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The Sociology of Art

The arts and sociology, as Pierre Bourdieu (1980:207) observed, make uneasy bedfellows. It is an unease that pervades American sociology even more than he imagined. We should bear in mind that barely two decades have elapsed since a handful of American Sociological Association members succeeded in convincing a necessary quorum of colleagues to sign the petition required to set up a new Section. The Culture Section’s growth since then must have come as a surprise even to some of those early supporters.

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Culture and the arts have become increasingly visible in sociological publications (Peterson 1976; Becker 1982; Crane 1987; Balfe 1993), disciplinary recognition (Griswold 2000), and professional organizations, both in the United States and elsewhere (Zolberg 1990). But despite the richly textured potential that the arts afford for social science disciplines, it appears that American sociologists continue to devote relatively little attention to them. The success of culture’s reentry as a domain of considerable significance in American sociological investigation provides an opportune moment to reexamine the standing of the arts in what should be the most hospitable field of the discipline. This research paper provides an account of the persistent hesitancy to recognize the arts as central rather than peripheral in the social scientific field even in the face of the extraordinary promise that artistic transformations in the past century would seem to offer. The theme is that despite the increasing prominence of culture in the profession, the standing of the arts in American sociology appears to have changed less than might have been expected. 232

Staging the Sociology of the Arts in America

Less than a half century ago, a survey of the sociology of art would have begun and ended with contentiously worded assertions concerning the relationships of the arts and society. Certainly, many scholars affirmed that in some ways art mirrors society, but at that point consensus would end. Some insisted that art reflects societal production relationships, serving largely as an ideological tool to maintain dominant groups in favorable situations. Deriving from the materialist orientation of Karl Marx, who actually wrote little about the arts, that perspective provides the foundation of Arnold Hauser’s (1951) massive analysis of artistic creativity through the ages, The Social History of Art. Other scholars, with equal certainty, maintained that great art should be treated as part of an autonomous sphere, surmounting material constraints, but in some way reflecting the spirit of its age. Certain versions of reflection analysis see art reaching for higher values, foretelling cultural and societal tendencies. Of the many anti-Marxist variants on this idea, the one elaborated by Pitirim Sorokin (1937), a work that preceded Hauser’s by more than a decade, was nearly as massive.

As divergent as they are in their foundations, these interpretations of the relations of the arts and society aim to unearth hidden postulates of art in relation to broad social structural processes. Whether from the standpoint of Marxist analysis or anti-Marxist idealism, these are universalizing conceptions of art, representing a Western European, hierarchical scheme of cultural classification (Bourdieu 2000:73, 105). Sorokin embraced 2,500 years of civilization; Hauser starts from the even earlier point— prehistoric cave painting—and both ended their analyses with their own artistic contemporaries. Neither passes muster in the face of modern anthropological perspectives, which see art as part of a cultural system, embedded in its cultural context (Geertz 1973). Regardless of the political or intellectual stance of individual scholars today, their ambitions are far more modest. They rarely undertake to encompass such magisterial breadth entailing so speculative an outlook. This does not necessarily result in a narrowing of vision, however, since the types of art that contemporary researchers consider worthy of analysis are far more varied than what their predecessors documented. Neither Hauser nor Sorokin paid much attention to nonWestern civilizations, barely any at all to primitive and folk forms, and, except disparagingly, to commercial art and entertainment (Hauser 1982). Neither considered the absence of women artists a question worthy of scrutiny. Even within the domain of fine art, both shared a largely unexamined but generally unfavorable opinion of avantgarde art. Finally, like most of their more aesthetically oriented peers, although they dealt with changing genres and stylistic modes, they accepted extant categories of art as unproblematic givens, without considering that other creative forms might be valid for inclusion in the aesthetic field (Zolberg 1997). Yet beyond their ambitious reach, what is remarkable about the Hauser and Sorokin studies is that they were truly exceptional, since on the whole social scientists gave short shrift to the subject of art.

