Folk om forskjellar mellom folk : Oppfatningar av kulturelle praksisar og sosiale hierarki, og deira sosiale tydingar
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- PhD theses (SV-IMKS) 
Original versionFolk om forskjellar mellom folk : Oppfatningar av kulturelle praksisar og sosiale hierarki, og deira sosiale tydingar by Merete Jonvik, Stavanger : University of Stavanger, 2015 (PhD thesis UiS, no. 277)
English summary This thesis is about how different people perceive, construct and communicate social differences. By way of qualitative interviews, home visits and photo elicitation, I explore variations in cultural preferences, boundary drawings between own taste and other people’s tastes, and perceptions of social hierarchies. I also discuss possible social implications of people’s divergent perceptions of differences. The study is based on 39 in-depth interviews in a dispersed sample, consisting of both women and men, from two age cohorts (b. 1945-50 and 1975-80), everyone from the city of Stavanger, Norway. Referring to Pierre Bourdieu’s and Michèle Lamont’s theoretical frameworks – notably the concepts of social space, capital volume and composition, forms of capital, and symbolic boundaries – I describe and analyze the interviewees manners of appropriation and their relation to four aesthetic fields: architecture, home interior, literature and visual art. Thereafter, I discuss their perceptions of social hierarchies. A recurring theme in the thesis is diversity. The diversity applies to appropriation of visual art, relations to home interior, architecture and literature, perceptions of education and affluence, and to perceptions of social hierarchies in general. Concluding from the material, cultural preferences and perceptions of inequality clearly vary with social position, or class if you like, and to some extent with age and gender. This is in line with Bourdieu’s claim that taste is intimately tied to positions in the social space (1984). As regards visual art, I detect various manners of appropriation: ‘emotional-spontaneous’, ‘knowledge-based’, and ‘art as ownership’. Level of knowledge about art emerge as pivotal. Knowledge is essential both to the experience of art and to understand differences between manners of appropriation. In home interior, there is in addition an age difference in the sense that people in the youngest generation interviewed (b. 1975-80), to a much larger degree relate to home interior in aesthetic manners. This is one of the reasons why I conclude that an aesthetic rationale has acquired a hegemonic position within the field of home interior in Norway. Within literature, I discuss the concept of literary quality. If we portray the interviewees’ perceptions of good literature on a continuum, we find at one end views about good literature as something that is “democratically” individually defined (Gujord & Vassenden, 2015) (everyone is entitled to define what good literature is). At the other end, there is the idea that literary quality is defined by distinct criteria, as something near objective. The “democratic” individual notion is the most widespread among the interviewees. In Bourdieu’s terminology: I find it in all the quadrants of the social space. Only 3-4 individuals share the idea that literary quality is something distinct, near objective. It is worth noticing that these individuals also relate their own literary opinions to the widespread “democratic” notion. The latter gives reason to question whose viewpoints that enjoy legitimacy. Within architecture, I detect both socioeconomic, moral and cultural boundary drawing (cf. Lamont, 1992). Socioeconomic references point to different conditions that render architectural spending (im)possible, i.e. income level, work position, inheritance, age and phase of life. In terms of moral boundaries, these are drawn on the basis of condemnations of «conspicuous architecture» and of what is considered proper behavior. People’s cultural boundary drawing within architecture engage with aspects of taste and preferences, such as style epochs and various architectural expressions, and with architecture as one of several ways of communicating identity. Added up: all interviewees consider that residential architecture and people’s choice of residence are influenced by socioeconomic aspects, some interviewees – both with and without higher education – relate architecture to moral aspects, and interviewees with high cultural and/or economic capital, view architecture in addition to the above mentioned as related to lifestyle elements, taste and identity. This pattern resembles the pattern of boundary drawing related to perceptions of social hierarchies in general. All interviewees refer to work life and pecuniary success as defining of people’s positions. However, interviewees with low capital volume are more inclined to emphasize moral aspects, while their high capital counterparts are more likely to value cultural and aesthetic aspects in questions of inequality and hierarchy. When synthesizing these findings, and elaborating on their possible social