The Sociology of Elite Distinction: From Theoretical to by Jean-Pascal Daloz (auth.)

By Jean-Pascal Daloz (auth.)

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Essential debates, also including postmodern critics, followed. This raised several issues which we shall meet again in relation to the themes of cultivation and taste. 28 Social Theory and Elite Distinction Thompson’s descriptions of relations between the ‘gentry’ and the ‘plebs’ in eighteenth-century England equally merit being touched on in this section, as one of the very rare instances of a neo-Marxist approach which keenly stressed ‘distinction’ matters. An important member of the aforementioned British ‘Cultural Studies’ tradition, Thompson, like most Marxists – and for obvious reasons – paid attention mainly to working class populations.

For example, he wrote about the aristocratic ‘ethos’ and ‘the need for ostentation, glamour and imposing splendour’ in feudal contexts where luxury was ‘nothing superfluous’ but ‘a means of social self-assertion’ (Roth and Wittich, 1978, p. 1106). Besides, Weber offered occasional remarks about the sartorial styles and physical appearance of elites or their sense of dignity. Methodologically, it is worth adding that he kept a most welcome axiological neutrality. In sum, in the rich symbolic domain which treats styles of life as enhancers of social power and status, Weber is of lasting value.

Life at the court of Versailles, for instance, especially under the reign of Louis XIV, not only entailed the most stringent observation of daily rituals and minute rankings of precedence but also demanded a lavish existence. A significant theme is introduced here: the obligation for the courtier to live ostentatiously. The luxury and refinement of some created the exclusion of others. This is what Elias calls the ‘court rationality’, that is the imperative pressure for competitive display between aristocrats eager to defend their prestige.

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