On the Sociological Periphery

Early Work in Sociology of Art

Even though American sociology had its origins in, and continued to look toward European theoretical formulations, aside from literary and aesthetic scholars who sometimes touched ever so lightly on the social contexts or cultural history surrounding the arts, in the first half of the twentieth century, the sociology of art was largely the concern of a few European scholars. A single major work by Max Weber (1958) dealt directly with a specific art form— music—as a case of his theory of cultural rationalization in the West. When Émile Durkheim founded his important publication, Annales, he situated what he termed “aesthetic sociology” within the sociology that he was trying to establish but only under the residual rubric “divers” and beyond considering it as part of the “elementary forms of the religious life” of aboriginal society, he himself did no study of it (Zolberg 1990:38). Only Georg Simmel (1968) wrote frequently about the arts, although less as a social scientist than as a literary and art critic, philosopher, or fashionable essayist (Coser 1965).

By the end of World War II, American sociology, along with American science more generally, became the most dynamic and expansive in the world. This growth was a counterpart to the prominence of the United States on the international scene as the champion of Western humanist values during the war, and defender of freedom during the cold war (Guilbaut 1983; Saunders 1999).

American social scientific scholarship, however, hardly acknowledged the arts as a legitimate object of study. This stance had its nearly symmetrical correlative in the opposing and equally intransigent stance on the part of humanistic scholarship, including literature, aesthetics, art theory, musicology, and history of culture, toward what seemed the threat of the social sciences. The increasing preeminence of the exact sciences during and after the war had drawn many social scientists to adopt the presuppositions, techniques, and methodologies of these disciplines, an orientation that cast a shadow over humanistic subjects such as the arts, and qualitative interpretive methods that art calls for. Still, as higher education was expanded, despite official emphasis on the exact sciences, all university studies were made to grow, including the social sciences and the humanities.

A New Moment in Late-20th Century Sociology

Until the post–World War II period, in the United States, the few scholars who did social studies of the arts were emigré scholars, especially members of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno ([1962] 1976), who were escaping persecution by totalitarian states. Straddling the intersection of the humanities and social sciences, these exiles often remained marginal to mainstream intellectual life, were treated as outsiders, and saw themselves in that light (Wilson 1964:v). Their marginality was enhanced by the Marxist orientation to which some adhered, combined more generally with their critical views on American sociology’s “scientistic empiricism,” and, in many cases, contempt for what they took to be its intellectual shallowness (Zolberg 1990:72). Most of them deplored the development of “mass society” and its impact on individual autonomy. Their insistence on taking an evaluative position in their social analysis, rejecting what they regarded as a fictive scientific objectivity, reinforced the exclusion they suffered from the academic mainstream of American sociology. Nevertheless, some of them attracted a following of American scholars, intrigued by and sympathetic to their inquiry in the spheres both of high culture and their critique of culture industries. Although the legacy of earlier misgiving persists, in recent times, it has become considerably muted because of changes in both sets of disciplines that have produced convergences in their orientations (Zolberg 1990).

Foundations for a New Social Study of the Arts

Although in many European countries a considerable body of scholarship was devoted to aesthetics, it was only in the post–World War II period that an autonomous field of sociology of art, distinct from philosophy, history, or criticism materialized. This was the case in France, as the sociologists Pierre Bourdieu ([1979] 1984) and Raymonde Moulin ([1967] 1987, 1992) provided important intellectual leadership and the French state gave institutional support. German philosophical, musicological, and art historical scholarship continued to straddle the social domain as successors to the Frankfurt School tradition for whom the arts, both fine and commercial, were foci of critical study. English literary and historical scholarship infused Raymond Williams’s social analysis of what he saw as the hegemonic role of the arts and served to underpin the development of British culture studies. Williams led the way to open up the social study of the arts by introducing popular forms, such as the movies, radio, jazz, and more popular forms. In the United States, students and faculty who considered the university an agent of government policy, especially through its involvement in the Vietnam War, challenged what they suspected were biases of the social sciences.

Simultaneously, in relation to some of the same developments, the art world itself was undergoing transformation. The trend that had begun much earlier, for the center of the international art market to shift from Paris to New York became a reality in the immediate post–World War II period. As happened during World War I, when the arts were challenged by Marcel Duchamp’s gathering of “found objects”—bathroom plumbing, snow shovels, bicycle wheels—and “assisting” them to the status of art by supplying them with titles and signatures by purported artists, in the 1950s the arts “exploded.” Artists introduced new media, broke the barriers separating genres, and challenged conventional hierarchies, routinely wreaking havoc with artistic traditions, including even the historical avant-garde.

