Snobbery has changed over the centuries and is today dominated by different tastes in house decoration, food and wine, a new book says.
In Snobbery, published today [12 December 2018], Professor David Morgan charts a change in snobbery from the 19th century onwards, when people looked down upon others simply because they were in a lower class, to today, where it is the cultural tastes of people which are disdained.
“The possibilities of snobberies based upon position declined in the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries,” he writes. This was because class became more complex, as industrialisation meant a different class of people could become rich and acquire land.
Instead, a new snobbery took over, one based on people’s education and tastes. “While established hierarchies based upon positions may be waning (but never completely disappearing), new distinctions based upon the possession of economic, cultural and social capitals have emerged and become increasingly significant.”
This means that people who are not well educated, and lack the ‘right’ taste in house decoration, food and wines, are now at risk of encountering snobbery, says Professor Morgan, an expert on family life and personal relationships.
One example of this snobbery is displays of Christmas lights. “Some houses in districts identified as working class are a riot of lights around the Christmas period. The lights may be flashing or depicting Santa and his reindeer or any other familiar festive themes. They may be seen as examples of ‘chav bling’ and of the excess and lack of subtlety that are the object of other expressions of disapproval.”
Also, “Food and eating constitute prominent features in the contemporary snobscape. Within this broad area, wine snobbery constitutes a particularly prominent peak.”
“Education, with the conventional and often lazy associations with themes of intelligence and meritocracy, is a great divider, not simply between classes but also between generations. An education that seeks to teach an appreciation of the finer things in life can also have the consequences, unintended or otherwise, of creating in its recipients a sense of being the finer sorts of people.
“Modern snobberies are based upon possessions (economic and cultural) rather than upon positions. Further, this tends to mean that when we use the word ‘snob’ today we are more likely to use it to refer to a looking-down on somebody rather than, as was more frequently the case in the past, a looking-up to or a desire to be associated with those higher in the social order.”
This snobbery of tastes ultimately “derives from the complexities of social class relationships – just as class continues to be important, so too does snobbery. It would therefore seem unlikely that we could eliminate snobbery...without first eliminating the divisions that give rise to it.”
He says that understanding snobbery is important as it is “felt as a hurt because of its association with shame and pride and the denial of a recognition that the recipient feels is due. Snobbery matters because of the numbers of people who can recall being ‘put down’, directly or indirectly, in some social encounter or another. It refers to the cuts, the snubs, the put-downs and the sense of exclusion felt by those who are on the receiving end of snobbery.
“To give a small personal example, I can still recall the discomfort I felt when being told that ‘almost anybody’ could get into Hull University [in the 1950s], which happened to be the university I was about to go to.”
For more information, please contact:
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392
Review copies are available from Kathryn King at Policy Press.
- David Morgan is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester. The Morgan Centre for the Study of Relationships and Personal Life at Manchester was established in his name in 2005.
- Snobbery by David Morgan: Paperback ISBN 978-1447340348, price £10.39. It can be ordered from the Policy Press website: https://policy.bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/snobbery
- Snobbery is published by the British Sociological Association and Policy Press and as part of their joint ‘21st Century Standpoints’ book series, which brings important sociological work to non-specialist and academic audiences. The next books in the series will be What's Wrong with Work? by Lynne Pettinger and Money by Mary Mellor. The series editors are Professor Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London, Professor Pamela Cox, University of Essex, and Professor Nasar Meer, University of Edinburgh.