Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pierre Bourdieu: Metamorphosis of taste

The key concept of Pierre Bourdieu's "metamorphosis of taste" is that the logic which drives the constant processes of change in taste and style, in all fields of culture, is that of struggles between producers of culture. A given field of cultural activity (e.g. literature, music, Fashion etc.) is constituted by a struggle over symbolic (which translates into financial) capital. Innovation and inventiveness are the product of this struggle over dominant positions within the given field. This negates the habitual conception of artistic novelty as being driven by artists' creative drive. Bourdieu's claim is also opposed to the assertion that novelty is the result of marketing and other economic considerations. Bourdieu does acknowledge the field of culture to be a market, but a social market rather than a financial one. This social market is characterized by completion over prestige and status. Status, according to Bourdieu, is gained by dissimilation from others and creating a distinctive supply-and-demand relations, that is, taste.   
Taste, according to Bourdieu, is a differentiating asset which distinguishes "good" and "bad", "high" and "low", "classic" and "vulgar". The artist is the one which actualizes taste, and is invested with the authority to do so. That is, a certain field configuration is enabling them to invest prestige in a certain object.  The artist's production is dependent on his relative position within his cultural field, a position which guides his activities. The changing nature of such cultural fields (it's easiest to see with fashion) is due to the constant struggle over supremacy within them. This inner dialectics is the reason why sometimes audiences get "left behind" and alienated from a field that is speaking only inside itself.
The growing demand for culture by bigger and bigger audiences creates the devaluation of products (and taste) which become more and more common (like Mozart). In contrast, retro fashion is reclaiming lost rarity.
see also: Pierre Bourdieu – The Historical Genesis of the Pure Aesthetic - summary and review
 Bourdieu and the Art World
Suggested reading on Bourdiue: