Classifying the Classifier

“someone who only knows how to divide into Romanesque and Gothic, puts all Gothic cathedrals, undifferentiated, into the same class, whereas someone with greater competence can discern stylistic differences between the ‘primitive’, ‘classical’, and ‘late’ periods, or even recognize the work of specific schools within each of these styles” – Bourdieu[1]

Connoisseurship is often reductionist in its natural tendencies. Practitioners are taught to classify the subject of their interest (whether tea, wine, gothic cathedrals, or renaissance frescoes), via the discernment of minute differences, into constructed categories; to those who involve themselves with a culture of connoisseurship, differences between products are a determinant of value and authenticity, from the class hierarchy to the specific. Within tea, the hierarchy of classification considers the class (processing), the subclass (cultivars and regional variations in processing), the terroir, and the specific; for example: a red tea is different from an oolong tea, Taiwanese oolong is different from Mainland oolong, A’Li Shan (阿里山) is different from Shan Lin Xi (杉林溪), this A’Li Shan is different from that A’Li Shan; so it goes. Practitioners learn hierarchies of classification and in turn impose the adopted classifications onto the subject in order to understand, judge, and evaluate.

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