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Interpreting Ceramics Selected Essays By T&S

Interpreting Ceramics, selected essays demonstrates the diverse interests explored by a range of international writers on ceramics since the year 2000. The essays were originally published on-line in the journal Interpreting Ceramics ( and have been selected to represent the first ten years of the journal content. Written by practitioners as well as leading academics, they vary in length, tone and approach. Some were accepted for publication through the journal’s normal peer-review process, others began life as conference papers and others were submitted in response to special initiatives such as the ‘Speak for Yourself’ project. Collectively they reflect the vibrant and scholarly debate that has characterised the web pages of Interpreting Ceramics and underline its contribution to the field.

Contributing Authors include both editors and: 
Alison Britton, Christie Brown, Richard Carlton, Michael Casson, Garth Clark, Emmanuel Cooper, Wilma Cruise, Mary Drach McInnes, Eugene Dwyer, Carole Epp, Christine Longworth, Ozioma Onuzulike, Matthew Partington, Elizabeth Perrill, Geraint Roberts, Anders Ruhwald and Moira Vincentelli

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And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches… And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up. – 3 Ne. 6:12, 14

Distinction is based upon a massive survey which Bourdieu and his assistants administered in Paris during the 1960’s regarding the impact of people’s economic and educational backgrounds upon their tastes in kinds of food, quantity of food, table manners, dress, posture, vocabulary, accents, stores, furniture, wall décor, entertainment, singers, instruments, reading material, politics, etc. This amount of empirical research sets him apart from most other critical theorists with which he tends to be associated. That said, the specific context in which this data was gathered does place certain limitations upon the extent to which his results can be generalized to today’s American culture in which I currently find myself. Indeed, Bourdieu fully acknowledges that aesthetic tastes evolve across time and place in never-ending quest for distinction.

The figures (below, treat the two images as if they were connected) present a large portion of the (again, massive) information gleaned from his survey. The chart is organized along two dimensions. Horizontal positions range from those on the left, whose cultural-to-economic capital ratio is very high, to those on the right, whose cultural-to-economic capital ratio is very low.  Vertical positions indicate the amount of combined capital associated with the people and lifestyles found there. Thus, at the very bottom, we find (in black writing) unskilled workers and individual farmers. Moving upward to the right, we find farm laborers, shopkeepers on up to commercial/industrial employers (capitalists). Starting again at the bottom and moving upward toward the left, we basically rise through the hierarchy of cultural guardians – primary, secondary and higher-education teachers. Upward through the middle of the diagram, we find foremen, office workers, technicians on up to executives and professionals (lawyers, doctors, etc.). The chart also includes several arrows that depict the historical trajectory of various professions through this social space.


Within this same taxonometric map, we also find (in grey writing) various lifestyles associated with these locations in social space. At the bottom, we find a preference for public dances, football, potatoes, bread, bacon and the highest birthrates (sounds pretty Mormon to me). To the left, we find yoga, libraries, ceramics, trekking and jazz music. On the right, is car magazines, love stories, hunting, sparkling wines and popular music (the Beatles). Finally, at the top-center, is opera, piano, golf, tennis and antique shops. Attached below is a slightly simplified map which includes the political leaning associated with various positions in high chart.

Finally, one can also find histograms that indicate the vertical position of the respondents’ parents (the dark bar=high capital, grey=medium and white=low). These graphics demonstrate the strong correlation (aka lack of inter-generational mobility) between our parents’ social class, the tastes and lifestyles that they teach us, and the options that these tastes and lifestyles open and close for us. Put bluntly, hierarchies in taste are the means by which we self-stratify ourselves and each other into “higher” and “lower” classes, both culturally and economically speaking.

By placing some lifestyles and tastes above others, we openly acknowledge that such people ought to have a disproportionate share of social influence and/or economic goods and services. (‘Sociodicy’ – a play on ‘theodicy’ – is Bourdieu’s rather catchy word for this process.) All such strivings for “distinction”, then, are strategies by which we attempt to marshal and legitimize the largest share possible of social/economic resources for ourselves to the exclusion and marginalization of our competitors:

The most intolerable thing for those who regard themselves as the possessors of legitimate culture is the sacrilegious reuniting of tastes which taste dictates shall be separated. This means that the games of artists and aesthetes and their struggles for the monopoly of artistic legitimacy are less innocent than they seem. At stake in every struggle over art there is also the imposition of an art of living, that is, the transmutation of an arbitrary way of living into the legitimate way of life which arts every other way of living into arbitrariness. (Pg. 57)

From this perspective, the Bloggernacle is a cultural field in which bloggers and readers alike seek to stratify themselves within the larger LDS community – church authorities included.  As such, it is a means whereby they seek to transform their own, chosen interests and preferences in intellectual/cultural consumption into the (one and only) legitimate way of being Mormon. (High Nibley’s rants in Approaching Zion would be a smoking gun, had it been published within the Bloggernacle.) We thus seek distinction from the “‘popular’, ‘low’, ‘vulgar’, ‘common’” members that populate the traditional LDS ward. (pg. 251)

The flipside of this is that we also seek moral validation from those who share our contempt for this “vulgar” Mormonism. There is, then, a strong parallel between those who seek solidarity in their shared distaste for (aka boredom/frustration with) what they find in church meetings: conservative politics, a lack of “depth” or “rigor” in class discussions, or any other lack of “higher” or “deeper” cultural refinement. Quoting Proust, Bourdieu claims that:

‘A sort of egoistic self-regard is inevitable in these mingled joys of art and erudition…’ Cultivated pleasure feeds on these intertwined references, which reinforce and legitimate each other, producing … the ‘idolatry’ which is the very basis of cultivated pleasure… Those whom Proust calls ‘the aristocracy of intellect’ know how to mark their distinction in the most peremptory fashion by addressing to the ‘elite’, made up of those who can decipher them, the discreet but irrefutable signs of their membership of the ‘elite’ (like the loftiness of emblematic references, which designate not so much sources or authorities as the very exclusive, very select circle of recognized interlocutors… (pg. 499)

By lacking the proper vocabulary, accents and idioms, an “outsider” marks their own judgement as one not worth struggling and striving for. Consequently, by wielding a coded language, us Mormon bloggers pre-select our audiences, thereby isolating ourselves from the potential criticism that we might otherwise receive from 1) non-Mormons, 2) “vulgar” Mormons and, 3) most importantly, Mormon authorities whose credentials count for little within the cultural field. (Indeed, membership within the cultural elite is seen as a sign of “proper” church authority.)

