In it, Bourdieu argues that judgments of taste are related to social position, or more precisely, are themselves acts of social positioning.
His argument is put forward by an original combination of social theory and data from quantitative surveys, photographs and interviews, in an attempt to reconcile difficulties such as how to understand the subject within objective structures.
However, Bourdieu critically diverged from Durkheim in emphasizing the role of the social agent in enacting, through the embodiment of social structures, symbolic orders.
He furthermore emphasized that the reproduction of social structures does not operate according to a functionalist logic.
Bourdieu's work was primarily concerned with the dynamics of power in society, especially the diverse and subtle ways in which power is transferred and social order is maintained within and across generations.
In conscious opposition to the idealist tradition of much of Western philosophy, his work often emphasized the corporeal nature of social life and stressed the role of practice and embodiment in social dynamics.
From Max Weber he retained the importance of domination and symbolic systems in social life, as well as the idea of social orders which would ultimately be transformed by Bourdieu from a sociology of religion into a theory of fields.
From Marx he gained his understanding of 'society' as the ensemble of social relationships: "what exist in the social world are relations – not interactions between agents or intersubjective ties between individuals, but objective relations which exist 'independently of individual consciousness and will'." (Arnold Hauser earlier published the orthodox application of Marxist class theory to the fine arts in The Social History of Art (1951).) From Émile Durkheim, through Marcel Mauss and Claude Lévi-Strauss, Bourdieu inherited a certain structuralist interpretation of the tendency of social structures to reproduce themselves, based on the analysis of symbolic structures and forms of classification.
Bourdieu's best known book is Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979).
The book was judged the sixth most important sociological work of the twentieth century by the International Sociological Association.