Theories of Sexual Stratification: Toward an Analytics of the Sexual Field and a Theory of Sexual Capital


*John Levi Martin, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 8128 Social Sciences Bldg., 1180 Observatory Dr., Madison WI 53706-1393. E-mail: An earlier version of this article was presented at the 1997 meetings of the American Sociological Association, Toronto; we thank Paul DiMaggio and Bonnie Erickson, as well as the reviewers and editors, for comments and criticism.


The American tradition of action theory failed to produce a useful theory of the possible existence of trans-individual consistencies in sexual desirability. Instead, most sociological theorists have relied on market metaphors to account for the logic of sexual action. Through a critical survey of sociological attempts to explain the social organization of sexual desiring, this article demonstrates that the market approach is inadequate, and that its inadequacies can be remedied by studying sexual action as occurring within a specifically sexual field (in Bourdieu's sense), with a correlative sexual capital. Such a conception allows for historical and comparative analysis of changes in the organization of sexual action that are impeded by the use of a market metaphor, and also points to difficulties in Bourdieu's own treatment of the body qua body.