About the network

The sociological debate about the relationship between processes of social differentiation and the formation of lifestyles and cultural consumption has gained momentum in recent years. This debate has its origin in Pierre Bourdieu's important work Distinction (1984 [1979]) in which he analysed the dynamics of social divisions in contemporary society and their interrelationship with the formation of lifestyles. Lifestyles refer here to all kinds of cultural consumptions, tastes and preferences - ranging from musical preferences, over visits to museums and art galleries to home decoration and food habits etc. Although Distinction is one of the most - if not the most - quoted works within the sociology of culture, only a few scholars have actually attempted to assess the functioning of cultural distinctions in broad scale studies like Bourdieu did. The aim of this SCUD network is to bring together these scholars with like-minded scholars and young researchers. The aim of the network is also to assess Bourdieu's theory through a systematic confrontation with other sociological theories as well as through a confrontation with recent empirical studies and a detailed examination of the methods applied within the sociology of cultural consumptions.

History of the network

The SCUD network is a fusion of two existing and partly overlapping networks.

The first one is a French-Norwegian network centred on the Bourdieu's sociological school and applications of multiple correspondence analysis (hereafter MCA - see details below) in studies of cultural consumptions and social differentiation. Members of the research group presented papers at the conference on "Investigating the Social Space" in Cologne in October 1998. They have worked together during stays as visiting scholars, met regularly each other at working group meetings in Norway and France, and they have together coordinated papers to conferences (e.g. CARME 2003 in Barcelona, CARME 2007 in Rotterdam, RC28 2004 in Amsterdam, and RC28 2008 in Naples [forthcoming]). This cooperation has now resulted in joint projects and publications (e.g. Hjellbrekke et al. 2007, Hjellbrekke et al. [submitted]).

The second network was established in 2004 with a meeting at the University of Uppsala. The meeting was financed by professor Gronow's grant from the Swedish Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and gathered 16 researchers from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Great Britain with a common interest in studies of cultural consumptions and social differences. All the participants presented their ongoing and future research which led to intensive discussions of both (preliminary) results and methodological issues.

The meeting in Uppsala resulted in an invitation to members of the above-mentioned French-Norwegian network to cooperate with the British team on the analysis of the British data (see Savage et al. 2005). This resulted in further publications (Le Roux and al. 2008) and the members are today preparing a comparative European anthology on cultural distinctions. The members of both networks have met each other at conferences (e.g. ESA conference in Torun, 2005), meetings in Manchester, Paris and Bergen, and they have also given guest lectures and taught courses at the respective home institutions.

The SCUD network will be the formalised fusion of the two mentioned networks, but new members (mostly PhD students and postdoctoral fellows) are also invited to the network.

Theoretical background

While earlier versions of class analysis portrayed society as a one-dimensional hierarchy, Bourdieu painted a more complex picture. He conceptualized society as a social space composed of different fields where social positions are located in multidimensional capital hierarchies. The core of his analysis was the functioning of non-economic assets - termed cultural capital and social capital - in the processes where social groups acquire status and indulge in practices of domination and exclusion.

"Cultural capital" refers to the role that certain kinds of cultural tastes, knowledge and abilities play in relation to the processes of class formations in contemporary societies where higher classes distinguish themselves from the lower through distinctive cultural tastes, knowledge and competencies. The concept has also played a significant role in accounts of differences within the higher classes (between the economically and the culturally "rich"). The concept has, however, been extensively criticised in the literature that was developed in its wake. The identified problems bear on difficulties concerning how cultural capital is to be identified and measured; on the explanatory value of the concept and on how the functioning of cultural capital is to be understood when gender and ethnically-based forms of social stratification are taken into account alongside those based on class.

Although Bourdieu's class model is more complex than earlier models, new waves within sociology have also questioned his overall model of social differentiation. His analysis in Distinction (1979) is based on French data from the 1960s and 1970s when France was still an industrial society. Since then, Western societies have become increasingly post-industrial. In sociology, this major social change is reflected in theoretical and conceptual changes.

Some of the questions raised to Bourdieu's analysis relate to an argument about individualisation, which originates in Daniel Bell's work on de-industrialisation and its diverse consequences in the field of culture (Bell 1973). Bell (1979: 38) claimed that "[m]ore and more individuals want to be identified not by their occupational base (in the Marxist sense), but by their cultural tastes and lifestyles". The development of contemporary society has subsequently been described as one of "individualisation" (Beck 1992) where antagonisms between classes have vanished and conceptions of social structures in terms of ordered social strata (income, education, prestige, etc.) do not work anymore. The relationship between social structures and the formation of lifestyles and cultural consumption is dissolved and popular culture has stripped high culture of its former "aura".  Class is replaced by gender, age and ethnicity as structuring principles for lifestyles and self realisations (Giddens 1991, Bauman 2001). With the exception of Lahire (2004), most of the scholars within this vein of thought have, however, not undertaken empirical research to qualify their assertions.

The empirically oriented sociologists have attacked Bourdieu's assumptions about structural similarities (homologies) between various fields and between social positions on the one hand and individual dispositions (habituses) on the other hand. Based on data from the United Staes, Peterson and Simkus (1992) revealed apparently  a rather blurred relation between patterns of consumption and social background, and they describe the higher classes as cultural omnivores. The omnivore term designs those who enjoy all or different kinds of culture while the univores would be those who only enjoy elite culture or only popular culture. Based on data from Great Britain, Chan and Goldthorpe (2005 and 2007) maintain that this distinction actually is a strong dividing line today.

