Douglas Allen & Paul Anderson – Consumption and Social Stratification

Link to an article by Douglas E. Allen and Paul F. Anderson:

Douglas E. Allen and Paul F. Anderson, “Consumption and Social Stratification: Bourdieu’s Distinction”, Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 70-74 (C. Allen and D. Roedder John, eds.,  Association for Consumer Research, 1994).

Selected quote:

[Pierre] Bourdieu sees the consumption field as a site of struggle over the definitions of legitimate, middlebrow, and popular culture. In his view, the socially and economically dominant in any society seek to maintain a strict hierarchy of cultural forms so that all judgments in the consumption sphere are subject to the hegemony of ‘legitimate’ (i.e., dominant) cultural tastes. This is accomplished without conscious direction or coercion because a person’s class habitus presents each individual with a preexisting set of ‘natural’ classifications that constitute his or her unreflective definition of reality. Thus, in western industrialized societies, classical music, opera, legitimate theater, books on philosophy, knowledge of foreign languages, modern art collections, and subscriptions to academic journals are just a few of the cultural forms that are unquestionably (and unquestioned) elements of the legitimate or dominant culture. While members of the middle and working classes may eschew such cultural forms (indeed, they may well view them with suspicion or disdain), their position at the pinnacle of the cultural hierarchy goes unchallenged. As a result, those who can appropriate elements of legitimate culture as their own have the power to define the status of all other cultural forms.


“For Bourdieu, the singular mistake made by dominated class fractions, particularly the petite bourgeoisie, is to associate culture with knowledge. Lacking the lived experiences that produce the elite habitus, the petite bourgeoisie misrecognize what are essentially arbitrary aesthetic selections for special knowledge of what counts as ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ in the cultural sphere.”