Dissertation Abstracts

Cultural taste and social mobility

Author: Daenekindt, Stijn , stijn.daenekindt@ugent.be
Department: Sociology
University: Ghent University, Belgium
Supervisor: Henk Roose
Year of completion: 2015
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Distinction , Preferences , Taste , Social mobility
Areas of Research: Arts , Theory , Stratification


I study the link between cultural taste and social mobility. Before turning to social mobility, I present two case studies. In these chapters, I critically reflect on cultural sociological theory and on the cultural field in Flanders as an outset of my study of and approach to social mobility.

Subsequently, I consider the relation between social mobility and different ‘levels’ of cultural taste. This differentiated approach is necessary to get at a comprehensive understanding of the relation between cultural taste and social mobility as research has shown that different ‘levels’ of culture are not necessarily consistent with one another (cf. ABC problem; cf. chapter 2). The three empirical studies on social mobility (chapter 4, 5, and 6) highlight the strong socializing effects of the social position of destination. That is, socially mobile individuals adapt different aspects of their culture to their new social status position. This is in line with research on effects of social mobility which also finds evidence for the importance of the social position of destination on other outcomes.

Both chapter 5 and chapter 6 show how cultural tastes and practices of socially mobile individuals predominantly reflect tastes and practices viable in the social position of destination. There are two notable specifications on this general pattern: (1) As evidenced in chapter 5, outside the privacy of their homes, mobile individuals exaggerate—be it consciously or unconsciously—their adaptation to the culture of the social position of destination. This applies for both upwardly and downwardly mobile individuals. For upwardly mobile individuals, this finding is reminiscent of cultural goodwill. Cultural goodwill refers to the aspiration to belong to the upper social strata by trying to conform to their high aesthetic standards which—according to Bourdieu—stems from motives related to status. However, downwardly mobile individuals also exaggerate their conformity to their new social status position in the public sphere. That is, outside the privacy of their homes, they express cultural tastes and practices which are more lowbrow compared to the tastes and practices they perform in the privacy of their homes. This suggests that socially mobile individuals overstress their conformity to the new social environment to facilitate social integration. More generally, this suggests that cultural sociology unjustly downplays motives/consequences related to the display of tastes which are unrelated to status. (2) Additionally—as evidenced in chapter 6—socially mobile individuals adapt their cultural toolkit by including new cultural forms viable in the new social status position, but they do not dismiss the cultural resources gathered in the primary socialization context. So, socially mobile individuals have a wider variety of tastes and practices present in their cultural repertoire. The findings of chapter 5 and 6 easily reconcile and, together, allow for a clear-cut interpretation: Cultural tastes and practices are not stable characteristics and are transformed and reshaped throughout the life-course and the social position of destination has an important role in this transformation.