Dissertation Abstracts

The Aesthetic Taste and Press Advertisements: The Analysis of the Polish Case from the Cultural and the Evolutionary Perspective

Author: Luczaj, Kamil , kamil.luczaj@uj.edu.pl
Department: Institute of Sociology
University: Jagiellonian University, Poland
Supervisor: Professor Janusz Mucha
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: Polish

Keywords: aesthetic taste , evolutionary theory , print advertising , sociology of culture
Areas of Research: Arts , Leisure , Visual Sociology


The main aim of the project is to discover the mechanisms of perception of different aesthetic stimuli hidden in press advertisements. Presumably the perception mechanisms are diverse, because people differ on the basis of cultural capital, which is characteristic for different social environments, such as "folk" cultural capital (in the sense of the term used by Pierre Bourdieu), urban cultural capital and specific cultural capital of experts – the creators of advertisements. In Poland, such research has rarely been conducted and existing research tends to focus on the legitimized area of culture while neglecting the products of popular cultural capital. Also, the vast majority of “empirical aesthetics” analyses are based on theoretical assumptions built by Pierre Bourdieu; conceptualization of the research in question takes no account of the positions of evolutionists and cognitivists. Hence, the principal objective of the dissertation is to fill both these gaps by creating an empirical study that discusses the preferences of those representing the “low” and “high” taste. This dissertation is supported by two equally significant theoretical bases: Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of art and the so-called evolutionary aesthetics. The empirical purpose of the dissertation is to identify the artistic elements that are most valued by the Poles, while the exploratory purpose is to examine the specificity of mechanisms influencing the perception of particular aesthetic stimuli by a wide audience (content analysis, experimental study) and advertisement makers (expert interviews). Due to the fact that I wanted to explore the materials watched by highbrow and lowbrow audiences, I have decided to analyze press advertisements based on visual image: the media messages that are hardly referenced as source materials in aesthetic studies, yet can be studied by research methods well discussed in sociology and media studies.

The main research hypothesis states that individuals with folk cultural capital (inhabitants of rural areas, with low educational level and low income) exhibit preferences described by sociologists as “low” (i.e. visual expressions drawing on the so-called “Hudson River Biedermeier” style characterized by realistic and emotionally marked landscapes). To a large extent, such preferences resemble the “universal aesthetic predispositions” discussed by evolutionists. However, according to the classic evolutionary theory, these should be found across all social strata. Contrary to this belief, I build on Pierre Bourdieu’s class-based understanding of taste diversification and I hypothesize that a natural aesthetic taste is related to the folk-type of cultural capital. In other words, my intention is to verify whether the aesthetic universals as described by evolutionists and cognitivists are subject to diversification based on cultural capital.

The database (2500 press ads, compiled in a quantitative manner and qualitatively interpreted by three coders) will be used to create an experimental application, which in turn, will be the basis of an experimental research, realized during the first stage of the research project. During the second phase, twenty expert interviews will be conducted. The proposed concept of research complements the analysis of existing data with the analysis of data produced in the course of the experiment and interviews.