4942 taste, sociology of

most ordinary sociological studies, which iden
tify correlations between socioeconomic back
ground factors and various cultural practices
and habits. Bourdieu, however, made a further
claim. He claimed that in any society tastes are
hierarchically ordered. This means that there is
a legitimate taste in each society which gains its
legitimacy from the very fact that other, lower
echelons of society, the middle classes in parti
cular, acknowledge its superiority by aspiring to
acquire it and its visible symbols. A process of
continuous social emulation reproduces both
cultural distinctions and, by doing so, the dif
ferent forms of capital. This process perpe
tually forces the upper classes to distinguish
themselves from their social competitors by
adopting new signs and symbols of excellence.
One of the logical consequences of Bourdieus
analysis is that, as a result of the continuous
process of making new distinctions, the taste of
the upper classes tends to become more and
more refined and exclusive. What we have here
is, essentially, an aristocrats taste. The cultural
hero of early modernity, the dandy, is its true


Bourdieus strong emphasis on the hierarchical
and aristocratic nature of the ruling class taste is
what has caused most reservations among sociol
ogists toward his theoretical interpretations. The
criticisms address concrete empirical and theo
retical questions concerning his model. The dis
senting empirical results can be explained both
by different and rapidly changing socioeconomic
conditions (most notably the democratization of
educational opportunities) and by theoretical
and methodological differences in the study
An interesting question raised in recent stu
dies is the emergence of a cultural omnivore.
According to this idea proposed by Peterson
and Kern (1996) what distinguishes the pre
sent cultural upper class from other classes is
not the exclusiveness and refinement of its taste,
but rather the very opposite, its inclusiveness.
Peterson and Kerns studies of musical tastes
in Northern America revealed that the elite
were omnivores this was true above all of the
economic elite graduating from business
schools. They appreciated most or several musi
cal genres almost indiscriminately, whereas
social groups with less economic and cultural
capital were much more restrictive in their
tastes, with preferences such as country and
western or gospel. Quite unexpectedly, business
school graduates are the new cultural heroes.
Another interesting empirical observation to
which Bourdieu paid very little attention in his
own study are the distinctions according to
gender. In virtually all subsequent empirical
studies, gender differences seem to lie behind
many distinctions in various fields of consump
tion and culture. They are particularly accentu
ated in the consumption of goods or in the
practices of traditional high culture often asso
ciated with established cultural institutions,
such as museums, art exhibitions and galleries,
theatres, dance performances, etc. All have
become leisure time activities for an increas
ingly female public. What is more important,
they are practiced by women of various educa
tional backgrounds, that is, not only by rela
tively well educated women but even by those
in the middling positions. An equally clear dis
tinction between the sexes can often be found,
for instance, in eating practices and food tastes.


One of the interesting questions facing future
research is to what extent does this validate the
fact that by increasingly taking over such typi
cally highbrow cultural practices women have
really become a new cultural elite. Or, con
versely, does this signify a general social and
cultural degradation of these traditional genres
and fields of highbrow culture? Or, finally, is
it more likely, as suggested by some sociolo
gists, that even though relatively clear cultural
distinctions related to different taste prefer
ences exist in present day societies, they are
not in general or in the majority of cases hier
archically ordered? Women and men, or for that
matter young people and old people, may just
develop different tastes, but this practice does