Culture and Class in Canada

By Veenstra, Gerry | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Culture and Class in Canada


Veenstra, Gerry, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Introduction

Pierre Bourdieu's magnum opus, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Bourdieu [1979] 1984), is a meticulous, relational investigation of the class bases of culture in France of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bourdieu used correspondence analysis techniques applied to survey data to uncover a variety of highbrow and lowbrow cultural forms and ways of appreciating them that, he argued, served to delimit and sustain class boundaries. Distinction has since inspired social researchers to uncover much about the class bases of cultural tastes and practices in many different contexts. For example, Coulangeon and Lemel (2009) applied a relational statistical technique called cluster analysis to survey data from French metropolitan areas, collected in 2003-4. They found that clusters of lifestyle activities were differentiated from one another on an axis that was also structured by income and educational attainment, indicating that cultural practices are still associated with social class position in France. Le Roux et al. (2008) used multiple correspondence analysis applied to survey data from 2003 to conclude that social class is highly associated with patterns of lifestyles in the United Kingdom as well. These and many other studies (e.g., De Graaf 1991; DiMaggio and Mukhtar 2004; Katz-Gerro 2002, 2006; Kraaykamp and Nieuwbeerta 2000; Lopez Sintas and Katz-Gerro 2005; Peterson and Simkus 1992) confirm that Bourdieu's depiction of how occupation, wealth, and educational credentials delineate class groupings and reflect groupings of cultural practices--and identify highbrow culture forms which inhere to elites--has applicability outside of 1960-70s France.

However, while Bourdieu's framework of class and culture may have also applied to the United States decades ago it does not seem to apply well there today. Higher status people in the US today "enjoy many different kinds of culture, some prestigious and some popular, and delight in variety for its own sake" (Erickson 2008:343), dissolving the straightforward connection between high status and specifically highbrow cultural forms. The cultural portfolios associated with elites in contemporary US society are complex, varied, and changeable. What matters is not that a high status person has mastered a few selected forms of highbrow culture, such as appreciation for fine wine or familiarity with ballet, but that s/he can move smoothly from one cultural form to another according to the occasion. "Cultural omnivorism" has therefore supplanted possession of highbrow culture as a class-delimiting phenomenon (Peterson 2005). Erickson (2008) identifies a number of possible reasons for this change in the nature of the class bases of culture: increasingly specialized occupations and greater mobility between occupations has increased people's cultural repertoires, since occupations tend to foster their own cultures and people who are required to communicate across occupations or move into a new occupation must be conversant with a wide range of cultural forms; growing income inequality has led to a growing inequality in the ability of people to participate in culture; educational inflation has led to more highly educated people in upper-end occupations who are conversant with a wider range of cultural forms garnered through their experiences with educational systems; and greater numbers of women in workplaces have introduced culture to the rather less-cultured men with whom they work, increasing cultural inequality overall in society.

To date, North American investigations of culture and class have largely been limited to the United States. In this paper I extend the investigation to Canada, applying relational analytical techniques consistent with Bourdieu's scientific field theoretic framework to nationally representative survey data to replicate Bourdieu's analysis of the class bases of culture in the Canadian setting. My investigation enables me to:

i. …

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