A closely related argument maintains that highbrow culture does no longer have the recognition that Bourdieu claimed it had. In studies of the United States, Peterson and Kern (1996) found a decline in "snobbism", i.e. an exclusive penchant for "highbrow" musical genres. Bryson (1996) claimed the well-educated might be better characterised by cultural tolerance towards popular taste than by exclusiveness. A similar argument based on educational research is made by Lareau and Weininger (2003: 579-580) who conclude that: "the exclusive respect traditionally accorded to "highbrow"cultural pursuits has largely dissolved". Related views have been forwarded by Bennett et al. (1999) in an Australian study, where they found the so-called popular cultural forms enjoyed a wide accept. In the light of this, these and other scholars contest Bourdieu's idea of dominance exerted by the culturally privileged.

These arguments resonate with a more general critique of the understanding of popular culture within Bourdieu's theorising (Fiske 1992, Thornton 1995, Frith 1996, Bjurström 1997, Pasquier 2005). Popular culture, they argue, is much more autonomous from the legitimate culture than what Bourdieu claims; it has its own hierarchies and specific forms of capital.

However, numerous empirical studies have concluded that also yield a lot of support to aspects of Bourdieu's analysis. Findings from studies from Australia (Bennett & al. 1999), Norway (Rosenlund 2000, 2002), Great Britain (Bennett et al., 2005, Savage et al., 2005, the special issue of Cultural Trends 2006, in particularly Gayo-Cal et al. 2006) and Denmark (Prieur, Rosenlund and Skjott-Larsen 2008) all indicate a clear social structuring of cultural consumption according to economic and educational levels. Similarly, in the United States, DiMaggio & Mukhtar (2004) have analysed the patterns of evolution in different forms of arts, finding little support for the hypothesis that high culture in general is in decline.

But these studies also show that the patterns do differ, depending on whether one is examining taste (preferences), participation or knowledge, just as there are important differences between the studied fields, for example between music and reading. And they do not confirm Bourdieu's view that elite culture is generally accepted as legitimate culture.

Methodological issues and approaches

The methodological work will draw particularly on the French participants' involvement in the "Groupe de Méthodologie Statistique en Sociologie" that was initiated by Bourdieu in 1999. The group has worked with Geometric Data Analysis (GDA) methods and on the joint use and integration of respectively regression techniques and inductive data analysis into GDA (Rouanet et al. 2002, see also Greenacre and Blasius 2006). The main work has concerned multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) which is a geometrical statistical technique (Le Roux and Rouanet 2004) where the data matrix typically will have individuals listed as rows and categories as columns. The chi-square distances between the row/column categories are calculated, and the oppositions between row or column profiles maximised, and latent structures (or axes) that describe the dominant oppositions in the original data matrix are uncovered. Each axis constitutes a dimension in a multi-dimensional space, and each row/column point (i.e. individual or variable category) can be located as a point within this low-dimensional space. The points may be projected onto two-dimensional factorial planes (e.g. axis 1 against axis 2), so that the structures in the data can be given a visual representation (as maps).

Within the SCUD network, findings from analyses based on MCA will be compared with results obtained by other statistical approaches, particularly latent class analysis (LCA), the favoured technique in the alternative studies of these topics (McCutcheon 1987, Hagenaars and McCutcheon 2002). 

As most of the research teams also have made extensive use of qualitative methods, we will engage in comparison of results obtained from quantitative and qualitative studies. This is important for the discussions about what the meaning of class distinctions are in contemporary society, where subjective class (as lived experiences or identifications revealed through interviews) may differ heavily from the objective classes researchers may construct on the basis of quantitative data. While the statistical methods serve to simplify the social world with the construction of groups with common characteristics, the qualitative methods frequently reveal a complexity that the constructed groups cannot represent. The implications of methodological approach for the theoretical understanding of class are therefore also to be discussed in the group.

Basic research questions

The network will focus on ten main research questions:

1) Are there signs that a widespread individualism has rendered the idea of class structuring (of lifestyles) obsolete? 

2) Are there signs of a decline in the significance of the so-called cultural capital, like a decline in the value attributed to classical highbrow culture and to educational credentials, or a blurring of the lines between cultural omnivores and univores?

3) What are the characteristics of and the oppositions within the elites in the different countries? 

4) Do classes exist as identities? What are the patterns of belonging, identifications and boundary drawing towards other social groups than one's own?

5) Are there signs of new forms of cultural capital (like the cosmopolitan lifestyles and attitudes found to be important in the Danish study)?

6) Are certain cultural practices generally accepted as legitimate (dominant) culture -  in the sense that even people who do not have these practices attribute high value to them, and disregard their own practices?

7) How do current social conditions in France and other European countries differ from those that are essential in Distinction, and what are the theoretical implications and consequences of these historical changes?

8) What is it (methodologically) possible to compare and what is it (sociologically) meaningful to compare across spaces and time? 

9) The methodological challenges are particularly connected to the use of MCA which implies constructions of national or local spaces (maps) of social positions (classes) and of life styles. How are these constructed optimally, and how can they be made workable for international comparisons?

10) How do the results differ according to the methods used (qualitative vs. quantitative) or to the statistical techniques employed (MCA vs. other quantitative techniques)?


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