This tendency for cultural elites to pre-select their own critics through a coded language (Gouldner discusses this code at length in his Dialectic of Ideology and Technology) applies equally to painters, poets, scientists, philosophers – indeed, any member of a community which is dedicated to art, science, writing, etc. “for it’s own sake”. The following passage describes with remarkable accuracy the disdain with which academics within the ‘nacle dismiss the criticisms of apologists, or evolutionary biologists dismiss creationists, or Biblical scholars resent their not being consulted for the BYU religion curriculum, etc.:

The sense of distinction … is affirmed not so much in the manifestos and positive manifestations of self-confidence as in the innumerable stylistic or thematic choices which … exclude all the forms of intellectual (or artistic) activity regarded at a given moment as inferior – vulgar objects, unworthy references, simple didactic exposition, ‘naive’ problems (naïve essentially because they lack philosophical pedigree), ‘trivial’ questions… and so on. In short, the philosophical sense of distinction is another form of the visceral disgust at vulgarity which defines pure taste as an internalized social relationship… (Pg. 499)

He makes the application to philosophers even more explicit with language that is reminiscent of Kuhn:

The radical questionings announced by philosophy are in fact circumscribed by the interests linked to membership in the philosophical field, that is, to the very existence of this field and the corresponding censorships. The field is the historical product of the labour of the successive philosophers who have defined certain topics as philosophical by forcing them on commentary, discussion, critique and polemic; but the problems, theories, themes or concepts which are deposited in writings considered at a given moment as philosophical (books, articles, essay topics, etc.) and which constitute objectified philosophy impose themselves as a  sort of autonomous world on would-be philosophers, who must not only know them, as items of culture, but recognize them, as objects of (pre-reflexive) belief, failing which they disqualify themselves as philosophers. All those who profess to be philosophers have a life-or-death interest, qua philosophers, in the existence of this repository of consecrated texts, a mastery of which constitutes the core of their specific capital.  (Pg. 496)

In summary, the following claim that Bourdieu makes regarding aesthetic discourse generalizes to any field of cultural production/consumption, including, but not limited to theology, science, philosophy, apologetics, poetry, etc.:

What is at stake in aesthetic discourse, and in the attempted imposition of a definition of the genuinely human, is nothing less than the monopoly of humanity. Art is called upon to mark the difference between humans and non-humans… (Pg. 491)

In summary, there is a strong tendency for people within the dominating and dominated classes to equate “high” culture with “true” culture. Things are no different within the Mormon community. The question, then, is where can one find “high” Mormon culture: at General Conference or Sunstone Symposia; Sunday school or Times and Seasons? Is going outside the “cookie-cutter” lesson manuals an integral part of “true” Mormonism? What influence do we hope/demand our western cultural hierarchy to have over the hierarchy of priesthood authority?

In the end, I can’t help but suspect that our attempt at seeking cultural distinction from mainstream members is exactly what 3 Nephi was warning us about. I noted above the significant overlap between the lowest class and some aspects of Mormon culture. The stronger this overlap, the stronger the temptation will be for us to distance ourselves from that culture.  It is when the judgments of that culture – both those of its leaders and of its followers – no longer seem worth striving for that we are in danger of breaking off from the church.

Edit – Here are a few points that might help pull the post together a little better:

1) This post is about cultural consumption, not cultural production. It thus serves as of an indictment of readers and commenters within the Bloggernacle more than the authors of posts. Here, I’m pitting Bourdieu against our “preferences” and “tastes” in gospel discussion styles and topics, these being far less innocent that we often believe or claim them to be.

2) The original disciples were mocked not only, or even primarily, for their poverty, but for their unrefined accents, illiteracy and general lack of enculturation. So often, especially within intellectual circles, we are so focused on those who would place themselves above us economically or within the church hierarchy, that we are completely blind to the ways in which we ourselves position ourselves above others, culturally speaking. When we dismiss, roll our eyes at or actively avoid the “boring, cookie cutter” SS lessons or when we get upset that church leaders who have no biological training or credentials speak out on evolution, we become no different that those who mocked and rejected the 12 disciples. Cultural stratifications are just as corrosive to gospel unity as economic inequality.

3) It should come as no surprise that those who are high in cultural capital complain about cultural inequality about as much as those with high economic capital complain about economic inequality. Both groups tend to see their own disproportionate stock of capital as innocent, deserved or otherwise “legit”. If anything, the former group within the church is much more likely to complain that their own, cultural capital is not given its proper recognition and respect within the church and its leadership.

4) Next post, I should make the difference between cultural capital and symbolic capital a bit clearer. While Jesus and his 12 disciples had no economic or cultural capital, they still claimed and wielded an immense amount of symbolic capital, this being the ability to decide for or otherwise persuade others which kinds of capital are more “legitimate” than others. Basically, the symbolic capital which Jesus wielded allowed him to say that economic and cultural capital counted for nothing in the kingdom of God. Knowing more languages, painters, composers or philosophers than the next person does not make you more “human” than they are.


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