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Sophistication refers to the qualities of refinement, good taste, and wisdom. By contrast, its original use was as a pejorative, derived from sophist, and included the idea of admixture or adulteration. Today, as researched by Faye Hammill, it is common as a measure of refinement—displaying good taste, wisdom and subtlety rather than crudeness, stupidity and vulgarity.[1] In the perception of social class, sophistication can be linked with concepts such as status, privilege and superiority.[2]

Scope of sophistication[edit]

In social terms, the connotations of sophistication depends on whether one is an insider or an outsider of the sophisticated class. Sophistication can be seen as "a form of snobbery," or as "among the most desirable of human qualities."[3]

A study of style conveys an idea of the range of possible elements through which one can demonstrate sophistication in elegance and fashion, covering the art of "[...] the shoemaker, the hairdresser, the cosmetologist, the cookbook writers, the chef, the diamond merchant, the couturieres, and the fashion queens, the inventors of the folding umbrella ... and of champagne."[4]


In Ancient Greece, sophia was the special insight of poets and prophets. This then became the wisdom of philosophers such as sophists.[5] But their use of rhetoric to win arguments gave sophistication a derogatory quality. Sophistry was then the art of misleading.

The system of modern Western sophistication has its roots in France, arguably helped along its way by the policies of King Louis XIV (reigned 1643–1715).[6]

The English regarded sophistication as decadent and deceptive until the aristocratic sensibilities and refined elegance of Regency dandies such as Beau Brummell (1778–1840) became fashionable and admired.[7]

Types of sophistication[edit]

Recognised varieties of sophistication include:

  • cultural sophistication[8](or culturedness)
  • intellectual sophistication[9]

In the analysis of humor, Victor Raskin distinguishes "two types of sophistication: limited access or allusive knowledge, and complex processing".[10]

Acquiring sophistication[edit]

Methods of acquiring the appearance of personal sophistication include:

  • educational travel – note the function of the traditional Grand Tour for European aesthetes[11]

On a societal level commentators can associate various forms of sophistication with civilization.[13][14]


  1. ^ Hammill, Faye (2010). Sophistication: A Literary and Cultural History.
  2. ^ Firat, A. Fuat; Dholakia, Nikhilesh (2003). Consuming people: from political economy to theaters of consumption. Routledge interpretive marketing research series. Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-415-31620-0. In every culture ideas develop among the different social classes as to what signifies status, sophistication, privilege, and superiority.
  3. ^ Holleran, Andrew (January 2001). "Staying a Step Ahead". Out. 9 (7). Here Publishing: 38–80. ISSN 1062-7928. Retrieved 2011-03-06. [...] sophistication is a form of snobbery – it's based above all on knowing something another person does not.
  4. ^ DeJean, Joan (2003). The essence of style: how the French invented high fashion, fine food, chic cafes, style, sophistication, and glamour. New York: Free Press. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-7432-6413-6. So here are the stories of the shoemaker, the hairdresser, the cosmetologist, the cookbook writers, the chef, the diamond merchant, the couturieres, and the fashion queens, the inventors of the folding umbrella ... and of champagne. Together they created a style that still shapes our ideas of elegance, sophistication, and luxury.
  5. ^ Mark Backman (1991), "The Roots of Our Sophistication", Sophistication, Ox Bow Press, ISBN 978-0-918024-91-6
  6. ^ For example: DeJean, Joan (2003). The essence of style: how the French invented high fashion, fine food, chic cafes, style, sophistication, and glamour. New York: Free Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7432-6413-6. In the sixteenth century, the French were not thought of as the most elegant or the most sophisticated European nation. By the early eighteenth century, however, people all over Europe declared that 'the French are stylish' or 'the French know good food,' just as they said, 'the Dutch are clean.' France had acquired a sort of monopoly on culture, style, and luxury living, a position that it has occupied ever since. [...] Beginning in the late seventeenth century, travelers were saying what novelists and filmmakers are still repeating: travel to Paris was guaranteed to add a touch of magic to every life. [...] [F]rom this moment on, that touch of magic became widely desired: elegance, luxury, and sophistication became factors to be reckoned with.
  7. ^ Deborah Longworth (2 Sep 2010), "Sophistication: A Literary and Cultural History", Times Higher Education
  8. ^ For example: Holt, Douglas; Douglas Cameron (2010). Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands. Oxford University Press. pp. 91–92. ISBN 978-0-19-958740-7. Retrieved 2011-02-24. The pursuit of cultural sophistication (Bourdieu's cultural capital) was until recently a niche phenomenon in America. It existed mainly in 'old-money' families, which dominated elite breeding grounds (prep schools, Ivy league universities, elite liberal arts colleges), and in the small Bohemian circles in the country's biggest cities. [...] The transformation of the American class dynamic from a single-minded striving for economic abundance to a multi-dimensional striving for sophistication in addition to abundance – a mixture of status pursuits more typical of Europe – was seeded in the 1960s. = adam markovich
  9. ^ For example:Hodgson, Marshall G. S (1974). The venture of Islam: conscience and history in a world civilization. Vol. 3. University of Chicago Press. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-226-34684-7. Retrieved 2011-02-24. But the mutakallim's universe of discourse now included the whole range of Falsafah with its intellectual sophistication.
  10. ^ Attardo, Salvatore (1994). Linguistic theories of humor. Humor research. Vol. 1. Walter de Gruyter. p. 216. ISBN 978-3-11-014255-6. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
  11. ^ Warneke, Sara (1995). Images of the educational traveller in early modern England. Brill's studies in intellectual history. Vol. 58. Brill. p. 242. ISBN 978-90-04-10126-5. Retrieved 2011-02-24. By the second half of the seventeenth century the experience of the Grand Tour marked the socially successful gentleman. In 1678 Gailhard noted that many travelled Englishmen regarded their home-bred compatriots as their social inferiors and affected foreign accents, fashions and mannerisms in order to demonstrate their sophistication.
  12. ^ Mackintosh, Prudence (January 1986). "Little Women". Texas Monthly. 14 (1). Emmis Communications: 154. ISSN 0148-7736. Retrieved 2011-02-24. 1913 [–] Miss Ela Hockaday opens a finishing school in Dallas and single-handedly creates the Texas ideal of what a lady should be. [...] [D]aughters from remote West Texas ranches gained a measure of sophistication.
  13. ^ Callahan, Mary P. (2004), "Making Myanmars: Language, Territory and Belonging in Post-Socialist Burma", in Migdal, Joel S. (ed.), Boundaries and belonging: states and societies in the struggle to shape identities and local practices, Cambridge University Press, pp. 99–120, ISBN 978-0-521-83566-4, retrieved 2011-03-13, This centralization led to a hierarchical ordering of territory and populations that located sophistication, civilization, and power in the center. Distance from Rangoon was associated with political insignificance and social backwardness.
  14. ^ Hernández, Mark A (2006). Figural conquistadors: rewriting the New World's discovery and conquest in Mexican and River Plate novels of the 1980s and 1990s. The Bucknell studies in Latin American literature and theory. Bucknell University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-8387-5645-4. Retrieved 2011-03-13. And by showing the sophistication of Aztec civilization, the editor challenges the premise upon which the conquest was justified and legitimated.

Alecia Watterson

Further reading[edit]