Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blog 5: Language, Social Networking, and Social Structures

As sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1984) theorizes in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, individuals take a position in the social space based on their accumulation of social capital, which represents an amalgamation of economic, intellectual, and cultural capital . How one presents his or her position in the social space – through their aesthetic dispositions or ‘judgment of taste’ – depicts and cements their social status and level of social capital. The elite in society, who have the highest level of social capital, set standards for the judgment of taste; the tastes of lower social classes are subservient to the elite standard. The upwardly mobile members of society can – and often will – try to imitate the cultured elite through absorption of taste and aesthetic preferences, but they can never truly assimilate into the upper crust.

In several works, including “The Economics of Linguistic Exchanges” (1977), Bourdieu applies his general sociological theory of taste to language and formal education. He contends that language must be analyzed through the network of social relationships from which it is generated, positing that “nobody acquires a language without acquiring a relation to language” (646). As with aesthetic dispositions and judgment of taste, Grenfell and James (1998) note, the standard of language or the social ‘norm’ is “the dominating style of language of those who speak from authority” (74). While the elite are raised under this standard of language, Bourdieu argues that the “dominated classes… are condemned to reconnaissance without connaissance” (75). In other words, the lower classes attempt to appropriate this most prestigious language as a means to advance their social position, but are not in a position to effectively learn and incorporate this form of language. Their inevitable linguistic ineptitude, often demonstrated through being ‘over correct’ as in technically proficient but not natural or fluid in their language appropriation, only “betrays the structural position of the individuals within the linguistic field” (76).

In her essay on youths and social networking, Danah Boyd (2007) contends that subject and identity formation - and the association between the subject and the public - now occurs through what she calls 'networked publics', such as MySpace. This new means of identity formation is obviously different than the means that Bourdieu would have assumed when writing Distinction. However, his overall argument still seems to hold weight. Consider Boyd's description of the poor minority student applying to a prestigious university. The student's MySpace profile indicated an association to gang violence and the admissions officers viewed the profile as unbefitting toward the image of the university. In this way, while the student was somehow able to successfully rise above his position in the social structure through his writing and academic achievement, his MySpace page immediately threw him back into that world.

My question for the week, then, is how, to what extent, and in what ways does the way someone interacts with social networking sites betray their position in the social structure?

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste
Bourdieu, P. (1977). “The Economics of Linguistic Exchanges.” Social Science Information.
Grenfell, M. and James, D. (1998). Bourdieu and Education: Acts of Practical Theory.
Boyd, D. (2007). Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites.

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