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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.”

FAIR or Not?

Michael Corcoran of the organization FAIR recently wrote an essay about media bias in health care policy reporting, entitled, “Media ‘Extremes’ on Healthcare: Universal Coverage or Taking Healthcare From Millions.”   What is curious about the essay is its underlying hypocrisy.  For the most part, the essay follows the original formulation of Chomsky and Herman‘s “Propaganda Model” of mass media analysis.  But the article also focuses primarily on Senator Bernie Sanders’ “medicare for all” or “single payer” plan.  It is perfectly legitimate to discuss that proposal, and to pick apart and analyze criticisms of it.  But is it appropriate for an organization named “Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting” to make snide comments about reporting that certain people “would have you believe is the ideological equivalent of the Socialist Worker” or characterizing “national healthcare as some kind of Bolshevik conspiracy”?  In other words, while it is absolutely accurate to state that the self-described “socialist” Sanders’ single-payer system is manifestly not about nationalized/socialized healthcare, the unanswered question is why it is important that it isn’t? Why not advocate a “Bolshevik healthcare” system?  As the journalist John Pilger has noted, “Sanders is a cold-warrior and ‘anti-communist’ obsessive[.]”  Corcoran more or less join the conservatives he criticizes in engaging in the “anti-communism” bias spelled out in the “Propaganda Model,” and furthered by the likes of Sanders.  If “Bolshevik healthcare” means something like contemporary Cuban healthcare, Americans would be lucky to have it.  Corcoran needs a dose of his own “fairness and accuracy” debunking — he is merely advocating for a social democratic position while trying to depoliticize it under the guise of a “scientific” media analysis that has a major self-serving blind spot.  Put another way, Corcoran is just promoting ideology masquerading as a critique of ideology.