THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF STYLE: Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class as Contested Text

Gary Alan Fine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Social scientists have begun to appreciate the importance of style in academic discourse. Style and its evaluation, I argue, are not givens, but are created and negotiated by a body of readers, judging a text. To explain the process by which style comes to be known, I choose the case of Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class, published in 1899. I demonstrate that style was always important in the interpretation of his work, and that this “classic” can be read as literature, scholarly discourse, humor, or poor writing—or a combination thereof. A consensus on the qualities of Veblen's style has never emerged. Focusing on claims emphasizing Veblen's irony, I suggest that an ironic interpretation is particularly likely when an author analyzes those with superior status. Veblen, a grayfaced shambling man lolling resentful at his desk with his cheek on his hand, in a low sarcastic mumble of intricate phrases subtly paying out the logical inescapable rope of matter‐of‐fact for a society to hand itself by, dissecting out the century with a scalpel so keen, so comical, so exact that the professors and students nineteenths of the time didn't know it was there, and the magnates and the respected windbags and the applauded loudspeakers never knew it was there. —John Dos Passos, “The Bitter Drink”The Big Money (1946, pp. 106–107)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)457-472
Number of pages16
JournalSociological Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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