Culture, Class, Distinction: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Culture, Class, Distinction

1st Edition

By Tony Bennett, Mike Savage, Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva, Alan Warde, Modesto Gayo-Cal, David Wright


316 pages | 18 B/W Illus.

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Choice Recommended Title, February 2010

Culture, Class, Distinction is major contribution to international debates regarding the role of cultural capital in relation to modern forms of inequality. Drawing on a national study of the organisation of cultural practices in contemporary Britain, the authors review Bourdieu’s classic study of the relationships between culture and class in the light of subsequent debates.

In doing so they re-appraise the relationships between class, gender and ethnicity, music, film, television, literary, and arts consumption, the organisation of sporting and culinary practices, and practices of bodily and self maintenance. As the most comprehensive account to date of the varied interpretations of cultural capital that have been developed in the wake of Bourdieu’s work, Culture, Class, Distinction offers the first systematic assessment of the relationships between cultural practice and the social divisions of class, gender and ethnicity in contemporary Britain.

It is essential reading for anyone interested in the relationships between culture and society.


Many books are being written about Pierre Bourdieu, turning him into a theoretical "classic". But Bennett, Savage and their colleagues have written a book to read alongside Bourdieu, using his work as a model and stimulation for continuing empirical inquiry. With rich new data they tackle the question of how specific Bourdieu’s famous analysis of Distinction is to France. They show tastes are different in Britain, but that the analytic framework linking tastes to class, cultural capital and habitus is not only transportable but effective and revealing. This is an important book.

Craig Calhoun, President of the Social Science Research Council

Culture, Class, Distinction/ defines the new research frontier in the sociological understanding of the intersection of culture and inequality. Resolutely empirical in orientation, the authors creatively build on and go beyond the seminal work of Pierre Bourdieu to consider simultaneously symbolic boundaries in the context of racial and ethnic diversity, gendered patterns of cultural preferences, specific fields of cultural practices (reading, music, the visual arts, the body), and much more. Social scientists within and beyond the UK have much to learn from this ambitious and path-breaking collective research.

Michèle Lamont, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.

A superb achievement: at once a cogent theoretical reappraisal of Bourdieu's masterwork of 20th century sociology, and a uniquely wide-ranging study, offering powerful insights, into the changing contours of culture in British society today. Like Distinction, this book will remain a centrepiece of international sociology

Georgina Born, Professor of Sociology, Anthropology and Music, University of Cambridge

Culture, Class, Distinction is the most sophisticated mapping of British cultural practices and preferences ever undertaken. Using cutting-edge techniques of statistical analysis and engaging critically with the sociology of culture developed by Pierre Bourdieu, it explores the cultural dimensions of class, gender and ethnicity across a range of fields. This is a major contribution to understanding the roots of social inclusion and exclusion in British life, and a complex and subtle piece of social theory.

John Frow, Professor of English at School of Culture & Communication University of Melbourne

The amount of labour that has gone into this work is nothing short of impressive. One can only be grateful for the information produced by the authors concerning the relation between social location and cultural practice in Britain today. But the book does a lot more than this. It offers a highly nuanced analysis of this information. It is an excellent example of how one can innovate theoretically while doing empirical research.

Ghassan Hage, Professor of Anthropology and Social Theory, University of Melbourne

