European inventory of
societal values of culture


Over the past 30 years, the world has witnessed an increase in social inequality on an unprecedented scale, heading back towards early 19th-century levels of inequality. According to an OECD report (2014), the gap between the haves and the have-nots is now at the same level as it was in the 1820s. The return to 19th-century relations of inequality is also reflected in the trend that today's elites predominantly inherit their wealth rather than work for it (Piketty, 2013, Milanović, 2016). Furthermore, unlike the efforts made during the mid-20th century to decrease the importance of ascribed statuses, there is a clear tendency to return to relations in which categorical inequalities (in terms of ethnicity, race, religion, and gender) have a systematic bearing on distributional relations of inequality (Tilly, 1998; Brubaker, 2015; Savage 2021). All this is amplified by the important new generators of inequality, such as the digital divide (DiMaggio et al, 2001; Hargittai, 2002; Van Deursen and Helsper, 2015; Ragnedda, 2017).

Inequalities are multidimensional and can exist in various spheres, such as income, wealth, education, health, space, politics and social identity. According to UNICEF & UN Women definition (2013), inequalities are ‘fundamentally about relational disparities, denial of fair and equivalent enjoyment of rights, and the persistence of arbitrary discrepancies in the worth, status, dignity and freedoms of different people’.

There is virtually no sphere of social life that this drastic rise in inequality in this century has not affected negatively: health, life expectancy and infant mortality; mental illnesses, drug and alcohol addiction; obesity, children's educational performance, teenage pregnancies, homicide and imprisonment rates; the level of trust, social cohesion, social justice and human rights (Wilkinson & Pickett 2009, 2018; Therborn, 2013; UNDP, 2013; ETUI and ETUC, 2021).

Social inequality and culture are profoundly interconnected and influence each other in various ways. On the one hand, culture plays a significant role in creating and perpetuating social inequalities. In the tradition established by works such as "Reproduction: in Education, Society and Culture" (1977 [1970]) and "Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste" (1984 [1979]), and exemplified in our time by studies such as, for example, "Class, Self, Culture" (2013), "What is Missing? Cultural Processes and Causal Pathways to Inequality" (2014) and "Social Class in the 21st Century" (2015), there are detailed accounts of how culture contributes to the establishment and reproduction of class divisions in society.

On the other hand, both cultural production and cultural consumption are clearly shaped by social influences, and differences are visible along lines of class and social status, educational achievement, age, gender, ethnicity, and disability. Numerous studies show that cultural consumption is socially differentiated, reflecting broader patterns of inequality (Peterson, 2005; Chan and Goldthorpe, 2007; Bennett et al. 2009; Chan 2010; Prieur and Savage 2013; Bennett et al., 2021). Although inequalities in cultural production have been less researched, existing studies show that the workforce in cultural industries is predominantly white, male, and from privileged social strata (Banks & Hesmondhalgh, 2009; Banks, Gill, & Taylor, 2013; Wing-Fai, Gill, & Randle, 2015; Oakley and O'Brien, 2015).

A cultural policy can address social inequalities by removing physical, geographic, economic, and symbolic barriers to participation and ensuring equitable access to cultural resources and experiences; by creating and maintaining cultural infrastructure in underdeveloped areas; by promoting cultural expressions that are marginalized and suppressed; by implementing policy measures aimed at reducing discrimination, gender, ethnic, racial, and religious biases; challenging stereotypes and promoting social cohesion. However, more than cultural policy is needed to successfully combat social inequalities, even in the cultural field. This would require structural changes and the cooperation of a whole range of public policies, such as educational, media, economic, social, and others. (PC)