The cultural omnivore thesis

Methodological aspects of the debate

Authored by: Irmak Karademir Hazır , Alan Warde

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

10.4324/9780203740248.ch4

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Abstract

The concepts of ‘the cultural omnivore’ and ‘cultural omnivorousness’, coined by Richard Peterson in 1992, have become central to sociological controversies about cultural dynamics. The terms refer to repertoires of cultural practice, emerging in the late twentieth century, which are marked both by an increased breadth of cultural tastes and participation and by a willingness to transgress previously entrenched boundaries between hierarchically ranked cultural items or genres. ‘Eclecticism’ is sometimes preferred as an alternative designation. 1 As also discussed by Hanquinet and Savage in Chapter 1, this debate has become an obligatory point of passage for empirical studies in cultural sociology concerned to map taste and participation. The omnivore concept arose from a somewhat technical question of audience segmentation for the arts in the USA, but quickly became part of a wider concern about the contemporary importance of social class hierarchy, and especially the patterns of cultural consumption of the higher echelons of the middle class. The issue was whether people of high socio-economic status had distinctive cultural tastes, if so whether these were diverse or exclusive, and whether this led to a sense of social or aesthetic superiority. A contrast was implied with an ideal-typical picture of the past when the middle class espoused high culture and denigrated popular culture – for which they were sometimes deemed ‘snobs’ by members of other classes. These issues were explored against a background of great turbulence in the production of culture which led some, of postmodernist persuasion, to argue that cultural boundaries had dissolved (e.g. Firat and Venkatesh 1995).

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