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Customer reviews of ‘highbrow’ literature: A comparative reception study of The Inheritance of Loss and The White Tiger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Cultural Sociology
Accepted/In press4 Mar 2021

King's Authors

Abstract

Bourdieu argues that legitimate or ‘highbrow’ cultural products depend for their appreciation on a style of consumption grounded in a form of cultural knowledge acquired through formal education. To explore this idea, all available customer reviews of two Man Booker prize-winning novels – Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006) and Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger (2008) – were collected from the Amazon.co.uk website. Analysis of these reviews focused on styles of cultural consumption, as implied by the relationship between the words in the reviews and the numeric ‘star ratings’ that accompany those reviews. Positive reviews resemble discourse on the same novels by what Bourdieu calls ‘professional interpreters’ or ‘professional commentator[s] on texts’ in their tendency to interpret formal features in relation to political and philosophical themes, while negative reviews instead express disappointment that these novels do not measure up to ‘middlebrow’ standards, highlighting the novels’ lack of characteristics apparently considered conducive to readerly enjoyment. Mentions of the Man Booker Prize itself were associated with negative evaluations of both novels, often featuring in expressions of confusion or anger.

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