The material conditions that encouraged the entry of large numbers of aspiring artists into the avant-garde art world included growing foundation, corporate, and government support for the arts (Crane 1987). Political ideology played an important role in the form of cold war strategy by American advocates of government support for the arts, who successfully argued for creating a hospitable environment for artistic originality to serve as evidence of the creative freedom that was anathema under authoritarian regimes (Guilbaut 1983; Saunders 1999). Besides providing an opportunity structure for artists, indirectly, it opened the path for social scientists interested in culture, whose forays into studies of the arts gained some legitimacy.

On the basis of what had become “normal sociology” of the 1950s and 1960s, it would have been difficult to predict the efflorescence in the sociology of art that was in the offing. Prior to that time, aside from a few articles, no major sociological works had increased the small, pre-1950s bookshelf. An indication of the new trend appeared in the exploratory work, The Arts in Society a reader edited by Robert Wilson (1964), who wrote a number of its essays and solicited additional ones. Justifying his choices by taking as his point of departure the fairly orthodox idea that artists could “often see what is going on in the society or the psyche a good bit earlier than other men do” (p. vi), he was unabashedly “concerned with the products and producers of high culture.” Only a few years later, another collection of essays heralded an “institutional” approach that examines the functions of the arts in meeting human needs and maintaining social stability (Albrecht, Barnett, and Griff 1970). The editors included studies of the relationship of forms and styles to various social institutions; artists’ careers and their interactions in a variety of artistic milieus; distribution and reward systems; the roles of critics, dealers, and the public in recognizing artists and works.

They were generously open to divergent views that encompassed even Marxian analysts. At the same time, however, these essays demonstrated the infancy of the field of sociology of art: of the authors represented, only onefourth were actually sociologists, while the rest were in anthropology, comparative literature, history, art history, or were practicing artists, painters, dancers, writers. The happy result of this omnium gatherum was that Albrecht and his coauthors contributed to the creation of an American field that integrated European approaches and was strongly cross-disciplinary, ranging over the fine arts, classical and contemporary, as well as folk art, music, dance, and literature, and their corresponding institutional grounding.

A Sociological Space for Art: Current Trends

In light of changes within sociology itself, as well as developments exogenous to the discipline, the sociology of art in the third millennium may be characterized by four trends. First, continuing from already tested frameworks, sociologists examine the roles of the institutions and processes that give rise to or constrain the emergence of artworks. Second, they analyze the artistic practice of creators and patterns of appreciation and acquisition of patrons and collectors. Third, they investigate degrees of access for diverse publics to the arts and the role of the arts in status reproduction. Fourth, in a radical shift, some scholars call into question the very nature of the category “Art,” arguing that “art” needs to be understood not as selfevident but as a social construction. The rapid succession of art styles that has characterized nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe and the United States is taken by some to be emblematic of the innovativeness of modernity but by others as an indication of over-ripeness, cultural decadence, and anomie. For some observers, the entry of commercial art forms into galleries and museums (Cherbo 1997), the newly found respectability of previously denigrated musical forms such as jazz (Adorno 1976), the growing presence of non-Western music, simultaneously in commercial and serious musical domains, are a sign of the West’s decline. Many question whether these genres— new entrants to “Art”—deserve to be so designated (Zolberg 1990).

For sociologists of culture, generally more dispassionate than cultural critics, developments of this kind provide opportunities for research and theorizing that many analysts hope will help to understand the nature of societal transformations more generally. The use and misuse of aesthetic creation in the interest of particular groups or political ends is one of their recurring concerns (Gans 1974, 1999; Goldfarb 1982; Halle 1993). At the same time, the idea of a domain of art free from material purposes outside of itself remains a seemingly unrealizable ideal, both for artists and for publics more generally.

