhat conceptual common spiritual humanity. A judgement does not take for granted that everyone agrees with it, but it proposes the community to share the experience. If the statement would not be addressed to this community, it is not a genuine subjective judgement. Kant's idea of good taste excludes fashion, which can be understood only in its empirical form, and has no connection with the harmony of ideal consensus. There is a proposition of a universal communal voice in judgements of taste, which calls for a shared feeling among the others.[3]

Bourdieu argued against Kantian view of pure aesthetics, stating that the legitimate taste of the society is the taste of the ruling class. This position also rejects the idea of genuine good taste, as the legitimate taste is merely a class taste. This idea was also proposed by Simmel, who noted that the upper classes abandon fashions as they are adopted by lower ones. This pattern is known as the trickle-down effect.

Fashion in a Kantian sense is an aesthetic phenomenon and source of pleasure. For Kant, the function of fashion was merely a means of social distinction, and he excluded fashion from pure aesthetics because of its contents arbitrary nature. Simmel, following Kantian thought, recognises the usefulness of fashionable objects in its social context. For him, the function lies in the whole fashion pattern, and cannot be attributed to any single object. Fashion, for Simmel, is a tool of individuation, social distinction, and even class distinction, which are neither utilitarian or aesthetical criteria. Still, both Kant and Simmel agreed that staying out of fashion would be pointless.[4]

Taste and Consumption

Taste and consumption are closely linked together; taste as a preference of certain types of clothing, food and other commodities directly affects the consumer choices at the market. The causal link between taste and consumption is however more complicated than a direct chain of events in which taste creates demand which in turn creates supply. There are many perspectives to the scientific approach to taste; economists, psychologist and sociologist all have their own account on how taste and consumption are interconnected.

Mechanics between taste and consumption

Definition of consumption in its classical economical context can be summed up in the saying "supply creates its own demand".[5] In other words consumption is created by and equities itself to production of market goods. This definition, however, is not adequate to accommodate any theory that tries to describe the link between taste and consumption.

A more complex economic model for taste and consumption was proposed by economist Thorstein Veblen. He challenged the simple conception of man as plain consumer of his utmost necessities, and suggested that the study of the formation of tastes and consumption patterns was essential for economics. Veblen did not disregard the importance of the demand for economical system, but rather insisted on rejection of the principle of utility-maximization.[6] The classical economical conception of supply and demand must be therefore extended to accommodate a type of social interaction that is not immanent in economical paradigm.

Veblen understood man as a creature, who has a strong instinct to emulate others in order to survive. As social status is in many cases at least partially based on or represented by one's property, men tend to try and match their acquisitions with those who are higher in social hierarchy.[6] In terms of taste and modern consumption this means that taste is formed in a process in of emulation: people emulate each other, which creates certain habits and preferences, which in turn contributes to consumption of certain preferred goods.

Veblen's main argument concerned what he called leisure class, and it explicates the mechanism between taste, acquisiton and consumption. He took his thesis of taste as an economical factor and merged it with the neoclassical hypothesis of nonsatiety, which states that no man can ever be satisfied with his fortune. Hence, those who can afford luxuries are bound to be in a better social situation than others, because acquisition of luxuries by definition grants a good social status. This creates a demand for certain leisure goods, that in essence are not necessities, but which by current taste of the most well off become wanted commodities.[7]

In different periods of time consumption and its societal functions have varied. In 14th century England consumption had significant political element.[8] By creating an expensive luxurious aristocratic taste the Monarchy could legitimize itself in high status, and, according to the mechanism of taste and consumption, by mimicking the taste of the Royal the nobility competed for high social position. The aristocratic scheme of consumption came to an end, when industrialization made the rotation of commodities faster and prices lower, and the luxuries of the previous times became less and less indicator of social status. As production and consumption of commodities became a scale bigger, people could afford to choose from different commodities. This provided for fashion to be created in market.[8]

The era of mass consumption marks yet another new kind of consumption and taste pattern. Beginning from the 18th century, this period can be characterized by increase in consumption and birth of fashion, that cannot be accurately explained only by social status. More than establishing their class, people acquired goods just to consume hedonistically.[9][10] This means, that the consumer is never satisfied, but constantly seeks out novelties and tries to satisfy insatiable urge to consume.

