Habitus clivé: aesthetics and politics in the work of Pierre Bourdieu

Bennett, Tony (2007). Habitus clivé: aesthetics and politics in the work of Pierre Bourdieu. New Literary History, 38(1) pp. 201–228.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/nlh.2007.0013

URL: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/new_literary_history/


Habitus is a key concept in the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and plays an organizing role in his classic study Distinction where tastes are divided between different class-based habitus. These divisions are set in the context of Bourdieu’s account of the French cultural field as being polarized between a bourgeois habitus defined by the Kantian ethos of disinterestedness and a working-class habitus governed by the choice of the necessary. This paper probes this account of the habitus and aesthetics and its political implications, in the light of the challenges to it that are presented by Bernard Lahire's sociology of individuals and Jacques Rancière's account of the politics of aesthetics. It is illustrated by drawing on the evidence regarding the social distribution of cultural tastes from a recent study of the relationships between cultural practices and cultural capital in the United Kingdom. The central argument of the paper is that, far from succeeding in using the techniques of empirical sociology to map out a space that is beyond aesthetics, Bourdieu’s account remains complicit with those tendencies in the history of western aesthetics that have functioned to exclude the working classes from full political participation.

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