Methodological approaches range from an empiricism that relies on quantitative tools to analyze masses of available data, such as the degree of access to cultural resources (Blau 1988), survey data of art world practices, and audience studies (Gans 1974). Equally empirical, but based on microscopic observation and qualitative analysis of cultural practices, is the ethnography of Howard S. Becker’s (1982) Artworlds. Historical and semiotic perspectives have been imported from literary analysis into the social studies. Even more striking is that the range of works and art forms investigated has burgeoned and includes the commercial domain—culture industry—as well as the more traditional fine arts (Peterson 1997). Increasingly, sociologists, following Gans (1974), recognize that the arts may exclude as well as include. The absence of certain classes of aspiring artists such as women and racial minorities from what were defined as the most distinguishing and distinguished art forms is no longer taken for granted (Bourdieu [1979] 1984).

In its most distinctive manifestation, American sociology of culture has synthesized approaches to the social study of science, religion, and work, under the rubric of the “production of culture” (Peterson 1976). Defining culture in a broadly pragmatic sense that allies it to anthropology, it comprises art, popular culture, science, religion, symbols or, more generally, meanings, Richard Peterson and his associates urged that the questions broached by scholars themselves determine the use of synchronic or diachronic modes according to their appropriateness. Proponents of the production of culture approach consider how cultural products were constituted, accentuating the effects of institutional and structural arrangements, both as facilitators of or impediments to creation. Characteristically, they prefer doing middle-range and microscopic analysis that, they believe, more effectively reveals the impact of laws, culture industry practices, and gatekeepers of the form and content of artworks.

Institutions and Processes

Critics and artists have decried, virtually since their establishment, the role of certain institutions, such as official academies and government agencies or ministries that are supposed to provide support for artistic creation. Following the pioneering sociological study by Harrison White and Cynthia White (1965), among the first to analyze systematically the changing structure of opportunity that the French Academy provided for artists of the French painting world in the nineteenth century, more recently, a study of how academies selected for exclusion was carried out by Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang (1990). Focusing on the revival of etching as an art form in the nineteenth century, they show how keeping out or severely limiting women as students and members by most European academies impeded their entry into the highly regarded world of oil painting. Diverted to other, lesser media, such as etching and watercolor, whose professional organizations were newer and less restrictive, aspiring women artists were able to launch careers and gain a measure of status and recognition.

Research on French art institutions has continued to thrive with the work of Raymonde Moulin on the interplay among art museums, the art market, and government policy in providing official recognition for innovative art (1992). In the United States, a system in which the national government’s support for the arts is far more limited, and even declining, the study of how institutions affect the arts has advanced under the leadership of Paul DiMaggio (1986a, 1986b) and Judith Balfe (1993).

Artistic Practices and Worlds of Art

The most significant contribution to understanding how the arts are constituted was Howard S. Becker’s (1982) Artworlds. By adapting a “sociology of work” approach to study what is customarily viewed as unique creations of individual geniuses, Becker’s premise is that making art is not qualitatively different from engagement in other social activities. Becker argues that far from being an individual act, the making of art needs to be understood as a collective process, in which interactions among participants, of whom the named artist is only one, result in the production of “artworks.” The other participants—support personnel— may range from assistants to servants, to managers or agents, critics, buyers, and organizations. Taking into account the size and complexity of modern societies, Becker does not reduce the arts to a single art world. Instead, he argues that art making is constituted in four principal art worlds, each characterized by a particular style of working, based on its own conventions. Thus, the integrated professional artist is trained according to the conventions of an art form such as music, painting, and dance, within the domain either of high culture or commercial. The Maverick is also trained according to those conventions but refuses to abide by them, preferring to risk isolation and failure to innovate on his own terms. The folk artist works within conventions traditional in his community’s lore. Finally, outside of actual constituted art worlds, the least integrated is the naive artist, untrained in art who follows an internal urging to create works that represent idiosyncratic experiences or ideas about religion, representations of personal remembrances, or even aberrations and madness. Whereas the other art worlds have ties to regular art world institutions or practitioners or make it their business to develop ties to them, naive artists must be “discovered” by others or else remain unknown (Becker 1982).