In above taste has been seen as something that presupposes consumption, as something that exists before consumer choices. In other words taste is seen as an attribute or property of a consumer or a social group. Alternative view critical to the attributative taste suggests that taste doesn't exist in itself as an attribute or a property, but instead is an activity in itself.[11] This kind of pragmatic conception of taste drives its critical momentum from the fact that individual tastes can not be observed in themselves, but rather that only physical acts can.

Critical perspectives on consumption and taste

Consumption, especially mass consumerism has been criticized from various philosophical, cultural and political directions. Consumption can be deemed as overly conspicuous or environmentally untenable, and it can also be a mark of bad taste.

Many critics have voiced their opinion against the growing influence of mass culture, in the fears of the fall of the global divergence of cultures. For example, McDonald's can be seen as a monument to the cultural imperialism of the West. McDonaldization is a term to describe the process, where the fast food company broadens its supply of into every quarter of the world. On account of this smaller ethnic enterprises and food cultures disappear. The efficiency and convenience of getting the same hamburger all over the world can easily surpass the interest for ethnic experiences.[12]

The Western culture of consumerism has been criticized for its uniformity. While the culture industry promises consumerists new experiences and adventures, people in fact are fed the same repeating pattern of swift but temporary fulfillment of needs. Here taste can be seen as a means of repression that, as something that is given from above or from the industry of the mass culture, makes people void of contentual and extensive ideologies and of will.[13] This critique therefore insists that the popular Western culture depicts taste that eventually does not fill people with aestethic and cultural satisfaction.

Taste and Social Classes

Arguably, the question of taste is in many ways related to the underlying social divisions of community. There is likely to be variation between groups of different socioeconomic status in preferences for cultural practices and goods, to the extent that it is often possible to identify particular types of class taste [14]. Also, within many theories concerning taste, class dynamics is understood as one of the principal mechanisms structuring taste.

Imitation and distinction

In expressing and displaying taste through various everyday actions, people reveal much information about their positions in social hierarchies. Preference for certain consumer goods, appearances, manners etc. may signal status because it is conceived as part of the lifestyle of high status groups. But it is not just that patterns of taste are determined by class structure. Also, people may strategically employ distinctions of taste as resources in maintaining and redefining their social status.[15]

When taste is explained on account of its functions for status competition, interpretations are often built on the model of social emulation. It is assumed, firstly, that people desire to distinguish themselves from those with lower status in the social hierarchy and, secondly, that people will imitate those in higher positions.[16]

The phenomenon of fashion, manifested in rapidly changing patterns of taste, was thus examined by a German sociologist Georg Simmel. According to Simmel, fashion is a vehicle for strengthening the unity of the social classes and for making them distinct. Members of the upper classes are inclined to signal their superiority, and they act as the initiators of new trends. But upper-class taste is soon imitated by the middle classes. As goods, appearances, manners etc. conceived as high-class status markers become popular enough, they lose their function to differentiate. So, the upper classes have to originate yet another stylistic innovations.[17]

The particular taste of the upper classes has been further analyzed by an economist Thorsten Veblen. He argues that distancing oneself from hardships of productive labour has always been the conclusive sign of high social status. Hence, upper-class taste is not defined by things regarded as necessary or useful but by those which are the opposite. To demonstrate non-productivity, members of the so called leisure class waste conspicuously both time and goods. The lower social stratum are trying their best to imitate the non-productive lifestyle of the upper classes, even though they do not really have means for catching up.[18]

One of the most widely referred theories of class-based tastes was coined by a French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who asserts that tastes of social classes are structured on basis of assessments concerning possibilities and constraints of social action. Some choices are not equally possible for everyone. The constraints are not simply because members of different classes have varying amounts of economic resources at their disposal. Bourdieu argues that there are also significant non-economic resources and their distribution effects social stratification and inequality. One such resource is cultural capital, which is acquired mainly through education and social origin. It consists of accumulated knowledge and competence for making cultural distinctions. To possess cultural capital is a potential advantage for social action, providing access to education credentials, occupations and social affiliation.[14][19]

