Cultural Omnivores

JENNIFER SMITH MAGUIRE

University of Leicester, UK

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs085

Cultural omnivores are people whose consumption tastes range widely across both elite and popular genres; they differ from people with “univorous” tastes, which are narrowly restricted to either highbrow, middlebrow, or lowbrow activities and preferences. While omnivorousness is not limited to elite groups, high-status individuals are more likely to be omnivores, and have therefore been of especial interest to researchers. Historically, popular or “low” cultural forms were shunned by elite groups; today, however, research finds that individuals with exclusively highbrow tastes (“snobs”) are a rarity. In contrasting the figure of the omnivore with the snob, research on cultural omnivores suggests how patterns of elite taste have changed in contemporary consumer cultures, and offers insights into the relationship between class, taste, and cultural capital.

The study of cultural omnivores builds on the theoretical and empirical work of Pierre Bourdieu and others; the specific term comes from Richard Peterson (Peterson and Simkus 1992; Peterson 2005). Examining survey data on arts participation in the United States, Peterson and colleagues found that high-status respondents were more likely than others to include highbrow genres (such as opera) in their musical tastes, and also more likely to include non-highbrow genres, such as country music. On the basis of the prevalence of ...

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