We Are Not Omnivores, or, how our culture became more open, but remained unequal
- Image Luboslav Tiles (via Shutterstock)
OSC Scientific Seminar 2021-2022
Friday, June 24th 2022, 11:00 am
Sciences Po (1, Place Saint-Thomas-d'Aquin), room K008
We Are Not Omnivores, or,
how our culture became more open, but remained unequal
Associate Professor of Arts
Department of Sociology
Columbia University in the City of New York
Drawing from Richard A. Peterson’s signature work on taste, hundreds of studies have reported that elites' cultural tastes have broadened such that they are best categorized as “omnivores.” Most of the research in this tradition to date has sought to replicate the primary finding (in different times, places, with different populations) while little attention was paid to the mechanisms in play.
Using a single case study (The Museum of Primitive Art) as a prism, I argue that the most likely explanation for the original omnivorousness finding is a simultaneous diversification of “benchmark” arts collections and programs to include more kinds of culture (via the process of “artistic legitimation”), and a push on the part of vernacular culture advocates to have some works and creators appreciated as art. That is, the diversification of elite tastes is likely a result of both the artistic legitimation of vernacular work and a “lowering” of highbrow tastes to include vernacular culture.
In this study, I present a “production of culture” style explanation for purportedly high levels of omnivorous tastes among American elites, and explore the robustness of Shyon Baumann’s theory of the artistic legitimation process, as applied to 16 fields of creative production.