By assessing relationships between consumption patterns and the distribution of economic and cultural capital, Bourdieu identified distinct class tastes within the 1960’s French society. The upper-class taste is characterized by refined and subtle distinctions, and it places intrinsic value on aesthetic experience. This particular kind of taste was appreciated as the legitimate basis for “good taste” in the French society, acknowledged by the other classes as well. Consequently, members of the middle classes appeared to practice “cultural goodwill” in emulating the high-class manners and lifestyles. The taste of the middle classes is not defined as much by authentic appreciation for aesthetics as by a desire to compete in social status. In contrast, the popular taste of the working classes is defined by an imperative for “choosing the necessary”. Not much importance is placed on aesthetics. This may be because of actual material deprivation excluding anything but the necessary but, also, because of a habit, formed by collective class experiences.[14][20]

Criticism on class-based theories of taste

Theories of taste building on the ideas of status competition and social emulation have been criticized from various standpoints. Firstly, it does not seem reasonable to trace all social action back to status competition. Marking and claiming status are strong incentives, but people surely have other motivations as well. Secondly, it is not plausible to assume that tastes and lifestyles are always diffusing downwards from the upper classes. In some situations the diffusion of tastes may involve quite the opposite direction on emulation.[21]

It has also been argued that the association between social class and taste is no longer quite as strong as it used to be. For instance, theorists of Frankfurt School have claimed that the diffusion of mass cultural products has obscured class differences in capitalist societies. Products consumed passively by members of different social classes are virtually all the same, with only superficial differences regarding to brand and genre. Other type of criticism has concentrated on the declassifying effects of postmodern culture. Consumer tastes are being less influenced by traditional social structures, and they engage in play with free-floating signifiers to perpetually redefine themselves with whatever it is that they find pleasurable.[22]

Bad taste

Bad taste is generally a title given to any object or idea that does not fall within the normal social standards of the time or area. Varying from society to society and from time to time, bad taste is generally thought of as a negative thing, but also changes with each individual.

Some varieties of black humor employ bad taste for its shock value, such as Pink Flamingos or Bad Taste. Similarly, some artists deliberately create vulgar or kitsch works of art to defy critical standards or social norms. Some artists argue that the only things that is in really bad taste or that is vulgar, is the Kitsch, intended as a lack of "technical awareness". Despite the economic risks, some retailers also deliberately design and sell objects which would ordinarily be regarded as vulgar, relying on inflated price tags to instil an Emperor's New Clothes effect amongst customers.

Aristophanes, Plautus, François Rabelais, Laurence Sterne, and Jonathan Swift never considered "good" or "bad" taste to be a way to judge their classic works of art.


  1. ^ Outwaite & Bottonmore 1996, p 662
  2. ^ Gronow 1997, pp. 11, 87
  3. ^ Gronow 1997, pp. 88-90
  4. ^ Gronow 1997, p 83
  5. ^ Ekelund & Hébert 1990, pp. 154-157
  6. ^ a b Ekelund & Hébert 1990, p 462
  7. ^ Ekelund & Hébert 1990, p 463
  8. ^ a b McCracken 1990
  9. ^ Gronow 1997, pp. 78–79
  10. ^ Campbell 1989
  11. ^ cf. Hennion 2007
  12. ^ Ritzer 1997
  13. ^ Adorno & Horkheimer 1982, pp. 120–167
  14. ^ a b c Bourdieu 1984
  15. ^ Slater 1997, pp. 153, 156
  16. ^ Slater 1997, p. 156
  17. ^ Simmel 1957
  18. ^ Slater 1997, pp. 154–155
  19. ^ Bourdieu 1986
  20. ^ Slater 1997, pp. 159–163
  21. ^ Slater 1997, pp. 157–158
  22. ^ Holt 1998, p. 21


See also

Erotic capital

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Erotic capital is power possessed by an individual as a result of his or her sexual attractiveness to others. It is one among other species of capital, including social capital, symbolic capital, and cultural capital.