Art and Its Publics: Status Reproduction and Taste

One of the most misleading adages of all time must be there’s no arguing about taste. In reality, taste is always being argued about. Thorstein Veblen (1934) had been one of the first social scientists to interpret the symbolic meanings of taste in his analysis of leisure class behavior during the Gilded Age. Approximately a half century later, Russell Lynes ([1949] 1980) published his classification of high-, middle-, and low-brow taste preferences, in which artworks and fashion are taken as status markers. On the basis of writings by these and other astute analysts, a number of sociologists have noted that taste, in art, design, and fashion may be a person’s social standing. Far from viewing taste as trivial, purely personal, and difficult to fathom because it is nonrational, sociologists such as Bourdieu contend that taste is social in its formation, symbolic in its expression, and has real social consequences for individuals and social institutions. In his more complex level of analysis, Bourdieu goes beyond the idea of taste as a “right” of consumerism. Instead, his observations of social differences in artistic taste enable him to show linkages among taste, symbolic status, and the mechanisms by which they tend to reproduce existing status hierarchies in society at large from generation to generation. Treating taste as an aspect of the individual’s cultural baggage, a durably structured behavioral orientation whose origin stems from early childhood experience in the family, and schooling, Bourdieu employs a variety of methods, quantitative and ethnographic, to show how taste functions as a form of capital to crystallize inequalities based on economic and social advantages or disadvantages. In this way, taste becomes a badge of social honor or, conversely, of scorn, signaling to influential groups that some are more acceptable than others (Bourdieu [1979] 1984, [1992] 1995).

English sociologists of culture have been pursuing cultural reproduction from a parallel perspective. Although they do not, as a rule, use large surveys of taste, many have analyzed the content and uses of aesthetic culture, both high and popular. Raymond Williams (1981), beginning from a Marxian perspective, and moving between literary or film criticism and academic life, was a major influence on what became the field of Culture Studies. Beyond the simple base-superstructure correspondence of Marxism, in which culture is conceived as merely epiphenomenal to existing production relationships, Williams, Stuart Hall (1980), and Janet Wolff (1984), among many others, conceived of culture as a constitutive practice in the construction of social meanings. They have tried to overcome the prevailing, decontextualized, literary-critical mode of analysis by elucidating the relations between, on the one hand, cultural images, objects, and practices, and on the other, social institutions and processes. Scholars associated with the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies analyzed many aspects of British youth subcultures, and their relationship to new artistic styles.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that there is complete agreement among sociologists about how taste and status are related, and with what consequences. Whereas Bourdieu attributes expertise in manipulating symbolic capital through complex codes available in the lore of dominant class fractions, many others prefer to emphasize observable changes in social stratification patterns, and the conditions of their expression. One of those who question Bourdieu’s analysis is David Halle (1993), who has studied the collection and display of art inside of people’s homes. His interviews with elite collectors of abstract art reveal that, contrary to Bourdieu’s assumption, collectors have little facility or understanding of the works they own. Indeed, such art is nearly as esoteric for them as for nonelites. Halle finds widespread sharing of taste across status lines, especially noting a nearly universal and, it appears, similar mode of appreciation of the landscape genre. Moreover, although educational level is an important enabler of high culture taste, ethnicity and race play important roles in how people select works for the home, in contrast to their responses to questionnaires administered in public spaces (Halle 1993).

Equally unexpected, in their studies of how musical tastes are related to occupational status, Peterson and Simkus suggest that although classical music continues to be a marker for high status occupational groups, more striking is the great breadth of their preference for a variety of music. Thus, whereas less than a third of respondents occupying prestigious occupations say they like classical music best, a somewhat larger proportion say they prefer country and Western music to grand opera. More “distinguishing” is that high-status individuals participate in more cultural activities and enjoy a wider range of music than do those of lesser status. As Peterson and Simkus put it, they are “omnivores” as opposed to less elite groups, whose range of taste in music is much more limited, and whom they characterize as “univores” (Peterson and Simkus 1993:152–86).

