European inventory of
societal values of culture

Chan - Social Status and Cultural Consumption

Chan, T.W. (2010) Social Status and Cultural Consumption. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Online ISBN: 9780511712036

As part of the ‘Cultures of Consumption’ research project, based on data from the Arts in England Survey (2001), Tak Wing Chan and John H. Goldthorpe tested three hypotheses about the relationship between social stratification and cultural consumption: the hypothesis of homology, the hypothesis of individualization, and the hypothesis of omnivores and univores. This volume tests their findings in an international context. Two introductory chapters by Chan and Goldthorpe are devoted to a general discussion of social status and cultural consumption and to the construction and properties of the social status scale. Following that, the collection presents the interpretation of empirical research carried out in countries as diverse as the USA, Chile, France, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

These chapters expound on the specificities of different country contexts in relation to Chan and Goldthorpe’s findings for the UK. Their research tested the relevance of the homology thesis, according to which there is a correspondence between social and cultural stratification. In other words, according to the homology thesis, those in high social positions consume works of high or elite culture. In contrast, those in low social positions prefer some form of popular (commercial or folk) culture, while there is a multitude of social and cultural layers in between. The thesis about individualization represents the opposite of this understanding. Either it generally denies the influence of social structure on the shaping of cultural practices or it assumes that this influence once existed in the past but that today, in developed, post-industrial societies, it has been lost. Instead of being an expression of position in social stratification and part of stratification struggles, cultural consumption and lifestyles become part of the project of ‘self-realization’ in modern societies. Finally, according to the thesis about omnivores and univores, the cultural consumption of the elite social strata no longer differs from the consumption of the strata at the bottom of the social ladder in that the privileged strata consume elite art. Instead, the intensity of their cultural consumption is greater, and the scope of their cultural consumption is broader (including works from all levels of culture).

In the period from 2003 to 2007, Chan and Goldthorpe published their findings in a large number of articles published in the thematic issue of Poetics (2007, vol. 35, numbers 2 & 3), the journals Cultural Trends, European Sociological Review, and American Journal of Sociology, and presented them at a large number of scientific conferences. The results of their analyses showed that cultural consumption in England was clearly socially structured (against the hypothesis of individualization), but that it was not possible to identify representatives of the dominant class who do not participate in popular culture (against the hypothesis of homology). From these data, it was also possible to see that, according to the scope of cultural consumption in the sample, groups of omnivores and univores were clearly distinguished, and that their social profiles show a strong influence of social status (not class affiliation) and education of the respondent.



Tak Wing Chan “Social Status and Cultural Consumption”