Table of Contents

Introduction Part 1: Situating the Analysis 1. Culture after Distinction 1.1 Introduction 1.2 Bourdieu’s Three Axioms 1.3 Contestations over Bourdieu in French Sociology 1.4 Bourdieu in the Sociology of Stratification and Education 1.5 Bourdieu in Cultural Sociology 1.6 Bourdieu and Cultural and Media Studies 1.7 Conclusion 2. Researching Cultural Capital: Questions of Theory and Method 2.1 Introduction 2.2 Habitus and the Dispersal of Practices 2.3 Disaggregating Cultural Capital 2.4 Field Theory and the Relational Organisation of the Social 2.5 Methodological overtures 2.6 Conclusion Part 2: Mapping Tastes, Practices and Individuals 3. Mapping British Cultural Taste and Participation 3.1 Introduction 3.2 Using Multiple Correspondence Analysis 3.3 The Space of Lifestyles: a Cultural Map of Britain in 2003 3.4 Social Groups and the Space of Lifestyles 3.5 The Class Structure of Britain 3.6 Conclusion 4. Individuals in Cultural Maps 4.1 Introduction 4.2 Individuals in the Space of Lifestyles 4.3 Snobbery and Diversity in Accounts of Taste 4.4 Conclusion Part 3: Cultural Fields and the Organisation of Cultural Capital 5. Tensions of the Musical Field 5.1 Introduction 5.2 Music as a Contested Cultural Field 5.3 Contours of Musical Taste 5.4 The Intensities of Musical Taste 5.5 Music and Performance 5.6 Conclusion 6. Popular and Rare: Exploring the Field of Reading 6.1 Introduction 6.2 The functions of Reading 6.3 Book Cultures 6.4 Newspapers and Magazines: the uses of everyday reading 6.5 Conclusion 7. A Sociological Canvas of Visual Art 7.1 Introduction 7.2 Contrasting Paintings 7.3 Consuming Visual Art 7.4 Appreciating Visual Art 7.5 Conclusion 8. Contrasting Dynamics of Distinction: The Media Field 8.1 Introduction 8.2 The Different Class Registers of Television and Cinema 8.3 Television and New Practices of Distinction 8.4 Film and the Differential Value of ‘Aesthetics’ and ‘the Real’ 8.5 Conclusion 9. Cultural Capital and the Body 9.1 Introduction 9.2 The Concept of Embodied Capital 9.3 Sport and physical exercise 9.4 Bodily Adornment and Care 9.5 Eating 9.6 Conclusion Resumé: Cultural Fields: Tensions and Dynamics Part 4: The Social Dimensions of Distinction 10. Cultural Formations of the Middle Classes 10.1 Introduction 10.2 The Debate on the Middle Classes 10.3 The British Middle Classes 10.4 Unravelling Omnivorousness 10.5 Middle-class Identification 10.6 Conclusion 11. Culture and the Working Class 11.1 Introduction 11.2 Taking account of Culture 11.3 The British Working Class Today 11.4 Detachment 11.5 Local Games of Distinction: divisions within the working class 11.6 Class Hostility? 11.7 Conclusion 12. Gender and Cultural Capital 12.1 Introduction 12.2 Gender and Household Relations 12.3 Cultural Fields and the Gendering of Individuals 12.4 Contested Gender Identities 12.5 Conclusion 13. Nation, Ethnicity and Globalisation 13.1 Introduction 13.2 Home and Away 13.3 Nation, Ethnicity and Globalisation 13.4 The Culture Scapes of England, America and Europe 13.5 Conclusion 14. Conclusion Methodological Appendices Appendix 1 Focus Groups Appendix 2 The Survey and Its Analysis Appendix 3 Household Interviews Appendix 4 Elite Interviews

About the Authors

The book is co-authored by Tony Bennett, Mike Savage, Elizabeth Silva, Alan Warde, Modesto Gayo-Cal, David Wright. The book arises out of research conducted at the Economic and Social Research Council Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC), a major international cente for the analysis of socio-cultural change.

Tony Bennett is Research Professor of Social and Cultural Theory in the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney, and a Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. Recent publications include Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism; New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society (edited with Larry Grossberg and Meaghan Morris) and Handbook of Cultural Analysis (edited with John Frow).

Mike Savage is Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester and Director of the ESRC Centre for Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). His interests are in social stratification, urban, and historical sociology.

Elizabeth Silva is Professor of Sociology at the Open University and a member of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC). Her current research interests include social divisions, gender, cultural sociology, everyday life and qualitative methods.

Alan Warde is Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester. His current research interest include the sociology of consumption, with particular emphasis on food, cultural sociology, social stratification and economic sociology.

Modesto Gayo-Cal was a research fellow at CRESC and the Department of Sociology at the University of Manchester while working on the Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion project. His areas of interest are: theories of nationalism, political behaviour, middle classes, and cultural consumption. He is also interested in the application of statistical methods in the social sciences. He is now a Profesor Investigador at the Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago de Chile.

David Wright has published extensively in the field of cultural sociology and is an Assistant Professor in Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick. He was a research fellow on the Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion Project at the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC), based at the Open University.

About the Series


Culture, Economy and the Social

This series establishes the importance of innovative contemporary, comparative and historical work on the relations between social, cultural and economic change. It publishes empirically-based research that is theoretically informed, that critically examines the ways in which social, cultural and economic change is framed and made visible, and that is attentive to perspectives that tend to be ignored or side-lined by grand theorising or epochal accounts of social change. The series addresses the diverse manifestations of contemporary capitalism, and considers the various ways in which the `social', `the cultural' and `the economic' are apprehended as tangible sites of value and practice. It is explicitly comparative, publishing books that work across disciplinary perspectives, cross-culturally, or across different historical periods.

We are particularly focused on publishing books in the following areas that fit with the broad remit of the series:

  • Cultural consumption
  • Cultural economy
  • Cities and urban change
  • Materiality, sociality and the post-human
  • Culture and media industries
  • Culture and governance
  • Emerging forms of cultural and economic practice

The series is actively engaged in the analysis of the different theoretical traditions that have contributed to critiques of the `cultural turn'. We are particularly interested in perspectives that engage with Bourdieu, Foucauldian approaches to knowledge and cultural practices, Actor-network approaches, and with those that are associated with issues arising from Deleuze's work around complexity, affect or topology. The series is equally concerned to explore the new agendas emerging from current critiques of the cultural turn: those associated with the descriptive turn for example. Our commitment to interdisciplinarity thus aims at enriching theoretical and methodological discussion, building awareness of the common ground has emerged in the past decade, and thinking through what is at stake in those approaches that resist integration to a common analytical model.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General