For scholars of Renaissance behavior, the omnivore is strongly reminiscent of the character type emergent with the “civilizing process” to which Norbert Elias (1978) devoted his early figurational analysis. In that period of expanded possibilities for travel in Europe as feudalism declined centralized states and monarchical structures began to form, promising young men (and rare women) from more or less isolated localities were being drawn to centers offering new opportunities. They had to learn to behave differently before a new audience and circles of courtly societies than they had in the familiar traditional worlds they inhabited, where their status (for better or for worse), was secure. Cosmopolitanism and the idea of the Renaissance Man came to mark the ideal of behavior, giving rise to a virtual industry of etiquette books, epic poetry, and other literature by authorities such as Erasmus, Castiglione, Chaucer, Shakespeare (Elias 1978). To be considered a country bumpkin was disastrous for seekers after the Renaissance notion of fame. As Bourdieu points out, these qualities became institutionalized in the development of secondary and higher education from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, and remnants of this cultural structure persist despite, as Bourdieu noted, the twentieth century’s valorization of science and technology (Bourdieu [1979] 1984).

But What Is Art?

Finally, whereas in the past scholars investigating the place of the arts in society have taken for granted the categories of art conventionally agreed to by art world participants, in recent times certain sociologists have turned their attention to tracing how art classifications are constructed. Like the sociologist of science, Bruno Latour (1987), who questions the processes by which certain frameworks of analysis, categories, and findings come to be incorporated into the scientific canon, some see even more plausible reasons for interrogating how artistic canons are established. Art is a stake in the arena of competition that pervades much of social life, as Bourdieu contends, not only for artists themselves, but for their supporters, patrons, collectors, dealers, and for the writers and scholars who constitute the art worlds in which they exist. In recent times, under pressure from potential publics, market forces, including collectors, and political action, and in light of the openness of the fine arts to new media, existing cultural institutions, such as art museums, are exhibiting works previously excluded from consideration as Art. Previously, for example, African carvings were largely consigned to ethnological collections; now, their entry into art museums has taken the form of an upward spiral in prestige; art of the “insane” has attained high market value (Anne E. Bowler as cited in Zolberg and Cherbo 1997:11–36); and women artists are gaining a level of recognition that had routinely been denied them (Zolberg and Cherbo 1997:1–8). In the worlds of culture industry as well, new musical forms such as “Rock-n-roll” and Rap have emerged from the interplay of business developments, technological innovations, and enacted statutes in such fields as copyright law, which set the parameters for works to come to public attention (Ennis 1992:5–7).

The seemingly impermeable barrier between high art and popular art that took over a century to construct (Levine 1988) has since been breached countless times, not only in America but in Europe as well (Circle 1993:12). In the past three decades, even the massive wall between commercial art forms and the “disinterested” arts has endured a jolting to the point of crumbling. The entry of Latin American, Asian, and African visual and musical forms and motifs into the Western dominated canon has gained increasing legitimacy and audiences (Zolberg 1997:53–72). Moreover, since any kind of art—fine, popular, commercial—may be disseminated through commercial channels of distribution, adding the interplay of official policy with market forces helps to thicken one’s understanding of processes of democratization.

21st Century Prospects for the Arts in American Sociology

By the beginning of the third millennium, the sociological study of culture and the arts is no longer a stepchild of the serious business of sociologists. If not central, then the arts are at least legitimately scholarly, as opposed to a frivolous subject. This flowering came about despite the traditional anti-aesthetic orientation in American social science and the more general unease between social science and the arts. Still, the position of the arts in the social science disciplines continues to remain tenuous and requires repeatedly renewed justification as an intellectual enterprise. In part, this is due to the fact that the crux of the arts since the Renaissance has been the artist as an individual, a tradition of several centuries that emphasizes the uniqueness of the actor and the work he (rarely, she) created. While the notion of such individual agency is relatively compatible with the discipline of psychology, it is less easily reconciled with the collectivist understanding of behavior by sociology. As noted above, this perception underlies the view of art as a collective process (Becker 1982) and sociologists’ emphasis on the production rather than creation of culture. Retaining or reinserting the individual artist as a creative agent has both ethical importance, since it implies respect for the autonomy of the individual, and intellectual validity in a discipline that could easily reduce art to no more than an outcome of general structures and processes. Thus, whereas culture has become a deeply embedded component of sociology dealing with science, theory, macrohistorical questions, education, religion, ethnicity, to name a few, the place of the traditional fine arts has not grown proportionately.

