American literary critic
Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale
Frank Kermode (2002):
‘probably the most celebrated literary critic in the United States’
Author of contemporary horror
National Book Foundation (2003):
Award for distinguished contribution
‘another low in the shocking process of
dumbing down our cultural life. I've
described King in the past as a writer
of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even
that is too kind. He shares nothing with
EdgarAllan Poe.What he is is an
immensely inadequate writer on a
paragraph, book-by-book basis’
‘Her prose style, heavy on cliché, makes no
demands upon her readers [...] How to read
‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’?
Why, very quickly, to begin with, perhaps also
to make an end.Why read it? Presumably, if
you cannot be persuaded to read anything
better, Rowling will have to do […]Why read, if
what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or
‘Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their
offspring, be wrong?Yes, they have been, and
will continue to be for as long as they persevere
What are now called ‘Departments of
English’ will be renamed departments of
‘Cultural Studies’ where Batman comics,
Mormon theme parks, television, movies
and rock will replace Chaucer, Shakespeare,
Milton, Wordsworth andWallace Stevens
- (Bloom, 1995: 519)
École Normale Supérieure (Paris)
1964: University of Paris Director of Studies
at the École Pratique des Hautes Études
1968: took over the Centre de Sociologie
1981: Chair of Sociology at the Collège de
1200 quantitative surveys, interviews
Cross-referenced with national trends
and government data
The things you prefer correspond
tightly to defining measures of social
class: your profession, your highest
degree and your father’s profession.
"Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social
subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish
themselves by the distinctions they make, between the
beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the
vulgar, in which their position in the objective
classifications is expressed or betrayed."
- Bourdieu, 1984: 6
‘The very title Distinction serves as a reminder that what
is commonly called distinction, that is, a certain quality
of bearing and manners, most often considered innate
[…], is nothing other than difference, a gap, a distinctive
feature, in short, a relational property existing only in
and through its relation with other properties’
- Bourdieu, 1994/1998: 20
Power and ‘social space’
A geographical/mathematical metaphor for how people are
arranged in society.
It’s a (multi-dimensional) space constructed on the basis of
principles of differentiation or distribution constituted by the
set of properties under consideration
Economic capital how much money
Cultural capital the systems of value and meaning a person can draw on
Social capital the sets of relations one can draw on
Symbolic capital power to NAME. Symbolic power rests on RECOGNITION
I was there.
I was the first guy playing Daft
Punk to the rock kids.
I played it at CBGB's.
Everybody thought I was crazy.
We all know.
I was there.
I was there.
I've never been wrong.
I used to work in the record
I had everything before anyone
“It took a great deal of evidence to allow me to transcend my
own cultural assumptions and accept the fact that Shakespeare
actually was popular culture in nineteenth-century America”
(Levine 1988: 4).
“Shakespeare was performed not merely alongside popular
entertainment as an elite supplement to it; Shakespeare was
performed as an integral part of it. Shakespeare was popular
entertainment in nineteenth-century America”.
(Levine, 1988: 21)
“If Shakespeare had been an integral part of mainstream culture in
the nineteenth century, in the twentieth he had become part of
‘polite’ culture – an essential ingredient in a complex we call,
significantly, ‘legitimate’ theatre. He had become the possession of
the educated portions of society who disseminated his plays for the
enlightenment of the average folk who were to swallow him not for
their entertainment but for their education, as a respite from – not as
a normal part of – their usual cultural diet”.
(Levine, 1988: 31 – emphasis added)
Culture and the Legitimisation of
Culture as right of birth
Difference shifted from economic field to field of
Power as a result of cultural difference, for example
Brian Sewell on the Cobra exhibition at the Baltic
„London has for centuries been
the centre of the art world in
Britain…By the very nature of
the audience in London it is
exposed to very much more art
and culture and is therefore
more sophisticated. There is no
doubt about it.‟
- Sewell, 200348
Distinction – Pierre Bourdieu
Patron versus consumer
Aficionado versus fan
“the making, marking and maintaining of
cultural difference” (Storey, 1996: 116)
Putting taste on display – becoming part of, or
apart from, a particular group
Taste not fixed – changes through history
Consider the following:
• Brown bread
• Sun tan
Music – from exclusivity to abundance?
Everyone‟s an expert in the internet age?
The changing „tastes‟ for Brown Bread
- Associated with working class originally, using whole-grain
-White flour had previously been more expensive (coloured
This reversed – brown bread now seen as middle class
Hovis – images of working class life
From brown bread to „brown‟ skin
The sun tan
Now seen as vulgar- it had been a status symbol – a marker of wealth
However, trends keep changing as do cultural responses to the sun tan.
Royalty would associate tans with the working class – labourers who work
the fields. Aristocracy would keep out of the sun or use white face paint
to remove any trace of tanning.
The ‘Sad’ Fate of Burberry
Founded in 1856
Outdoors attire – supplier to royalty
The Burberry Check (1924)
1970s - Burberry linked to football casuals
1990s - Association with chavs and football firms
2000s - Burberry attempt rebrand; advertise in high-end lifestyle
The fan as fanatic?
“fans are the most visible part of
the audience for popular cultural
texts and practices”
“Fandom is what ‘other people’
do, ‘we’ always pursue
interests, exhibit tastes and
- Storey, 1996: 123-125
“Fans, when insistently characterized as
‘them’, can be distinguished from ‘people
like us’ (students, professors and social
critics) as well as from (the more reputable)
patrons or afficionados or collectors”
Jenson in Lewis, 1992:9
Taste is a battleground of ideology, marked by distinction and
It’s inadequate to say that people merely have different tastes
– these tastes are the product of intersecting power relations
that seek to valorise those that articulate them.
Worth thinking about this in terms of fan culture and their
tastes. Have the geeks inherited the earth?
Howard Bloom (1995) TheWestern Canon, Harmondsworth: Penguin
Howard Bloom (2000) How to Read andWhy, NewYork:Touchstone
Pierre Bourdieu (1979/1984) Distinction: A SocialCritique of the
Judgement ofTaste, (translated by R. Nice), London: Routledge,
Pierre Bourdieu (1994/1998) Practical Reason: On theTheory of
Action,Oxford: Polity Press.
Lawrence Levine (1988) Highbrow/Lowbrow:The Emergence of
Cultural Hierarchy in America, Harvard: Harvard University Press
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