middle class

Jonathan P. Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Tue Dec 20 23:26:53 MST 1994

Just a quick note (and I know this is my bugbear), but what does anyone
think of Pierre Bourdieu's reformulation of class, most clearly effected
in his _Distinction_?

Essentially, he turns class into a two-dimensional field rather than a
one-dimensional "ladder" progressing from working to upper (or whatever
the appropriate formulation may be--he is working from a sociological
tradition).  This move in itself seems essential, and begins to avoid the
dichotomizing seen in some of the contributions to the pen-l list
(working or not? as if these were the only possibilities)

This he attempts to accomplish through introducing the notion of
"cultural capital" as a variant of financial capital: this then explains
different class factions within the middle class, in that (for example)
artists and professors etc. generally have high cultural but relatively
little financial capital, while the situation is reversed with
industrialists etc.  Cultural capital is itself a contested term, in that
within certain specific and bounded fields some items would be
well-valued, and in others less so.  Cultural capital can, however, be
converted into financial capital (though not through any simple process):
the high price paid for Harvard or Shaq's salary could both be read in
this way.

His effort is astonishing (and _Distinction_ a must to read), but still
only a start, it seems to me.  Here are some problems:

i.   His treatment of working class culture is as reductive and monolithic
as his treatment of middle class culture is rich.
ii.  He alludes to exploitation of wage-labour as the basis of value, but
generally is content to avoid economics, asserting however that cultural
"capital" is not a metaphor: who knows what happens to the LTV or similar
traditional bases for the left-critique of (cultural) capitalism.
iii. While he is good as explicating the operations of certain fields
(especially the dominant fields of taste authorizing the acquisition of
cultural capital through the educational system), generally a systematic
anaylsis eludes him.

Any thoughts?


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu


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