Two edited books published under the aegis of the ASA Culture Section seem to confirm this observation. Whereas the first, Diana Crane’s (1994) edited collection includes an essay on the arts, the second volume, edited by Elizabeth Long, includes not even one chapter on the fine arts and only one that even approaches this domain (Long 1997). On the other hand, the third and most recent collection of Culture Section sponsored essays suggests that the arts have conquered a new place in the sociological sun (Mark D. Jacobs and Nancy Weiss Hanrahan 2005). The coeditors rehearse the several decades in American social science characterized by “the cultural turn,” the reconceptualization of culture away from the functionalist emphasis on the need for culture to bring about a homogeneous consensus in society. Instead, proponents of the cultural turn sought variations and heterogeneity in the arrival on the public scene of pluralism and tolerance of difference. Rather than require uniformity, the goal is for a more “organic” (as in Durkheim’s formulation) conception to be the basis of social solidarity, not to promote conformity but individual human agency.

The cultural turn had challenged the elite standing of high culture by recognizing the existence of talent and striving among all social groups and the democratization embedded in Pragmatism. For all the attractiveness of openness to different forms, culture was frequently reduced to unending debate on ideology, functionalism, and essentialism versus constructivism. In a break from the past, Jacobs and Hanrahan (2005) put forth a new idea in the field of cultural sociology. They refer to “this newly emerging conception of culture as . . . an aesthetic one, which offers possibilities for intensifying and re-imagining the experience of civic life” (p. 12). From a static or, at the most, slowly changing notion of societal existence, their new approaches emphasize the dynamism of process and human intervention and their impact on existing traditional structures. Beyond these important changes, the new aesthetic conception helps, instead, in the more than two dozen essays by American, Canadian, European, and Asian sociologists, to turn toward normative commitments for the revival of civic discourse in relation to legality and social justice, the politics of recognition, and “the potentialities of ordinary experience” Jacobs and Hanrahan (2005).

Democratization in Diversity

In the context of American idea systems, Peterson’s innovations and the efforts of others associated with the production of culture school are likely to continue to drive research. This approach prepares the way for scholars to enlarge their repertoire of questions and take into account the impact on creation and reception of the arts in light of the enormous changes in the ethnic make up of the American population since the end of World War II. Sources of immigration have been changed decisively by new laws and population movements: Hispanic, Chinese, Indian/Pakistani, Middle Eastern, Russian, peoples of a broad range of educational levels and aspirations. They provide an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the interactions with the varied Anglo-centric cultural choices that have until now been the focus of most studies. Demands for access to elite culture now include not merely “visitors” from modest economic backgrounds, whose entry is far from being attained either in North America or in Europe (Circle 1993:96, 103, 129), but crosscutting socioeconomic distinctions, differences of gender, ethnicity, and race or religion. Each of these may have aesthetic implications that the conflict, as usually expressed— quantity versus quality—does not encompass.

The extraordinary transformation of the international arena in recent years requires that scholarship move more explicitly outside of the American scholarly world and into the wider international realm. This is essential in a world that brings together what had been largely national concerns. As is true of other intellectual fields, the arts are no longer understandable in terms of one society alone since few societies are either homogeneous or sealed off from other geographic, national, or societal units. Thus, whereas it may still be possible to study such issues as arts censorship in the context of a single society, it is more likely that political transformations open the door to new conflicts as global phenomena.

Related to globalization, technological innovations in cyberspace and computer technology militate even more poignantly against retaining the single society as the primary unit of analyses. They not only permit new forms of artistic expression but also enhance attempts to evade control over art content. Providing new avenues for artistic dissemination, they also substitute for direct contact with the storehouses of art, the museum. This suggests that this contextual metamorphosis will set the parameters of the next phase of studies in the sociology of the arts. Cultural sociologists have through theory, example, and practice contributed to the vital and potentially dangerous debates that pervade questions of “identity,” including ethnicity, gender, race, or religion, with strongly political loadings. Pursuing questions of meaning, identity, and value in terms of American society alone is clearly insufficient to understanding social processes and emergent structures. As American sociologists burst the bonds of narrow parochialism and enter the adventurous terrain of global processes, they foster a cosmopolitanism that challenges existing approaches and conceptualizations of the social sciences.


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