Alicia dunning

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Beethoven or Britney?
A sociological exploration of music taste, cultural
consumption and social class

Alicia Dunning
Student Number 72813480
B(SocSc) Hons Sociology

40 Credit Dissertation
Supervisor – Dr. Lucy Gibson

Word Count = 12, 982

Abstract

This study examines one of the most debated topics in the sociology of culture: Does
music taste affirm one’s class? Using PierreBourdieu’s theories of “habitus” and “cultural
capital” against Richard Peterson’s theory of the “cultural omnivore”, I aim to investigate
whether a difference can be identified in music tastes and consumption between people
from different social classes. I build on the works of the Centre for Research on SocioCultural Change (CRESC) and the data collected in their “Cultural Capital and SocialExclusion project” (2003-2004). As much of the debate in this area falls on the subjectivity
of musical genres, I conducted a study using music elicitation to build on the current
debates whilst incorporating the active listening experience. I conducted two focus groups
consisting of participants from either a working class background or a middle class
background and compared the datacollected from the two groups. The findings suggest
that music taste is heavily influenced by social background and early socialisation and thus
disputes Peterson’s omnivore theory. They also indicate that these differences have little
influence on consumption levels.

Acknowledgements
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I would firstly like to thank Professor Carol Smart for all of her help and guidance as anacademic advisor and lecturer over the past three years; she has been a true inspiration. I
would also like to thank Professor Mike Savage for his correspondence during the early
stages of the study and helping me gain a better grasp of the related body of literature.
Furthermore I am very grateful to Dr. Modesto Gayo-Cal who helped my understandings of
omnivore theory and the works of CRESC. Iwould like to thank him particularly for his
generosity and willingness to help despite no longer living or researching in this country.
As with all aspects of my life I’d also like to thank my mum Debbie, and Boyfriend Phil for
their love and support. Finally, and mostly I would like to thank Dr. Lucy Gibson. Her help
and guidance as a supervisor has been more than I could have asked for. Thesupport
which she provided has been remarkable and I feel I owe her a great deal for helping me
get through this final year at University.

Contents
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Introduction………………………………………………………………………....Page 1

Literature Review…………………………………………………………….…….Page 3

Research Questions........................................................................................Page 11Methodology…………………………………………………...…………..…....….Page 12

Findings and Discussion.................................................................................Page 20

Chapter One: Identifying Music Taste..………….……………....……….Page 22
Chapter Two: To what extent does music taste affirm one’s class?.....Page 26
Chapter Three: Cultural Consumption.…..……………………………....Page 30
Chapter Four: Existingtheory and everyday lives..……...……………...Page 34

Conclusion…………………………………………………………………….…….Page 37

Bibliography………………………………………………………………………...Page 39

Appendix…………………………………………………………………………....Page 45]

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Introduction

There is much debate surrounding culture within the discipline of sociology, particularly
when it influences social difference. Socialclass is perhaps the most widely studied and
documented of all social differences and has some of the earliest sociological origins
(Marx 1848, Simmel 1859). The combination of study between social class and culture is
therefore not new territory, however, new and contemporary debates (Bourdieu 1984,
Peterson 1992, Bennett et al 2010) in this field keep interest remaining high. This study
has...
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