The multiplicity of highbrow culture

Taste boundaries among the new upper middle class

Authored by: Guy Bellavance

Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Art and Culture

Print publication date:  September  2015
Online publication date:  September  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415855112
eBook ISBN: 9780203740248
Adobe ISBN: 9781135008895


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The relationship between cultural practices and social status has been, since Veblen, a constitutive question in sociology. In this regard, Pierre Bourdieu’s work on the more or less intentional effects and uses of taste as a form of distinction represents a turning point. Taste is understood here as a central element in a symbolic struggle, the product of a class habitus, that allows elites to distinguish themselves and thereby recognize each other. His theories, primarily in La distinction (1979), are once again the source of much ongoing debate. 1 His writings notably gave rise to many critical responses and outcomes, from a variety of national perspectives, which have questioned to varying degrees the validity of his work. The most intriguing finding of recent decades without a doubt concerns the relatively widespread ‘eclecticism’ regarding the tastes and cultural practices among the higher social classes. This observation, recurring on an international scale, has destabilized the expected relation between social position and cultural practice. It has put into question the idea of a perfect concordance between social and cultural space, as well as the consistency and coherence commonly found in the cultural behaviours of different social classes. This finding is particularly interesting in that it primarily concerns those circles most likely to maintain a ‘cultivated’ relation with culture, namely highly educated elite professionals. The hybridization of so-called highbrow and lowbrow tastes among elites further suggests a weakening or softening of cultural hierarchies, a blurring of the symbolic boundaries among the classes, and even an effacement of inequalities with respect to culture.

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