The concept has been developed by sociologist Adam Isaiah Green (University of Toronto), who builds on Pierre Bourdieu's (1980) concept of capital. Green defines erotic capital as accruing to an individual due to the quality and quantity of attributes that he or she possesses which elicit an erotic response in another. Some of these attributes may be immutable, such as an individual's race or height, while others may be acquired through fitness training, plastic surgery, or a makeover, among other techniques.

Erotic capital is interconvertible with other forms of capital, as when actors parlay erotic capital into financial capital or social capital.

There is no single hegemonic form of erotic capital. On the contrary, currencies of erotic capital are quite variable, acquiring a hegemonic status in relation to the erotic preferences of highly specialized audiences that distinguish one sexual field from another (see Green 2005, 2008; Martin and George 2006).

See also

Sexuality portal

Erotic capital

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Erotic capital is power possessed by an individual as a result of his or her sexual attractiveness to others. It is one among other species of capital, including social capital, symbolic capital, and cultural capital.

The concept has been developed by sociologist Adam Isaiah Green (University of Toronto), who builds on Pierre Bourdieu's (1980) concept of capital. Green defines erotic capital as accruing to an individual due to the quality and quantity of attributes that he or she possesses which elicit an erotic response in another. Some of these attributes may be immutable, such as an individual's race or height, while others may be acquired through fitness training, plastic surgery, or a makeover, among other techniques.

Erotic capital is interconvertible with other forms of capital, as when actors parlay erotic capital into financial capital or social capital.

There is no single hegemonic form of erotic capital. On the contrary, currencies of erotic capital are quite variable, acquiring a hegemonic status in relation to the erotic preferences of highly specialized audiences that distinguish one sexual field from another (see Green 2005, 2008; Martin and George 2006).

See also

Sexuality portal

Symbolic capital

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In sociology and anthropology, symbolic capital can be referred to as the resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition, and functions as an authoritative embodiment of cultural value. A war hero, for example, may have symbolic capital in the context of running for political office. Symbolic capital cannot be converted to other forms of capital (economic, cultural, social). Rather, these latter three can have also symbolic value. For example a car may have both economic and symbolic value. Value of any given object is always a sum of its symbolic and other capital.

Symbolic capital is always defined by the system in which it is valued. Different system value the same object differently: for some, car as economic capital has less symbolic value than for others.

This concept was coined by Pierre Bourdieu, and is expanded in his book Distinction. It is an extension of Max Weber's analysis of status.[1]

Symbolic capital may be embedded in the built environment or urban form of a city as the portion of its exchange value which can be attributed to its symbolic content. For example, landmarks usually have symbolic value & utility. They become landmarks because they have symbolic value.


  1. ^ Calhoun, Craig (ed) Dictionary of the Social Sciences (Article: Symbolic Capital), Oxford University Press, 2002

See also

Structure and agency

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"The debate concerning the primacy of structure and agency on human thought and behaviour is one of the central issues in sociology, political science, and the other social sciences. In this context, "agency" refers to the capacity of an individual to act independently and to make their own free choices.[1] "Structure", by contrast, refers to the recurrent patterned arrangements which seem to influence or limit the choices and opportunities that individuals possess.[2] The term "reflexivity" is commonly used by social scientists to refer to the ability of an agent to consciously alter his or her place in the social structure; thus globalization and the emergence of the 'post-traditional' society might be said to allow for greater "social reflexivity".[3]

"== Agency in a Diverse Society ==

The debate over the primacy of structure or agency relates to an issue at the heart of both classical and contemporary sociological theory: the question of social ontology: "What is the social world made of?", "What is a cause of the social world, and what is an effect?", "Do social structures determine an individual's behaviour or does human agency?"

"Some theorists put forward that what we know as our social existence is largely determined by the overall structure of society. The perceived agency of individuals can also mostly be explained by the operation of this structure. Theoretical systems aligned with this view include: structuralism, and some forms of functionalism and Marxism (all of which in this context can be seen as forms of holism -- the notion that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts"). In the reverse of the first position, other theorists stress the capacity of individual "agents" to construct and reconstruct their worlds. Theoretical systems aligned with this view include: methodological individualism, social phenomenology, interactionism and ethnomethodology.

