Lump, split, or elevate? How a classification created a ch√Ęteau tradition in 19th century Bordeaux, France

Walter Powell, Standford
How and why does something temporary become resilient? Social classifications, industrial categories, and technical standards can be more or less malleable; but they each have the effect that the more they are used, the more they are reinforced. Such classifications both enable coordination and create boundaries. They can also evolve into powerful symbolic representations. We examine how a classification that was temporarily created in the mid-19th century persisted in the face of numerous challenges (e.g. wars, depression, and pestilence) and survives intact through today. Drawing on a wealth of data sources -- rival rankings, international exhibitions, architectural buildings, naming conventions -- we show how a temporary classification became venerated. We propose the concept of transcendence, that is, how a classification gains a superior, external quality, detached from its birth, and widely accepted as a social fact. Empirically, we show how the Bordeaux wine classification evolved into an invented tradition robust to numerous rival claims. More abstractly, our study illuminates how the messy and contingent origins of an institution are often forgotten and ennobling accounts are constructed.
March, 6 2017 | 12:45 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. | Gross Hall 230E

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