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Comparative Studies of Culture and Power

ISBN: 978-0-76230-885-9, eISBN: 978-1-84950-155-2

ISSN: 0195-6310

Publication date: 24 October 2003


In their endless quest for self-devotion, the elite, the powerful, often seek to appropriate the most beautiful and impressive things. As Thorstein Veblen (1899, p. 36) put it: “In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient to merely possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence.” Looking at it in these terms, pomp and prestige prove to be necessary elements for “upholding one’s rank.” Many authors have acknowledged that Veblen was the first to give a systematic sociological interpretation of “conspicuous behaviour.” However he has often been criticized for taking on a rather puritan and incriminating tone. For his part, Norbert Elias (1974, pp. 48–49) reproaches Veblen for not managing to understand the behavioural logics and the mentalities of societies different from the (American-bourgeois) one he was analysing. Moreover, Elias quite rightly points out that in industrialized societies, one is able to preserve great prestige without providing public proof for it through costly display. Social pressure for prestigious consumption would no longer have the unavoidable character it used to have (particularly within court society) and would take on a much more private one (Elias, 1974, pp. 54–55). Even if this statement often proves to be true, it is also an over-generalization.


Daloz, J.-P. (2003), "OSTENTATION IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE: CULTURE AND ELITE LEGITIMATION", Engelstad, F. (Ed.) Comparative Studies of Culture and Power (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 21), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 29-62.



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