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Cultural omnivores or culturally homeless? Exploring the shifting cultural identities of the upwardly mobile

Friedman, S. (2012). Cultural omnivores or culturally homeless? Exploring the shifting cultural identities of the upwardly mobile. Poetics, 40(5), pp. 467-489. doi: 10.1016/j.poetic.2012.07.001


The concept of the cultural omnivore has become increasingly influential in cultural sociology. Its proponents argue that it has now become a badge of honour to be eclectic and omnivorous in one’s cultural preferences and explicitly not be seen as an exclusivist cultural ‘snob’. It is even argued that omnivorousness represents a new source of social and cultural capital, enhancing one’s ability to communicate with diverse groups and nurturing greater cultural and political tolerance.

Drawing on a large-scale survey of British comedy taste and 24 follow-up interviews, this paper strongly challenges existing representations of the cultural omnivore. Among comedy consumers, I only find omnivorousness among one social group; the upwardly mobile. However, notably, the culture switching of these respondents does not seem to yield the social benefits assumed by other omnivore studies. In contrast, the life histories of these respondents reveals that omnivorousness is more a bi-product of life trajectories - whereby lowbrow comedy taste is established during childhood but then highbrow taste is added as cultural capital resources grow. Significantly, though, this combination of tastes has more negative than positive implications, leaving socially mobile respondents largely uncertain of their cultural identities. While they lack the ‘natural’ confidence to communicate new, more legitimate, tastes as embodied cultural capital, their upwardly mobile trajectory means they are also acutely aware that the tastes of their youth are socially unacceptable and aesthetically inferior. In short, these comedy consumers are more accurately described as culturally homeless, caught with one foot in two different taste cultures.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
SWORD Depositor:
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