Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Class Position and Musical Tastes: A Sing-Off between the Cultural Omnivorism and Bourdieusian Homology Frameworks

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Class Position and Musical Tastes: A Sing-Off between the Cultural Omnivorism and Bourdieusian Homology Frameworks

Article excerpt

THE HOMOLOGY AND CULTURAL omnivorism frameworks have been at loggerheads for more than 20 years (e.g., Atkinson 2011; Bennett et al. 2009; Coulangeon and Lemel 2007; Gebesmair 1998; Goldberg 2011; Lizardo and Skiles 2012; Peterson and Kern 1996; Peterson and Simkus 1992; Rimmer 2012; Warde, Wright, and Gayo-Cal 2007). The homology thesis claims that class positions throughout the class hierarchy are accompanied by specified cultural tastes and specialized modes of appreciating them while the cultural omnivorism thesis contends that elites are (increasingly) characterized by a breadth of cultural tastes of any and all kinds. This study provides new evidence on the relationship between class position and cultural tastes by analyzing data from a novel telephone survey on music and class conducted in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. Specifically, it seeks to establish whether elites and lower class people in urban English-speaking Canada are characterized by distinct sets of musical tastes or distinguished from another primarily by the degree to which they manifest omnivorous musical tastes.

THE BOURDIEUSIAN HOMOLOGY FRAMEWORK

The homology framework, belonging to a long line of cultural inquiry that includes Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class ([1899] 1994) and Herbert Gans' Popular Culture and High Culture (1974), finds its fullest expression in Pierre Bourdieu's magnum opus, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Bourdieu [1979] 1984). There the French sociologist maintained that a multitude of diverse cultural tastes and practices in 1960s France were fundamentally manifestations of class habitus. For Bourdieu, class positions are distinguished by their differing amounts of economic capital, essentially monetary wealth, and cultural capital, valued cultural resources that include educational credentials, which locate them in different parts of a multidimensional social space (a society-wide "field"). Specifically, the sum total of the two forms of capital positions agents on the primary axis of social space, that which distinguishes the upper, middle, and lower classes, while relative composition of the capitals situates agents along the secondary axis of social space which distinguishes dominating and dominated sections of the classes.

The cultural tastes of the wealthy and highly educated members of the upper class, comprising highbrow culture, represent the "legitimate," "sophisticated," and "cultured" tastes and practices of society. Members of this class have the power to delimit highbrow tastes and appropriate modes of appreciating them and can use their familiarity and facility with these cultural forms to maintain and reinforce boundaries between themselves and others. Many highbrow tastes are especially enshrined in the better educated but less-wealthy segment of the upper class, the home of the intelligentsia, the dominated portion of upper-class space. Lowbrow or "popular" tastes and practices, embraced by the less-wealthy and less-educated members of society, are the antithesis of highbrow culture; they serve as a negative reference for the tastes of the dominant class (Swartz 1997). Finally, middlebrow culture reflects the (imperfect) attempts of the members of the middle class, the petit bourgeoisie, to embrace highbrow culture and to distinguish themselves from the lower class. For Bourdieu, then, there is a homology, a kind of isomorphic relation or one-to-one correspondence, between the multidimensional space of positions and the multidimensional space of cultural tastes.

A key principle underlying the homology of class positions and cultural tastes, according to Bourdieu, is the opposition between the "tastes of luxury (or freedom) and the tastes of necessity" (Bourdieu [1979] 1984:198). The tastes of luxury are the tastes of people born into a habitus which is defined by distance from necessity; these people possess freedoms of thought and action that are facilitated by possession of capital. …

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