Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Styles of consumption vs. specific tastes

From Douglas Holt, "Distinction in America? Recovering Bourdieu's theory of tastes from its critics"

In these instances, class boundaries are formed only to the extent that there exist social interactional processes through which otherwise incommensurate field-specific cultural capitals are aggregated into meta-field attributions of status. For example, does one, as a nonparticipant in the consumption field of leisure reading, acknowledge and grant status to friends and acquaintances who have highly developed tastes for prose? I believe that this conversion of field-specific to abstracted cultural capital - while a problematic iterative process - is a pervasive feature of contemporary social interaction. People constantly make such judgments to assess their affinities with others' tastes in the process of choosing friends, lovers, and business acquaintances. If this process is significant, it suggests that in an increasingly fragmented cultural world, status judgments based on shared interests are less important than those based upon similar styles of consuming, which can be applied to any cultural category.

An alternative to the hierarchies within hierarchies idea -- or perhaps a reference to the code which transcends local hierarchies and makes them commensurable. Styles of consumption -- the form of distinction -- are more significant than what is specifically consumed. Those meanings are transient and contingent, fashion changes them all the time. What doesn't change is the mastery of how fashion changes, being able to anticipate it or even guide it. The struggle within consumption is to be a tastemaker and the specific tastes involved are irrelevant, ultimately arbitrary. Thus you can never be dethroned by a series of bad recommendations.

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