Distinction (sociology)

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Dimensions of distinction: clothing, habitus and codes as unique selling points and distinguishing features.

Distinction (from the Latin distinctio "distinction") is a term used in sociology to describe the more or less conscious delimitation of members of certain social groups (e.g. religious communities, classes or even smaller units such as youth cultures ).

These delimitations probably already appear on this side of the animal-human transition field with the advent of jewelry . Even the agonal rivalry and anger of Achilles when Homer's Iliad is about a trophy for his achievements is a poetic example of a struggle for distinction.

In retrospect, historically and sociologically, these mechanisms were first examined for feudal society from the 16th to 19th centuries: Norbert Elias describes the tendency of the nobility to constantly refine “ customs ” as a social strategy to distance themselves from the aspiring and imitating bourgeoisie, and in the consequence as an essential driving force of today's expressions of human self-portrayals and manners.

Pierre Bourdieu presents in one of his main works The subtle differences (original: La distinction , 1979) a “critique of the social judgment ” in which specific manifestations of taste preferences (related to art, music, furniture, food, drink, travel etc.) as Consequences of the respective social status are to be seen; The most important driving force here is again the will to demarcate, to distinguish from other (e.g. socially disadvantaged) people or groups. It is mostly the upper classes who set the standards for the highly valued lifestyles ( see also class arrogance ).

With the Logic of Distinctions (1996), Rodrigo Jokisch presented a protologic to a universal social theory . It builds on the three "activist categories" of communication, decision and action, which operate and produce meaning on the basis of meaning. The main idea is that the emergence of social structures is based on the transformation from symmetrical to asymmetrical forms and vice versa.

Oliver Nachtwey describes in Die Abstiegsgesellschaft. About the rebellion in regressive modernity that political alienation in post-democracy also resulted in apathy and social demarcation as a by-product. The fear of social decline creates a need “for social Darwinist or xenophobic distinction”, especially in the middle class. Pegida and the alternative for Germany in particular are an expression of this danger, which has arisen as a result of the new civil protests due to the democratic class conflict produced by social injustice.


  • Olaf Kühne: Distinction, power, landscape: on the social definition of landscape . VS Verlag 2008, ISBN 978-3-531-16213-3
  • Boike Rehbein: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieus . UTB 2006, ISBN 3-8252-2778-2 , pp. 157–188, 190–199 ( excerpt from Google book search)
  • HP Müller: Difference and Distinction. About culture and lifestyles. Merkur, Stuttgart 1995, 49, pp. 927-934.
  • Oliver Nachtwey: The relegation society. About rebellion in the regressive modern age. 1st edition, new edition Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2014 ISBN 978-3-518-12682-0

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Pierre Bourdieu: The subtle differences. Critique of social judgment. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-518-28258-1 (French: La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement . Paris 1979).
  2. Rodrigo Jokisch: Logic of the distinctions . On the protology of a theory of society. In: Studies on Social Science , Volume 171. Westdeutscher Verlag , Opladen 1996, ISBN 3-531-12804-3 .
  3. Nachtwey, Oliver: Die Abstiegsgesellschaft About rebellion in the regressive modern age . 1st edition, new edition Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-518-12682-0 .