consequences, I introduce the concept of a discursive gap. The discursive gap indicates a cleavage in perceptions of what differences between various social groups that ‘make a difference’. The discursive gap also points to a cleft in the way different social groups communicate these differences. I detect a discursive tension related to the communication of differences, i.e. to the divergent perceptions of cultural objects, practices and phenomenon. Noteworthy, this tension is not equally relevant to all social groups. The inclination to attach social meaning to «the small distinctions» (cf. Gronow & Warde, 2001) (small variations of lifestyle and cultural differences), and to consider differences in taste preferences and practices as a potential problem, varies with localization in the social space. Interviewees with low capital volume do not seem to find it problematic to draw boundaries towards other people’s taste and towards taste differences. They are indifferent to or do not know about the cultural capital and cultural boundaries that are important to both the cultural fraction and parts of the economic fraction. These interviewees show few signs of explicit or implicit recognition of, or deference towards, what is considered legitimate cultural preferences and practices (cf. a Bourdieusian framework). In addition, they point out that they feel socially comfortable with people that are similar to themselves. Interviewees with high capital volume, on the other hand, ascribe symbolic and social significance to education, navigate and read the social geography with reference to markers of lifestyle, and relate to – and for the most aspire to – acknowledged cultural practices. They too state that they feel socially comfortable with people that are similar to themselves. Thus, the findings presented in the thesis give ample reason to claim that, in the Norwegian context, there is not a common logic of distinction, but the logic of distinction is nevertheless present and important. Following this, I make the argument that cultural capital is not legitimate in the sense that Bourdieu found it to be. By this, I do not simply mean that the concept of legitimate culture has a different content in Norway compared to the French context, or that traditional forms of highbrow culture experience a general decline in interest (see f.i. Gripsrud, et al., 2011; Prieur & Savage, 2013). Rather, my study, unlike Bourdieu’s analysis, indicates that cultural capital does not appear to be legitimate in the way that everyone is constrained to define their own practices in relation to the dominating ones. On the contrary, I find little deference, aspiration or feelings of inferiority among people in the lower ends of the social space. This challenges Bourdieu’s understanding of dominance, his portrayal of people in the lower ends of the social space, and his concept of legitimacy, - and instead supports recent findings in two major contributions on inequality, class and cultural capital, namely Bennett et al. from Britain and Faber et al. from Denmark (Bennett, et al., 2009; Faber, et al., 2012). At the end, I discuss some theoretical implications on the concepts of cultural capital and sense of place, and possible social consequences of the discursive gap. These consequences refer, inter alia, to group formation and thus to mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. Systematic variations in symbolic boundary drawing in different parts of the social space are likely to set footprints in people’s social relations and their interaction in the local social world of Stavanger. Since all interviewees emphasize the importance of sameness (as in being of the same kind) when they talk of likes and dislikes in other people, and of what they value in social relations and friendship, it is highly likely that the perceptions of hierarchies and cultural valuations that have emerged in this study, are used as points of social orientation and as criteria of selection when social groups and networks are constructed and sustained. Knowing that power is concentrated in social environments in the upper parts of the social space, and that there is little interaction between groups with high and low volume (see f.i. Faber, et al., 2012), together with the fact that cultural capital works through social capital, these differences have social significance. Then, it is not necessarily unproblematic that social groups with a low level of education and relatively speaking low income, do not know of or care about the dominating or intermediate groups’ disparagement of their preferences and practices, because these are claimed to gain entry into these social groups. Therefore, although people with low capital volume do not express deference, acceptance, critique or feelings of inferiority towards the dominating or intermediate groups, the material indicates that mechanisms of exclusion are still active.
PhD thesis in Risk management and societal safety
PublisherUniversity of Stavanger, Norway
SeriesPhD thesis UiS;277
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