Distinction from “distinction”

Bourdieu has really opened my eyes to the study and interpretation of culture. Socially and educationally we are indoctrinated to accept a hierarchical system in which there is high vs. low culture. We internalize this hierarchy so much that we operate under a dichotomy which discriminates between what is good, elegant, tasteful, high class, against the bad, vulgar, distasteful, and low class. As much as a Post-modernist as I claim to be, it wasn’t until I read Bourdieu that I can appreciate the illusion of this classifying of culture.

Yet, this “illusion” creates very real social capital, educational capital and cultural capital which profit some at the expense of others, who also buy into the system and accept it as valid and logical. Bourdieu calls this the “game of culture”  he explains that “there is no way out of the game of culture, and one’s only chance of objectifying the true nature of the game is to objectify as fully as possible the very operations which one is obliged to use in order to achieve that objectification” (p.12).  However, the objectification is protected and prevented by the actors who benefit from the game of culture, by the system which perpetuates inequalities and controls political and social ideology.

Bourdieu’s book has become one of the core texts for the study of sociology. It is one of the few studies which combines a theoretical analysis of culture and society with ethnographic research (both qualitative and quantitative analysis).  He establishes two basic facts, the close relationship linking cultural practices to education capital and the social origin and its effects in social and educational capital (which I believe he refers to as “innate”).

I was very interested in his classification of capital as innate as it reminded me of a new subfield of biological anthropology known as evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology argues that cultural traits (such as taste, intelligence, and even criminality) are genetically passed down within families, and that these can be identified in our genes. This field reminds me of many of the arguments raised by the Eugenics movement of Davenport in the early 1900s. Yet, Bourdieu I think links the innate to the ascribed position of the individual in the “game of culture” right?

One interesting aspect, though uncomfortable for scholars, is the way that the educational system legitimizes culture and this hierarchy, positioning the autodidact as illegitimate in the game of culture (p.24). This is similar to Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual and this questions the structure of power (unequal) in academia, where we lack diversity in positions of power. The question is how likely is this to change? Have we objectified this aspect in academia?

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