"Lastly, a third option, taken by many modern social theorists {Bourdieu, 1977, 1990}, is to attempt to find a point of balance between the two previous positions. They see structure and agency as complementary forces - structure influences human behaviour, and humans are capable of changing the social structures they inhabit. Structuration is one prominent example of this view.

"The first approach (emphasizing the importance of societal structure) was dominant in classical sociology[citation needed]. Theorists saw unique aspects of the social world that could not be explained simply by the sum of the individuals present. Emile Durkheim strongly believed that the collective had emergent properties of its own and that there was a need for a science which would deal with this emergence. The second approach (methodological individualism, etc.), however, also has a well-established position in social science. Many theorists still follow this course (e.g., economists are very prone to disregarding any kind of holism).

"The central debate, therefore, is between theorists committed to the notions of methodological holism and those committed to methodological individualism[citation needed]. The first notion, methodological holism, is the idea that actors are socialised and embedded into social structures and institutions that constrain, or enable, and generally shape the individuals' dispositions towards, and capacities for, action, and that this social structure should be taken as primary and most significant. The second notion, methodological individualism, is the idea that actors are the central theoretical and ontological elements in social systems, and social structure is an epiphenomenon, a result and consequence of the actions and activities of interacting individuals." ("Structure and Agency." Totally Explained (dot com) Wikipedia, 2007-2010. Web. 10 Jan. 2010. <>.)



Major theorists

Georg Simmel

Georg Simmel (March 1, 1858 – September 28, 1918, Berlin, Germany) was one of the first generation of German nonpositivist sociologists. His studies pioneered the concepts of social structure and agency. His most famous works today include The Metropolis and Mental Life and The Philosophy of Money.

Norbert Elias

Norbert Elias (June 22, 1897 — August 1, 1990) was a German sociologist of Jewish descent, who later became a British citizen. His work focused on the relationship between power, behavior, emotion, and knowledge over time. He significantly shaped what is called "process sociology" or "figurational sociology."

Talcott Parsons

Talcott Parsons was the main theorist of action theory (misleadingly called "structural functionalism") in sociology from the 1930s in the United States. His works analyze social structure but in terms of voluntary action and through pattern of normative institutionalization by codifying its theoretical gestalt into a system-theoretical framework based on the idea of living systems and cybernetic hierarchy. For Parsons there is no "structure"- "agency" problem. It is a pseudo-problem.

Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu presented his theory of practice on the dichotomical understanding of the relation between agency and structure in a great number of published articles, beginning with An Outline of the Theory of Practice in 1972, where he presented the concept of habitus. His book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1979), was named as one of the 20th century's 10 most important works of sociology by the International Sociological Association.

The key concepts in Bourdieu's work are habitus, field, and capital. The agent is socialized in a "field" (an evolving set of roles and relationships in a social domain, where various forms of "capital" such as prestige or financial resources are at stake). As the agent accommodates to his or her roles and relationships in the context of his or her position in the field, the agent internalises relationships and expectations for operating in that domain. These internalised relationships and habitual expectations and relationships form, over time, the habitus.

Bourdieu's work attempts to reconcile structure and agency, as external structures are internalised into the habitus while the actions of the agent externalise interactions between actors into the social relationships in the field. Bourdieu's theory, therefore, is a dialectic between "externalising the internal", and "internalising the external."

Berger and Luckmann

Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann in their Social Construction of Reality (1966) saw the relationships between structure and agency as a dialectical one. Society forms the individuals who create society - forming a continuous loop.[4]

Roy Bhaskar

Roy Bhaskar developed the "Transformational Model of Social Activity (TMSA)" in his The Possibility of Naturalism (1979) and Reclaiming Reality (1989). He put forward a critical realist approach. Going further than Berger and Luckmann he focused on the "relational" and "transformational" view of the individual and society: "society is both the ever present condition and the continually reproduced outcome of human agency."[4]

Anthony Giddens

Anthony Giddens's developed "Structuration Theory" in such works as The Constitution of Society (1984). He presents a developed attempt to move beyond the dualism of structure and agency and argues for the "duality of structure" - where social structure is both the medium and the outcome of social action.[4]

Recent developments

The critical realist structure/agency perspective embodied in the TMSA has been further advocated and applied in other social science fields by additional authors, for example in economics by Tony Lawson and in sociology by Margaret Archer.

