“Culture and taste are central to Bourdieu’s understanding of habitus, domination, and the exercise of power. Cultural practices are, in essence, reflective of underlying class distinctions, serving as subtle yet powerful forms of social distinction. Lifestyles give practical expression to the symbolic dimension of class identity. Tastes stem not from internally generated aesthetic preferences, but from the conditioning effect of habitus and the availability of economic and cultural capital.
"Each social class or fraction of a class has its own habitus and correlative set of cultural practices. This leads Bourdieu to conclude that relative “distance from necessity” is the main determinant of habitus and the formation of tastes and preferences. Those in the uppermost strata of society, free from material constraints, develop an aesthetic disposition characterized by “the stylization of life,” the primacy of form over function and manner over matter. In contrast, the working classes are seen to privilege substance over form, the informal over the formal, the sensual over the intellectual, and the immediate over the deferred. By way of a myriad of cultural practices, dominant factions thereby distance themselves from the subordinated, affecting a sense of casual superiority and social distinction. The exercise of taste thus serves to reinforce the right to rule.
"Bourdieu was not the first cultural theorist to observe that tastes and shifts in tastes are instrumental in social competition. Simmel, Vance Packard, and Veblen before him had defined luxury goods and high fashion as status symbols that conferred distinction upon their owners, equating good taste with membership in the upper classes. In this conception, those lower down on the social scale pursue emulative strategies for the acquisition of symbolic capital and social advancement, causing tastes to “trickle down” from the upper to the lower reaches of society. Veblen offers the most extreme version of the theory, holding that accepted standards of good taste are set for each class by the one immediately above, making the super wealthy at the apex of society the ultimate arbiters of good taste.
"Social domination extends beyond tastes in material goods to encompass lifestyles and etiquette. This is because good taste is contingent not only on the acquisition of things, but also upon having the knowledge and time needed to appreciate or consume them properly. In other words, conspicuous leisure is the other side of the coin to conspicuous consumption, and by virtue of its wealth the leisure class is able to stay ahead by continuously reinventing what constitutes good taste. Within hierarchical social structures based on wealth, taste formation is an exclusively top-down process that condemns the lower orders perennially to be out of fashion.”
- Charles Harvey, John Press, and Mairi Maclean in William Morris, Cultural Leadership, and the Dynamics of Taste (2011)