The Disciplines Series: Evaluation, Value, and Evidence

The Vile and the Noble: On Classifications in the French Wine World

Wednesday, September 12, 2012  6:15pm The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room


Free and open to the public

No registration required

First come, first seated

Photo ID required for entry


Maison Française

This talk will examine the concept of terroir—a French expression that captures the correspondence between the physical and human features of a place, and the character of its agricultural products. Tied to the protection of economic rents threatened by competition and fraud, the practice of classifying certain lands, grapes, and properties—both substantively and qualitatively—has become the organizing principle of the entire French wine industry. Often derided as snobbish, monopolistic practices by New World producers, the notion of terroir in France and its rejection in America both exemplify how the “principles of vision and division” of the natural world are always intertwined with the “principles of vision and division” of the social world. The present paper discusses these affinities through an analysis of wine classifications in the French regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and some of the critiques they have given rise to in the United States.

Steven Shapin will serve as respondent.

This talk is made possible through the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


  • Featured Speaker

    Marion Fourcade

    Associate Professor of Sociology

    University of California, Berkeley

  • Respondent

    Steven Shapin

    Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science

    Harvard University


By Semester