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When fashion meets philosophy

Bourdieu stresses that the driving force behind symbolic consumption is not primarily the imitation of the higher classes by the lower, rather the distinguishing strategies used by the higher classes with regard to the lower classes. He claims that so-called. The determination of good taste is achieved via the rejection of what is bad taste. Bourdieu describes taste as a social sense of place. In this respect, Bourdieu broadly agrees with Veblen and Simmel, who consider fashion to be an upper-class invention, the aim of which is to create a distinction between themselves and the lower classes.

Veblen claims that a player will not normally have the principle of conspicuous consumption as his explicit motive,43 but it has to be admitted that he often formulates himself in such a way that conspicuous consumption would precisely seem to be a conscious intention.

Therefore, the upper class becomes the driving force in the development of fashion, while the lower classes are passive copiers, taking over the fashions of the upper class in order to try and identify themselves with it. The middle class functions as a connecting link: as it strives upwards, it pulls with it the lower classes that it is trying to distinguish itself from.

For Veblen everything ultimately depends on economic capital. Symbolic capital is only important as evidence of economic capital.

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Bourdieu reverses this and turns economic. Bourdieu would either have to stand there without any explanation for this type of taste and aesthetic production, or have to open up a type of taste that calls for a separate explanation. This would be tantamount to opening up a kind of inherent taste, precisely what he has proposed to undermine.

But, assuming that economic capital is merely an example of symbolic capital, he can incorporate practices that do not give any economic return, nor have any ambition to do so. In short, unlike Veblens belief, good taste in Bourdieu gives a return by being an expression of an affluence that is not only an indication of economic prosperity but is also more cultural by nature. As Bourdieu points out, all forms of capital are exposed to inflation. The distinctive value of objects is constantly declining as more and more gain possession of them.

Fashion - A Philosophy

All capital is relationally determined in the sense that the value of anything depends on what others have. For anything to have a high value it is imperative that others do not have it. Something can have value simply because there is a scarcity. That is why it is important to make distinctions. It could be said that the point of the distinction is to create a scarcity, so that others are excluded, for only by excluding others can one gain possession of symbolic values.

There are social patterns of taste and these are embodied in what Bourdieu calls habitus. This is a system of personified schemata which, formed in the course of collective history, have been acquired in the course of individual history, and which work in a practical form and for a practical purpose. A type of habitus or a type of taste corresponds to each class of positions, caused by the social conditioning that is linked to the corresponding conditions. And via the various forms of habitus and their ability to produce characteristics there corresponds a systematic unity of goods and characteristics that are linked to each other by a stylistic affinity.

Taste is part of the construction social players implement of themselves and their surroundings. That is an important part of how a person with a particular taste is perceived by other arbiters of taste: Taste classifies, and taste classifies the person who classifies: subjects differ from each other in how they distinguish between the beautiful and the ugly, the exquisite and the common or vulgar, and via these distinctions the position the subjects themselves have within objective classifications is expressed or revealed.

It is a question of social structures that determine peoples individual actions and preferences, but without these individuals having to become aware of these structures. What Bourdieu refers to as habitus enables us to believe that we have chosen what in actual fact is imposed on us. It appears to have been freely chosen, but in fact is a fairly direct reflection of an objective class affiliation.

Presumptively autonomous taste is then, as Bourdieu sees it, anything but. Most of all he considers it to be a product and indicator of class affiliation: To the socially recognized hierarchy of art forms and in turn within each of these, hierarchies of genres, schools and epochs there corresponds a hierarchy of consumers. That is why taste is a particularly good marker of class. Various ways of acquiring taste live on in ways of using what has been acquired.


Here, taste is quite simply a function of class affiliation or a wish for such. In philosophical aesthetics, taste is often asserted as an autonomous entity. This is perhaps particularly obvious in Kant, as long as the taste that is autonomous, or free, if you like, is considered as adequate. Bourdieu, on the other hand, claims that taste is by no means freely chosen. Admittedly we carry out aesthetic choices but, as Bourdieu sees it, the choice between Matalan and Prada is a compulsory choice.

Economic considerations oblige the person with a poor economy to buy at Matalan and the person concerned will presumably genuinely believe that Matalan has finer clothes than Prada. The person with a strong economy is similarly forced to choose Prada or some other exclusive brand. However, it causes problems if taste is exclusively reduced to being a product of social fields.

We experience taste as something highly personal.

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As La Rochefoucauld pointed out as far back as the mid-seventeenth century, our pride suffers more from having our taste rejected than our views. It is worse to hear that one has ugly clothes than that one has a confused view of national economic policy. Bourdieu believes he has countered the objection that taste is something personal by means of his habitus concept.

The social conditioning is inscribed on the body, which in turn is a bearer of values:. The difference can only become a sign and a sign of distinction, of excellence or vulgarity on the basis of a particular principle for viewing and dividing things. And this principle is a product of the personification of the structure of objective differences.

It is a question of social structures that determine peoples individual actions and preferences, but without these individuals necessarily having made themselves aware of these structures. Normally, they will not be aware of them. In many respects Bourdieu operates within a perspective where taste has to be explained on the basis of the classdifferentiating principle, and where fashion is propelled by this differentiation.

A fundamental problem about these analyses, however, is that they are strongly based on a class concept that basically no longer operates. The problem is not least that Bourdieu presupposes a kind of uniform, distinct and objective space, where cultural capital functions as a kind of universally accepted medium of exchange.

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But such an objective space hardly exists. Bourdieu admits that cultural distinctions are expressed in different ways in different fields, but he believes even so that there is a kind of objective organizational principle that can explain these differences. Class becomes a main category that can absorb all other differences such as age, gender, race and ethnicity. It is doubtful whether the class concept is able to bear such a burden.

Not least, it becomes awkward to deal with such small, local, inward distinctions as subcultures from such a perspective, since taste in the higher classes will often be irrelevant in order to understand them.

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We are dealing here with taste as an important internal factor of the individual subculture. The emergence of modern individualism, where taste to an increasing extent becomes an individual concern and the class concepts have to a great extent outplayed their role, leads to Bourdieus perspective losing much of its explanatory force. When taste no longer makes me a member of a social group but, on the contrary, serves to show who I am as a completely unique individual, other theories than that of Bourdieu will presumably have to be used. There will, of course, continue to be differences of taste, but these will be more individual than those that are class-orientated.

To the extent that they are enacted in groups, these groups can scarcely be ordered into a more general social space. Instead, we find a plurality of partially overlapping groupings that have no hierarchical order.

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And in this plurality there is no one group that can install its taste as the most legitimate, as the actual taste standard. In short, we get a social space where distinctions can be made, and these distinctions can most definitely result in cultural and social capital but this capital cannot be incorporated into any objective social hierarchy. One problem present in all models to explain fashion on the basis of class differentiation, by which changes are driven forwards by the higher social classes because fashion has been diluted by imitations in the lower classes, is that the horizontal flow of new objects that replace the old ones often moves faster than the vertical spread to other social strata.

The replacement at the horizontal level, then, develops relatively independently in relation to the vertical imitation.