The choice of the necessary: class, tastes and lifestyles: a Bourdieusian analysis in contemporary Britain

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Our attitudes, values and tastes are shaped by our position in social space. At least, that was the argument Pierre Bourdieu set out in his seminal work, La Distinction. The purpose of this paper is to consider Bourdieu's theory of cultural reproduction and his argument that working-class families exhibit cultural attitudes and tastes for social necessity.

Attitudinal data relating to social necessity are taken from a national social survey of the British population. The results provide a rich source of data for exploring classed attitudes towards necessity in contemporary Britain.
Bourdieu's original claims for working-class “choice of the necessary” and working-class “taste for necessity” are based on his observations grounded in social survey evidence drawn from 1960s French society. Analysis of contemporary British social survey and attitudinal data also reveals sharp contours and differences in attitudes and tastes according to class fractions. These are evident in classed tastes and preferences for food, clothes, the home and social life.

Social implications
Within the Bourdieusian theoretical framework, we understand that the tastes of necessity are preferences that arise as adaptations to deprivation of necessary goods and services. La Distinction and Bourdieu's approach to unmasking inequalities and structures in social space continue to be relevant in contemporary Britain. More generally, study findings add to the growing evidence that casts some doubt on current arguments concerning “individualisation”, claiming that social class has ceased to be significant in modern societies.

This paper sheds fresh light on the empirical validity and continuing theoretical relevance of Bourdieu's work examining the role of social necessity in shaping working-class culture. Bourdieu argues that the real principle of our preferences is taste and for working-class families, this is a virtue made of necessity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438-454
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
Issue number7/8
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2014


  • attitudes
  • inequality
  • consumption
  • class
  • social policy


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