Abstract

This article is premised on two presumptions. The first is, I think, uncontroversial, the second less so. The first presumption is that today, serious discussions about taste usually start out by rehearsing Pierre Bourdieu’s contribution to our understanding of how taste preferences operate in society. This, then, is merely to recognize that when Bourdieu first published books such as The Love of Art (1969, written with Alain Darbel) and Distinctions: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1979), he was making a concerted intervention into debates about cultural value and challenging the philosophical understandings of taste based on such ideas as disinterested attention. Today Bourdieu is often the starting point for discussing taste, rather than invoked as a critical response to other starting points that might go by the name of Immanuel Kant, or David Hume, or Archibald Alison. The second, more contentious presumption is that Bourdieu was not actually interested in taste and rarely addressed its particular qualities in his work. Or to put it differently, Bourdieu was only interested in taste as a function of something else, and that something else was the generation and maintenance of social distinctions. This meant that tastes (particular choices, specific likings and dislikings) were only ever relevant or worthy of note if they were already marked as having some sort of social distinction and value. It doesn’t take long to notice that such an approach requires the discounting of all those aspects of taste that might matter to tasters but that can’t be used to explain social differences: for instance, the way I much prefer strawberry jam to the raspberry variety, or why, out of all of John Coltrane’s albums, I am always particularly drawn to his 1961 album Olé Coltrane. Nor does it address questions of taste that might not be accessible through Bourdieu’s favored method of the questionnaire; questions about overarching changes in taste that might mark one epoch from another, one national context from another. For Bourdieu, a taste that is shared by all would not be a taste at all.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-661X
Print ISSN
0028-6087
Pages
pp. 547-566
Launched on MUSE
2016-12-22
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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