Cultural Theory and Cultural Forms

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Fabien Accominotti STC S206 and Dr Sam Friedman STS S216


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Culture and Society. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The Sociology of Culture is the core course for the MSc Culture and Society. The aim is to introduce you to a wide range of approaches, debates and issues that loom large in the study of cultural behaviour. By the end of this course you should feel you have a reasonable map of different aspects and approaches to researching cultural processes; and you should feel able to formulate your own research questions and strategies within the diverse traditions of the sociology of culture.

The course’s primary focus is on the consumption and the production of culture, but the class also explores larger sociological notions (e.g. high vs. popular culture; subcultures) and approaches (e.g. field theoretical vs. interactionist approaches to cultural production), as well as social mechanisms that are transposable to other, non-cultural settings (e.g. mechanisms explaining superstar phenomena). Throughout we use a mix of empirical case studies and sociological theory. We want to encourage you to connect research and analysis – to keep asking whether a particular theory is good for making sense of things, and conversely, what concepts can be developed from particular things in the world.

The first term of the class (the Michaelmas Term) concentrates on the sociological explanation of cultural consumption. It surveys classic theories as well as recent debates dealing with the reception of culture. It then broadens the scope to explore how cultural consumption relates to social stratification. In the Lent Term, we first introduce major theoretical paradigms in the sociology of cultural production, and examine sociological accounts of artistic creativity. We then use cultural fields as laboratory-like settings to delineate mechanisms that can also be at work in other social domains, but are especially prevalent in cultural worlds. We thus unpack processes of social valuation, the relationship between talent and success, as well a number of social mechanisms at play in artistic labour markets and in the culture industries. We conclude with a brief sequence on contemporary issues in the production of culture.


10 hours of lectures and 20 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

Reading weeks: week 6 (MT) and week 6 (LT)

Formative coursework

All students are expected to submit one piece of non-assessed written work per term and prepare seminar presentations.

Indicative reading

Term 1:

Alexander, V. 2003 “What is Art?” in Sociology of the Arts: Exploring Fine and Popular Forms. Oxford: Blackwell: 1-19.

Bourdieu, P. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, P., and A. Darbel. 1997 [1966]. The Love of Art: European Art Museums and Their Public. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Levine, L.W. 1988. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Friedman, S. 2011. “The Cultural Currency of a 'Good' Sense of Humour: British Comedy and New Forms of Distinction”, British Journal of Sociology, 62.

Lizardo, O., and S. Skiles, Sara. 2013. “Reconceptualizing and Theorizing “Omnivorousness”: Genetic and Relational Mechanisms”, Sociological Theory 30: 263-282.  

Savage, M., F. Devine, M. Taylor, S. Friedman, B. Le Roux, A. Miles, J. Hjellbrekke, N. Cunningham. 2013. “A New Model of Social Class: Findings from the BBC's Great British Class Survey Experiment”, Sociology 47: 219-250.

Hoggart, R.. 1998 [1957]. The Uses of Literacy. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Mears, A. 2011. Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Levi-Martin, J. and Ben Merriman. 2014. “A Social Aesthetics as a General Cultural Sociology?”,  in Savage, M. and L. Hanquinet (eds.), The Handbook of the Sociology of Art and Culture. London: Routledge.

Thornton, S. 1996. Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. Hanover: University of New England Press.

Lamont, M. 1992. Money, Morals, Manners: The Culture of the French and the American Upper-Middle Class. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Khan, S. R. 2010. Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School. Princeton: Princeton University Press

O’Brien, D. 2013. Cultural Policy: Management, Value and Modernity. London: Routledge

Term 2:

Becker, Howard S. 1982.  Art Worlds.  Berkeley: University of California Press

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1993. The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press

Bourdieu, Pierre, and Loïc J. D. Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Baxandall, Michael. 1972. Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Galenson, David W. 2001. Painting Outside the Lines. Patterns of Creativity in Modern Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Uzzi, Brian, and Jarrett Spiro. 2005. “Collaboration and Creativity: The Small World Problem”, American Journal of Sociology 111: 447-504.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. 1996. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Velthuis, Olav. 2005. Talking Prices: Symbolic Meaning of Prices in the Market for Contemporary Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Beckert, Jens, and Patrik Aspers (eds.). 2011. The Worth of Goods: Valuation and Pricing in the Economy. New York: Oxford University Press

Karpik, Lucien. 2010. Valuing the Unique: The Economics of Singularities. Princeton: Princeton University Press

English, J. 2005. The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and The Circulation of Cultural Value. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Rosen, Sherwin. 1981. “The Economics of Superstars”, American Economic Review 71: 845-858.

Salganik, Matthew J., Peter S. Dodds, and Duncan J. Watts. 2006. “Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market”, Science 311: 854–856.

Frank, Robert H., and Philip J. Cook. 1995. The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get so Much More Than the Rest of Us. New York: The Free Press

Faulkner, Robert R., and Andy B. Anderson. 1987  “Short-Term Projects and Emergent Careers: Evidence From Hollywood”, American Journal of Sociology 92: 879-909.

Hirsch, Paul M. 1972. “Processing Fads and Fahions: An Organization-Set Analysis of Cultural Industry Systems”, American Journal of Sociology 77: 639–659.

Lena, Jennifer C. 2012. Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Essay (50%, 5000 words) in the LT.
Essay (50%, 5000 words) in the ST.

Two hard copies of each assessed essay, with submission sheets attached to each, to be handed in to the Administration Office, S116, no later than 16:30 on the submission day. The first essay is due by the second Thursday of Lent Term and the second essay is due by the second Thursday of Summer Term. An additional copy of each essay is to be uploaded to Moodle no later than 18:00 on the same day each essay is due.

Attendance at all seminars and submission of all set coursework is required.

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 13.3
Merit 65.3
Pass 17.3
Fail 4

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2014/15: 28

Average class size 2014/15: 27

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course survey results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 73.9%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)