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‘I’m not a snob, but…’: class boundaries and the downplaying of difference

Jarness, Vegard and Friedman, Sam (2017) ‘I’m not a snob, but…’: class boundaries and the downplaying of difference. Poetics, 61. pp. 14-25. ISSN 0304-422X

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Identification Number: 10.1016/j.poetic.2016.11.001


In this article we demonstrate how upper-middle-class respondents in Norway and the UK draw strong symbolic boundaries based on cultural taste and lifestyle. However, we also find that such expressions of judgment are marshalled in interview settings by a strong moral imperative to appear open, tolerant and respectful of others. We argue that these apparently contradictory accounts represent the collision of interviewees’ spontaneous visceral and scripted honourable selves. We also focus on how this complex presentation of self plays out in social life – both in terms of respondents’ interactions with ourselves, as interviewers, and in their recollections of everyday-life encounters with those very different to themselves. Strikingly aware that others may perceive them as ‘snobbish’ and ‘elitist’, interviewees go to lengths to downplay difference in social encounters. Such reflexive monitoring of self-presentation, we argue, constitutes a distinct Bourdieusian ‘strategy of condescension’, allowing the privileged to both benefit publically from adherence to culturally dominant norms of openness, while continuing to privately harbour private feelings of snobbery. Thus, contrary to claims that the pervasiveness of egalitarian moral sentiments makes cultural-aesthetical boundaries less effective in social life, we argue that flying under the moral radar of egalitarian sentiments may – intentionally or otherwise – help secure the legitimacy of cultural distinctions.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2016 Elsevier B.V.
Divisions: Sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 23 Jan 2017 15:21
Last Modified: 03 Jul 2024 23:57

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