Access to pleasure

Aesthetics, social inequality, and the structure of culture production

Authored by: Ann Swidler

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159


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Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) preoccupation with cultural capital as a resource to be deployed in the competition for advantage or “exchanged” for other forms of capital has obscured the ways that aesthetic pleasure matters for its own sake. Distinction (1984) analyzes how the exercise of socially shaped cultural taste—the “distinctions” people make, which in turn “distinguish” them—advantages or disadvantages people in the competition for social advantage, especially in the educational system. Cultural knowledge and taste become a kind of “capital” that can be exchanged at specific “ratios” for capital in other realms. Even The Rules of Art (1992), which focuses on culture creators rather than cultural consumption, deploys vast erudition about Flaubert and his contemporaries to argue that culture creators are driven by concern about rivalries and sources of distinction in an existing artistic field, or by the aspiration to define a new artistic field in which they are supreme. Lost in Bourdieu’s approach is the idea that a culture creator might be driven by the desire to create a certain aesthetic effect—to move, astound, delight, entertain, terrify, or simply affect an audience.

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