The historical universal: the role of cultural value in the historical sociology of Pierre Bourdieu

Bennett, Tony (2005). The historical universal: the role of cultural value in the historical sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. British Journal of Sociology, 56(1) pp. 141–164.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-4446.2005.00051.x

Abstract

Best known for his pioneering study Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, in which the aesthetic attitude of disinterestedness is accounted for as the expression of a class ethos, Bourdieu has become something of an icon of relativism. In thus effecting a Bakhtinian 'discrowning' of official hierarchies of the arts, he is often celebrated for his concern to place all tastes, popular and high, on a similar footing, equally rooted in specific class practices. Only a careless inattention could support such a conclusion. From his early interventions in French cultural policy debates up to and including The Rules of Art and Pascalian Meditations (1996), Bourdieu has consistently repudiated the view that a sociological approach to questions of aesthetic judgment must result in a levelling form of relativism. In exploring why this should be so, this paper considers the issues at stake in the forms of 'historical universalism' that are associated with Bourdieu's account of the autonomy of the aesthetic sphere. It does so with a view to identifying some of the difficulties underlying his understanding of sociology as a historical practice.

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