Middlebrow book culture

Authored by: David Carter

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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Given its provenance in popular journalism and the culture wars of the early to mid-twentieth century – and before that in the pseudoscience of phrenology – the language of brow-levels is surprisingly common in the sociology of culture. The terms ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ emerged in public debates around the turn of the twentieth century as a way of identifying divergent cultural tastes and more intensely in debates over the decline of cultural values. While resisting the combative hierarchies embedded historically in the terms, sociological studies of cultural dispositions have continued to deploy them to indicate distinct cultural strata, often without acknowledgement of their contentious history. The term ‘middlebrow’, in particular, which entered Anglophone sociology largely through translations of Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of la culture moyenne and l’art moyen (1984, 1990), has been used in an under-theorised way simply to indicate a broad middle zone between high and low cultural preferences.

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