Class, Bourdieu and Mitford

Taste and class.
Below a sketch featuring the Two Ronnies and John Cleese. In a way it is one way to explore the notion of Cultural Capital and the relationship between Social class and judgements of taste put forward by Pierre Bourdieu in his seminal work Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste

Bourdieu said:
“Whereas the ideology of charisma regards taste in a legitimate culture as a gift of nature, scientific observation shows that cultural needs are the product of upbringing and education: surveys establish that all cultural practices [museum visits, concert going, reading etc] and preferences in literature, painting or music, are closely liked to educational level [measured by qualifications or length of schooling] and secondarily to social origin"

Bonjour Pierre!

So Bourdieu describes the acquisition of certain preferences as a result of upbringing and education. Interestingly - John Cleese's character, the impoverished Upper Class Male states that he has 'innate breeding [but no money!]. His claim being that his inherent superiority is hereditary - inborn, and arguably his taste [which will also be superior in every way], is natural and the result of genes. The idea of innate-ness [although not necessarily linked to Social class] runs counter to Bourdieu's theory of acquired Cultural Capital. The phrase Cultural Capital is well worn now and it is commonly accepted as the theory that best reflects how an individual develops, ideas, preferences and taste. Innate-ness is loaded with a class history and, at its heart, suggests that those in-bred qualities cannot be bought/read about/acquired through education or a set of favourable circumstances. When Ronnie Corbett, as the quintessential working class man, says "I know my place" he certainly does. However Bourdieu claims that Cultural Capital is learnt, that there is no such thing as innate-ness. He belongs to the 'accident of birth' camp which suggests that had Elizabeth Windsor been born on a council estate in the black country, to a working class family not only would her accent have been completely different, but her sense of purpose, superiority, duty and taste [so do I]. So, does this also mean that taste is learned? it would suggest so.

What is also apparent in the sketch is an element of aspiration on the part of the character who represents the middle classes, Ronnie Barker, - the arriviste. This debate was illustrated in the article produced by Nancy Mitford in the 1950s describing 'linguistic' differences the U and not U [the U here standing for the Upper Classes] where social breeding [not innate-ness] is typified by a certain use of language for instance saying what? instead of pardon? and calling a fireplace a chimney-piece. It outlined a difference - the working classes being largely neglected form this particular discussion. So aspiration, the appropriation of language, behaviour and perhaps more particularly from our point of view objects/images/things that describe an approach to taste and therefore locate us in terms of our class and social standing.

So taste can perhaps be learned, can perhaps be acquired, can also be appropriated and adopted. Taste can become an affectation or badge to distinguish us from or align us with a particular social group.

Stephen Bayley on taste and class:
"Taste is a merciless betrayer of social and cultural attitudes"

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