Kenneth Wilkinson in the Community in Rural America took an interactional/field theoretical perspective focusing on the role of community agency in contributing to the emergence of community.

The structure/agency debate continues to evolve, with contributions such as Nicos Mouzelis's Sociological Theory: What Went Wrong? and Margaret Archer's Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach continuing to push the ongoing development of structure/agency theory.

A European problem?

While the structure/agency debate has been a central issue in social theory, and recent theoretical reconciliation attempts have been made, it should be noted that structure/agency theory has tended to develop more in European countries by European theorists, while American social theorists have tended to focus instead on the issue of integration between macrosociological and microsociological perspectives. George Ritzer examines these issues (and surveys the structure agency debate) in greater detail in his book Modern Sociological Theory (2000).

See also

Loïc Wacquant

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Loïc Wacquant (born 1960 in Montpellier, France) is a sociologist, specializing in urban sociology, urban poverty, racial inequality, the body, social theory and ethnography.

Wacquant is currently a Professor of Sociology and Research Associate at the Earl Warren Legal Institute, University of California, Berkeley, where he is also affiliated with the Program in Medical Anthropology and the Center for Urban Ethnography, and Researcher at the 'Centre de sociologie européenne' in Paris. He has been a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, a MacArthur Prize Fellow, and has won numerous grants including the Fletcher Foundation Fellowship and the Lewis Coser Award of the American Sociological Association.

Wacquant was born and grew up in Southern France, and he received his training in economics and sociology in France and the United States. He was a student and close collaborator of Pierre Bourdieu. He also worked closely with William Julius Wilson at the University of Chicago, where he received his PhD in 1994. Wacquant has published more than a hundred articles in journals of sociology, anthropology, urban studies, social theory and philosophy. He is also co-founder and editor of the interdisciplinary journal Ethnography as well as a collaborator of Le Monde Diplomatique. His primary research has been conducted in the ghettos of South Chicago, in the Paris banlieue, and in jails of the United States and Brazil.




Wacquant's work explores and links together diverse areas of research on the body, urban inequality, ghettoization, and the development of punishment as an institution aimed at poor and stigmatized populations. His intellectual trajectory and interests are dissected in the article "The Body, the Ghetto, and the Penal State" (2008)[1]

In his work, "Deadly symbiosis: when ghetto and prison meet and mesh" in Punishment and Society 3(1) (pp 95-134), Wacquant does not offer, as Howard Winant asks of sociologists, a comprehensive race theory. Instead he offers a middle-range theory, relevant mainly to American racism against blacks in contemporary society. According to Wacquant, African-Americans now live "in the first prison society of history" (p. 121). This is the fourth stage in what is now path-dependent, after slavery, Jim Crow, and the early ghettos. According to him, the ghetto and the prison are now almost the same thing, reinforcing each other to assure the exclusion of African-Americans from the general society, with governmental encouragement.

The ghetto and the prison are now locked in a whirlpool, when it is no longer clear which is the egg and which is the chicken: the two look the same and have the same function (p. 115). The life in the ghetto almost necessarily leads to more criminal behavior, yet Wacquant presents statistics that show that the distribution of crime between black and white has not changed. Instead he shows that a black, young, man is now "equated with 'probable cause' justifying the arrest" (p. 117). And in the prisons, a black culture is being reinforced by "professional" inmates, a culture which later affects the street.

In his book Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer, Wacquant denounces popular mainstream conceptions of the underclass and argues that the boxing gym is one of the many institutions that is contained within, and opposed, to the ghetto. He also explores, through an account of his own experiences as an apprentice boxer in a black ghetto of Chicago, the elaborate process by which the "body capital" of these athletes is formed and managed.



  1. ^ Wacquant, Loïc (June 2007), The Body, the Ghetto and the Penal State, Lisbon, Portugal, 

See also

External links