The work of Douglas B. Holt titled “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?” in the Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 25 (1), is meant to give an insight into the debate on the sociology of culture in regard to Pierre Bourdieu’s theory, which relates levels of cultural capital to consumption patterns, and its application on the contemporary American society.
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The author gives a summary of the Bourdieu theory as it relates to the Warnerian tradition of social class research. The author then identifies that the application of Bourdieu’s theory in the American context should be revised so as not to focus on consumption objects and high culture, but to rather focus on consumption practices as well as on mass.
The author identifies that the American consumption trends are influenced by the desire to experience a full life as well as the need to conform to traditional cultural practices. This, he identifies, is the reason behind their huge consumer spending and not the value placed on American products. This may be the reason that sometimes the population may be confused for their accumulation of things they may not even need.
The author goes ahead to conduct a research on the consumption patterns of a chosen group of American respondents and identifies their consumption patterns to be less related to their social standing, but rather to their financial status. He identifies that tastes also play a key role in their consumption and they are in turn influenced by work as well as the environment that the individuals live in (Holt, 1998).
In particular the author identifies one respondent by the name Lynn who claims that her consumption is influenced by the social environment as she connects more with her peers while spending. She says: “Usually, I’ll go to my grandparents in the county and cook dinner and go out to eat.” This, the author claims, is an indication that culture in whatever way is not linked to spending especially in the urban communities.
The author, however, notes that individuals with high cultural capital have a higher expression of cosmopolitan tastes that make them more susceptible to culturally inclined consumption. The author gives an example of rap music, where the respect to that particular genre is perceived positively among individuals with higher cultural capital than those with lower cultural capital (Holt, 1998).
It may be identified that the author has been very categorical to identify the particular consumption habits of the different levels of cultural capital. The fact that the author identified that there is a difference in the way people chose to consume products in the market, means that he is aware of the diversity that exists in human behavior, despite the common social setting that is America.
The extensive research done also validates his work on social behavior. The author identifies the weakness of the research by saying, “Instead of a macro-historical condition, it appears that each theory is describing, in an overzealous, exaggerated manner, a particular class lifestyle.”
The author has, however, limited his research to young respondents which may weaken the validity of his findings. This is especially because, while the young may conform less to their cultural capital to the point where it may not influence their consumption, the opposite may be the case for the older generation who are more conservative and more culturally aware. The fact that the study does not identify macro-historical aspects of cultural capital shows that the author underestimates the influence that history holds on culture.
HOLT, D., B. (1998). Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption? Journal of Consumer Research. 25(1). Pp. 1-25.