Image credit: Municipalidad de Arica

Cultural omnivorousness and status inconsistency in Chile

The role of objective and subjective social status

Image credit: Municipalidad de Arica

Cultural omnivorousness and status inconsistency in Chile

The role of objective and subjective social status

Sociological research has long shown that cultural participation is socially stratified (Bourdieu, 1979; Chan & Goldthorpe, 2007a; Lizardo, 2019; Peterson, 1992). Groups higher up in the social hierarchy differ from middle and low-status groups in the cultural activities they engage in, and how they combine diverse cultural practices. Moreover, social stratification is multidimensional (Grusky & Ku, 2008), and social hierarchies may be defined by an array of factors, such as income, education, power, or occupation. In recent decades, many of these factors have been examined in the literature on cultural sociology and social stratification (e.g. Friedman & Reeves, 2020; Lamont, 1992; Warde, Wright, & Gayo-Cal, 2007). Nevertheless, standard measurements might not reflect the complexity of socioeconomic status (Andersson, 2015). Thus, subjective social status has emerged as an alternative for uncovering facets of unobserved socioeconomic status. Through self-placement, cognizant agents make sense of their own past, present, and future socioeconomic characteristics (e.g. Nielsen, Roos, & Combs, 2015). Primarily in social epidemiology, studies have shown that subjective positioning explains individual outcomes that cannot be accounted for by objective measurements (e.g. Demakakos, Nazroo, Breeze, & Marmot, 2008). In this study, we extend the research on subjective dimensions of stratification by examining the relationship between subjective and objective social status (hereafter SSS and OSS, respectively) and social distinction practices through cultural consumption.

Specifically, we focus on what the tradition in cultural sociology terms the cultural omnivore (e.g., Chan & Goldthorpe, 2007a; Peterson & Kern, 1996). That is, individuals in advantaged social positions are more likely to consume highbrow culture, but without aversion for lowbrow cultural practices, thus engaging in more eclectic cultural consumption. Besides the effect of SSS on individual outcomes, even after controlling for traditional measures of socioeconomic status, researchers have shown that SSS and OSS often do not coincide (Kelley & Evans, 2017). This inconsistency has important effects on individuals’ outcomes, such as health status and political behavior (e.g., Jackman & Jackman, 1973; Jin, Tam, & Tao, 2019). The theoretical significance of examining inconsistency lies in its puzzling implications for cultural consumption. Despite the evidence supporting a positive relationship between measurements of status and cultural omnivorousness, status inconsistency is a common situation, where actors also receive and develop inconsistent expectations of group boundaries. Therefore, this framework raises important questions about the behavioral implications of status inconsistency. Do individuals who overestimate their position in the social hierarchy differ from those who are objectively located in that position? Do individuals balance or combine subjective and objective social positions? How do these dimensions of social stratification relate to omnivorousness when they are inconsistent? Furthermore, in addition to examining whether subjective social position affects cultural stratification, we aim to understand the implications of inconsistent objective and subjective social positioning for cultural consumption. For the sake of simplicity, we use cultural consumption and participation as exchangeable terms.

We develop arguments regarding dominance of OSS or SSS, and the combination of both dimensions of stratification in the explanation of the cultural omnivore. Regarding specific scenarios of inconsistency, namely status-overestimating and status-underestimating actors, a balancing mechanism is tested against the predominance of one of the two resources across types of inconsistency. Moreover, the empirical literature on status inconsistency has suffered from methodological and conceptual shortcomings (Zhao et al., 2018). Following recent studies (Chan & Turner, 2017; Jin et al., 2019), as explained in the analytical strategy section, we seek to overcome these limitations by using multinomial diagonal reference models (DRM). In a nutshell: DRM isolates the effect of status inconsistency from OSS and SSS effects, which is not possible by traditional regression approaches due to collinearity issues.

We use a unique dataset from Chile, which provides objective and subjective social positioning measurements in tandem with cultural participation. We study the Chilean case, looking at whether patterns of consumption in this Latin American country resembles patterns in other societies, where cultural omnivorousness stands out as one of the most prominent characteristics (e.g., Chan & Turner, 2017; Peterson & Kern, 1996). Besides expanding the cultural consumption literature toward developing and Latin American countries, the Chilean case’s theoretical relevance lies in its higher level of inequality that dominates the access to culture. As shown by Torche (2010), in Chile, cultural participation is much stratified than in other countries such as France, Britain, and The Netherlands. It could be explained because the high economic barriers to cultural access in Chile. Chile is one of the countries with the highest proportion, and much higher than other countries where cultural omnivore has been intensively studied. Thus, this case study discusses how cultural omnivore manifests itself in highly unequal contexts with high economic barriers to cultural participation and how objective and subjective status are combined to explain it. A more detailed account of the Chilean case is provided below.

Collaborator

Peng Wang, Department of Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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Francisco Olivos
PhD candidate

My research interests include cultural sociology, social inequality, sociology of education and quantitative methods.