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Distinction in China - the rise of taste in cultural consumption

Li, Gordon C. (2020) Distinction in China - the rise of taste in cultural consumption. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This research studies how cultural consumption draws cultural distinctions in the most developed megacities in China. This research examines the pattern of music consumption to examine distinction—which types of music are used, how they are used, who are using them, and what are the sources of those tastes. Although some theories, such as the cultural omnivore account, contend that the rise of contemporary pop culture implies a more open-minded pursuit of taste, this research argues that popular culture draws distinction in new ways. Based on a 1048 random-sample survey and 21 interviews on music in China, this research shows how the penetration of foreign music into China has allowed it to become a form of cultural capital—highstatus cultural knowledge and dispositions that can be leveraged for social distinction (Bourdieu, 1984). This research pioneers in cultural capital research the use of MIRT, a latent trait method from psychometrics, to reveal the pattern of music taste. Those with high levels of cultural capital had more exposure to certain types of music such as classical music and selective foreign pop music, which requires knowledge and research to consume, accumulating in "tastes" which they deploy to measure others. Those with low cultural capital tend to follow the mainstream or are uninterested in these music types. In turn, the meaning of cultural capital in China is examined to show how taste is influenced by not only current socioeconomic differences but also the past, most notably the privileged childhood of those growing up in advantaged families. The rise of taste in China is traced to rising inequality under Reform and Opening which led to a diverging upbringing in the newest generation of Chinese. This research updates Bourdieu's theory of cultural capital, which has traditionally focused on elite highbrow culture, by demonstrating how the influx of global culture in a contemporary society has enabled the continuation of cultural distinction.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Gordon C. Li
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Savage, Mike

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