Social Sciences

Pierre Bourdieu: What affects our tastes?

Beach Scene by Renoir

For Bourdieu, cultural consumption  is 'an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher'. Renoir image credit: freeparking

How much is taste shaped by education and social influences? Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher who looked into these questions, most famously in his 1975 book, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.

In the introduction, Bourdieu writes:

Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed.

Bourdieu collected information through questionnaires which asked people questions about their tastes in art, literature, music etc. For example, he compared preferences for different musical pieces and charted these against information about each particpant's social background:

Bourdieu's text includes diagrams and charts which plot his results and show correlations that he found in the data. A key idea in this book is that of 'cultural capital', that is, 'assets' that people acquire, such as education and cultural experience, which can affect social mobility regardless of financial means.

If you have the opportunity to look at Bourdieu's work, do have a think about this way of looking at taste. Do you agree / disagree / recognise aspects of it? Can you think of any examples in modern culture and society? What do you think of the way that Bourdieu collected and used his data? Does his work have wider implications for questions of taste, sociology and identity?

Further exploration:

Date posted: 

Friday 11 July 2014

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Last chance to book for Cambridge Law Open Day!

Inside the Law Faculty

The Law Faculty reception area

If you'd like to book a place on a Cambridge Law Faculty Open morning or afternoon on Wednesday 2 July, do send your booking form as soon as possible. The deadline for the faculty to receive your form is Wednesday 25 June (you need to post or email the information).

Date posted: 

Saturday 21 June 2014

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The 2014 Cambridge Open Days Programme is published!

Cambridge Open Days programme cover

The large Cambridge Open Days are on Thurs 3 and Fri 4 July. This event is for students who are considering an application in September/October 2014.

Do explore the 2014 Cambridge Open Days programme for details of course presentations and sample lectures in your subject, College opening times and locations. If you are interested in visiting a particular College, their website will normally have more detail. At King's, we're open from 9 until 5.30pm as part of the Cambridge Open Days, and we invite you to join tours of the College, subject meetings (students only for those) and chat with current students and admissions staff. See the details for Thurs 3 July and for Fri 4 July.

Booking is required. Although there are no general places left for the Cambridge Open Days, there are still plenty of places available for students who book to attend a College Open Day (you will also be able to attend Cambridge Open Day events in the afternoon) or a North East Welcome Event (please email us for details if you're from the North East). Please see the information about how to attend the Cambridge Open Days now that registration has closed.

We hope to see you there! If you can't attend, don't worry though, as the information that you need to make a successful application is also available online, and you are welcome to email us with any questions.

Date posted: 

Wednesday 18 June 2014

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Gender in Japanese Studies - Free book for your school library?

A book of undergraduate dissertations was published last year, exploring emerging and divergent gender issues in Japan. It is called Manga Girl Seeks Herbivore Boy: Studying Japanese Gender at Cambridge, and it offers some fascinating insights into modern Japanese culture and society, as well as a great way to get a flavour of the kinds of material that you could study if you choose Japanese in the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies course (even if you've never studied Japanese before!). To find out more about the book, read the news article.

In order to introduce Japanese Studies, the department is offering a free copy to 50 school libraries. Why not ask your school librarian to click here for further information and the request form!

Date posted: 

Thursday 12 June 2014

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Slavery: Past and Present

Anti-Slavery Graffiti by Paul Don Smith

Street art by Paul Don Smith. Credit: MsSaraKelly

The Queen's Speech last week included the announcement of a Modern Slavery Bill, which promises to strengthen the prosecution of  human traffickers and improve the protection of victims.

The University of Hull's Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation hosts research into both historical forms of slavery and contemporary forms of enslavement. You can watch Prof. Catherine Hall (UCL) deliver the Institute's Annual Alderman Sydney Smith Lecture on 'Re-thinking the Legacies of Slavery.'

Hull Museums have extensive collections celebrating the work of local son and anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce (1759 - 1833). You can visit Wilberforce House Museum to see the collections for yourself.

Liverpool is home to the International Slavery Museum.

M Shed in Bristol reflects on the city's role in the slave trade. You can visit the museum, or browse its Transatlantic Slave Trade collection online.

The University of Cambridge offers some resources for the study of slavery here.

Anti-Slavery Day is on Saturday 18 October this year. How will you mark it?

Date posted: 

Wednesday 11 June 2014

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What's on Radio 4?

Credit: Adam Foster (cropped)

If you're interested in economics, politics or sociology, recent programmes available on bbc iplayer radio include:

To find other programmes, do explore the Radio 4 website.

Are you struggling to access Radio 4? Click on 'How to listen' in the menu on the left of this help section. If you are outside the UK, see the iplayer access information.

Date posted: 

Wednesday 11 June 2014

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