9, No. 2, May 2008
Cultural Capital: Between Taste and Participation
by Tally Katz-Gerro (firstname.lastname@example.org)
and Meir Yaish email@example.com
University of Haifa
Bourdieu's (1987 ) theorization of cultural capital treats
attitudes, preferences, and behavior as forms of embodied cultural
capital. As such,
these are often considered parallel forms of embodied cultural
capital that receive different empirical manifestations in various
works (Lamont and Lareau 1988), without attention to the implications
of choosing one operationalization of cultural capital over another.
In this essay we focus on two dominant measures of cultural capital
in research on cultural consumption: cultural tastes, which represent
preferences and cultural participation, which represents behavior.
We argue a need to clarify the theoretical distinction between
the two by thinking of preferences as antecedents of behavior.
The literature on cultural consumption can be described as following
three paths. First, studies that have used either cultural tastes
or cultural participation as interchangeable indicators of cultural
capital (e.g., Peterson 2005; Sullivan and Katz-Gerro 2007).
Second, studies that have used tastes and participation in tandem
without expecting them to perform differently (e.g., DiMaggio
1982; Lamont 1992; Erickson 1996; Kraaykamp 2002; Warde 2008).
Third, more recently several discussions favor treating tastes
and participation as two distinct dimensions of cultural capital
(Lahire 2004; Silva 2006; Rössel 2008).
While most studies in this area ignored the distinction between
tastes and participation, some discussed the implications and
advantages of using either tastes or participation in measuring
cultural capital. Two views have emerged. The first view argues
in favor of using taste because it represents a category of engagement
that is more refined than participation (Silva 2006). It speaks
more directly to Bourdieu's notion of cultural disposition as
a form of aesthetic appreciation that depends on a trained capacity
cultivated by the family and the educational system. Bourdieu's
empirical approach includes many more indicators of taste than
indicators of participation (Bourdieu 1984, appendix 1) and by
his theoretical approach symbolic knowledge plays a more important
role than conspicuous consumption.
The most enthusiastic advocate of preferring taste to participation
is Pete Peterson. He argues that taste is a direct measure of
cultural self-construction while cultural activities are filtered
through availability of arts, which varies widely by size of
locality, life stage, and economic resources. Analysis of stated
preferences avoids confounding participation with possible limits
imposed on participation by availability and affordability (Peterson
and Simkus 1992; Peterson 2007). Another reason for preferring
tastes over practices is that the latter may be instigated by
obligations such as school mandatory activities or professional
pressures (Lahire 2008).
The second view favors using cultural participation, for two
main reasons. First, cultural participation is a public manifestation
of social boundaries (e.g., Veblen 1960 ), which "makes
visible the categories of culture" and contributes to their
stability (Douglas and Isherwood 1979). This manifestation is
even more salient in contemporary society when cultural hierarchies
are becoming increasingly blurred by the globalization of culture
and the distinction between highbrow and popular culture is being
eroded (Holt 1997). Consequently, active involvement in the arts
is more meaningful in facilitating class solidarity and exclusivity
than cultural preferences or aesthetic knowledge (Ostrower 1998).
Secondly, participation is a form of social action that signals
commitment, while taste is merely a statement (Chan and Goldthorpe
2007). Thus, reports on what individuals actually do are a more
reliable measure than self-reported cultural tastes (Van Rees
et al. 1999; López Sintas and Garcia Álvarez 2002).
In addition, overt cultural choices are more closely related
than tastes to the concept of lifestyle (López-Sintas
and Katz-Gerro 2005) and more true to Bourdieu's emphasis on
the way individuals consume in addition to what they
consume, for example, in considering the temporal dimension of
cultural behavior (Sullivan and Katz-Gerro 2007; Sullivan 2008).
Research on cultural stratification follows one of these two
views by employing measures of taste or measures of participation.
In addition, some studies employ both measures without particular
attention to differences between them. Studies that employ measures
of taste dominate the literature, possibly because research in
this field, since Bourdieu, has developed theoretically and empirically
around the study of tastes. For example, research on the omnivore
thesis (Peterson and Kern 1996) has focused almost exclusively
on musical tastes (Bryson 1997; Emmison 2003; Katz-Gerro et al.
2007; Garcia Álvarez et al. 2007). Studies that employed
measures of participation are less prevalent. Such studies have
used measures of leisure activities and cultural participation
in the visual arts, the performing arts, and the fine arts (Warde
et al. 1999; Holbrook et al. 2002; Sullivan and Katz-Gerro 2007)
and also measures of involvement with arts organizations (Ostrower
1998). Note that most survey research conducted by national agencies
focuses predominantly on measures of tastes. Studies that use
both tastes and participation, without significant differences
between them (Dimaggio and Useem 1978; Dimaggio 1982; Cookson
and Persell 1985; Kraaykamp 2002), have built on Bourdieu's work,
which combined preferences and behavior under the concept of
embedded cultural capital. The lack of distinction between the
two measures of cultural capital in these studies was perhaps
justified by similar associations of preferences and behavior
with socio-economic and demographic variables. That is, privileged
positions in the social hierarchy, such as higher education or
upper class position, produced both taste for the legitimate
culture and participation in it.
Our position in the above debate on the distinction between
preferences and behavior is that both tastes and participation
are important, complementary measures of cultural capital that
should be theorized such that tastes antecede participation.
This claim is motivated by psychological literature on the theory
of planned behavior that has established attitudes or preferences
as antecedents of behavior (Ajzen 1991). It is also motivated
by sociological literature that emphasizes the difference in
the ways dispositions and practices are organized, and in the
way this difference can shape consumption research (Reckwitz
2002; Warde 2005). Applied to the field of consumption, theories
of practice are concerned with practical activity and its representations.
Individuals are carriers of practices in that they carry both
patterns of behavior and ways of understanding, knowing, and
desiring (Warde 2005). We propose to translate this general framework
into an integrative analysis of tastes and participation. Because
habitus is converted into a disposition that generates meaningful
practices (Bourdieu 1984:170) the distinction between tastes
and practices, such that tastes antecede participation, is warranted
(for a unique application see Rössel 2008).
In work in progress, we apply this framework to data on tastes
in music, movies, and performing arts and on participation in
the same domains. We find that habitus (respondent's education,
parental education, and parental cultural participation) is strongly
associated with tastes (more than with participation) and that
tastes are strongly associated with practices. This means that
modeling tastes as antecedents of participation, and thinking
of the association between them as part of the general process
of the production of cultural distinction, is a worthwhile theoretical
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