Culinary Taste Is a Social Construct, Not an Expression Individually

Topics: Social class, Pierre Bourdieu, Sociology Pages: 7 (2604 words) Published: November 11, 2008
In this essay we will analyze and comment on how an individual develops his culinary taste through the various impacts from our social construct and that it is not just a matter of personal choice. While discussing the evolving taste of an individual, we are going to interpret the seminal works of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and relate to the social construction of taste. Alternative explanations to Bourdieu, like the post-modernist view will also be explained and the various impacts of the contemporary influences from our society like standardization, fashion, media, culinary tourism which affects our culinary taste will also be explicated. Pierre Bourdieu's work emphasized how social classes, especially the ruling and intellectual classes, maintain their social privileges across generations despite the myth that contemporary post-industrial society boasts equality of opportunity and high social mobility, achieved through education. Instead of analyzing societies in terms of classes, Bourdieu used the concept of field which is a social arena in which people manoeuvre and struggle in pursuit of desirable resources. According to Bourdieu, taste does not vary from individual to individual but varies from different social classes. The identification of different social classes can be classified through their terminology and the different kinds of food they eat. He insists that through occupation and income, the taste of a social class is generated. As stated by Seymour (2004; p.4) ‘Bourdieu sees class as determined by the possession of the differing amounts of different forms of capital.’ Bourdieu classified capital more than just implying it to simple economic capital which results from production and in turn feeds more production. Cultural capital is the form of cultural knowledge and tastes which certain classes in a social field possess and by virtue of which they can create a symbolic trend for others to follow. Culturally rich people have a better understanding and knowhow about how they work, what to say about them and how to appreciate and evaluate them. Various forms of cultural capital compete to assert their own value and the status of those who hold them. Habitus refers to the everyday, actions, practices, and choices which apply for a particular walk of life and an individual’s position in a social arena. Symbolic capital is a form of cultural capital which signifies the potential with which an individual from a certain social class can operate with a sign or a symbol or the position he holds. The dominant classes use their signs or symbols and their cultural knowledge to flank themselves in a superior position to achieve cultural legitimacy which is possible only because of their association with the superior habitus. Thus, the culture of these dominant classes of the society defines all the rest of the classes on their terms because they present themselves as natural judgments of taste. However, within these dominant classes of the society, there are fractions that possess more economic capital or cultural capital. These dissimilarities have lead to different habitus and lifestyle for these different fractions possessing different culinary tastes. “The real principle governing these differences in tastes in food is the opposition between ‘the tastes of luxury’ (or freedom) and the tastes of necessity” (Bourdieu, 1979). Individuals who define tastes of luxury belong to a habitus which is noted for its distance from necessity. Such legitimate individuals therefore possess the freedom to be opulent due to possession of capitals. On the contrary, individuals belonging to the working class of the society define ‘tastes of necessity’ where low cost, heavy nutritional diet is mandatory for high labor production. But the middle class habitus is characterized by its cultural goodwill and they assume the tone of accordance with the tastes of the dominant class to whose position they aspire and which enables...

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