Social Appearances

A Philosophy of Display and Prestige

Barbara Carnevali. Translated by Zakiya Hanafi.

Columbia University Press

Social Appearances

Pub Date: July 2020

ISBN: 9780231187077

296 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $28.00£22.00

Pub Date: July 2020

ISBN: 9780231187060

296 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $120.00£100.00

Pub Date: July 2020

ISBN: 9780231546980

296 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $27.99£22.00

Social Appearances

A Philosophy of Display and Prestige

Barbara Carnevali. Translated by Zakiya Hanafi.

Columbia University Press

Philosophers have long distinguished between appearance and reality, and the opposition between a supposedly deceptive surface and a more profound truth is deeply rooted in Western culture. At a time of obsession with self-representation, when politics is enmeshed with spectacle and social and economic forces are intensely aestheticized, philosophy remains moored in traditional dichotomies: being versus appearing, interiority versus exteriority, authenticity versus alienation. Might there be more to appearance than meets the eye?

In this strikingly original book, Barbara Carnevali offers a philosophical examination of the roles that appearances play in social life. While Western metaphysics and morals have predominantly disdained appearances and expelled them from their domain, Carnevali invites us to look at society, ancient to contemporary, as an aesthetic phenomenon. The ways in which we appear in public and the impressions we make in terms of images, sounds, smells, and sensations are discerned by other people’s senses and assessed according to their taste; this helps shape our ways of being and the world around us. Carnevali shows that an understanding of appearances is necessary to grasp the dynamics of interaction, recognition, and power in which we live—and to avoid being dominated by them. Anchored in philosophy and traversing sociology, art history, literature, and popular culture, Social Appearances develops new theoretical and conceptual tools for today’s most urgent critical tasks.
Every sentence in this brilliant book is a unit of thought; it’s as epigrammatic as Nietzsche and as seamlessly developed as, say, Hume. And it helps that it’s new. Carnevali has restored aesthetics to its central role in philosophy. Edmund White, author of The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading

About the Author

Barbara Carnevali is associate professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, where she holds a chair in social aesthetics. Her books include Romantisme et reconnaissance. Figures de la conscience chez Rousseau (2012).