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    From the ‘What’ and ‘How’ to the ‘Where’: Class Distinction as a Matter of Place

    Research on the symbolic boundary work of upper- and middle-class actors has placed a greater emphasis on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of cultural consumption than on t...

    From the ‘What’ and ‘How’ to the ‘Where’: Class Distinction as a Matter of Place

    Jens Koehrsen

    First Published January 29, 2019 Research Article

    https://doi.org/10.1177/1749975518819669

    Abstract Full Text References Cited by PDF

    Abstract

    Research on the symbolic boundary work of upper- and middle-class actors has placed a greater emphasis on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of cultural consumption than on the ‘where’. However, the spaces where actors move are important: the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of marking distinction vary according to national class cultures and cultural fields. This article focuses on the ‘where’ arguing that interaction settings shape actors’ boundary work. Based upon research on Argentinean Pentecostalism, the study shows that middle-class Pentecostals switch between distinction-marking and ‘omnivorous’ performances of Pentecostalism depending on the social permeability of the spaces where they move. These insights suggest that the contextual conditions in which actors present themselves as ‘omnivores’ or ‘snobs’ deserve more attention.

    Keywords

    Argentina, boundary work, Bourdieu, context, distinction, interaction, middle class, omnivores, Pentecostals, Pentecostalism religion, social class

    Introduction

    Research on the symbolic boundary work of upper- and middle-class actors has tended to emphasize either the importance of the ‘what’ or the ‘how’ of cultural consumption, leading to opposite conclusions. Studies focusing on cultural choices (‘the what’) frequently report a shift from exclusively highbrow tastes to cultural tolerance and involvement in lowbrow consumption (Bryson, 1996; Katz-Gerro, 2002; Peterson and Kern, 1996; van Eijck, 2001; Warde et al., 2007). In contrast, contributions highlighting the importance of consumption styles (‘the how’) tend to indicate the ongoing relevance of cultural distinction (Daenekindt and Roose, 2014; Holt, 1997; Jarness, 2015; Peters et al., 2018). While distinction seems to have moved from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’, the ‘where’ has received less attention. However, the socio-cultural spaces in which actors move are also important because the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of marking distinction vary according to national class cultures and different cultural fields (Friedman and Kuipers, 2013; Holt, 1997; Janssen et al., 2011; Lamont, 1992). This study engages with this debate by arguing that the specific interaction settings where upper- and middle-class actors move influence how they draw boundaries in relation to others. I also contend that religion is an appropriate field for the cultural study of class boundaries.

    These arguments are illustrated through a case study on middle-class Pentecostalism in Argentina. Pentecostalism is a Christian renewal movement that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and has since flourished in the Global South. In 2010, it was estimated that there were nearly 600 million Pentecostals worldwide (Johnson, 2013). The features frequently associated with the movement are a focus on the Holy Spirit and its blessings, spiritual practices such as speaking in tongues and faith healing, and an emotional atmosphere during services involving, for instance, loud singing, crying and dancing (Anderson, 2004; Martin, 1990; Robbins, 2004). In Argentina, Pentecostalism has spread predominantly among the lowest social echelons and is therefore perceived as a lower-class movement (Anderson, 2004; Freston, 1998; Mallimaci, 1999; Míguez, 2001; Saracco, 1989; Schäfer, 2010; Semán, 2004; Wynarczyk, 2009; Wynarczyk et al., 1995). Because the distinction from the lower class is fundamental to the representation of the Argentinean middle class (Adamovsky, 2009; del Cueto, 2004, 2007; del Cueto and Luzzi, 2008; Svampa, 2005; Tevik, 2006), middle-class actors joining the movement must cross established class boundaries. The resulting class ambiguity encourages them to redraw class boundaries within Pentecostalism by developing a distinctive style of Pentecostal church services. However, middle-class Pentecostal practices are not uniform across settings. In spaces shielded from outsiders, middle-class Pentecostals show less commitment to this distinctive style and engage in lowbrow forms of Pentecostalism. The findings suggest that actors tend to display class differences in spaces where relevant others could potentially step in to judge them and their practices, whereas in more shielded contexts, distinction becomes less important.

    The article is structured as follows: I begin with a brief introduction to the debate on cultural distinction, arguing that there is a need to take into account (a) religion and (b) interactional contexts (the ‘where’). The second section explains the relationship between Pentecostalism and social class in Argentina. The following two sections describe the methods and main results of the case study on Argentinean middle-class Pentecostalism. I conclude by discussing the findings and outlining potential directions for future research.

    Distinction: A Matter of Religion and Context

    The practice of religion, like any other cultural practice, is susceptible to the drawing of class distinctions. While the cultural study of class has rarely taken religion into consideration, the sociology of religion has produced numerous studies demonstrating a relationship between social class and religion (Coreno, 2002; Davidson and Pyle, 2006; Keister, 2008; Sherkat and Wilson, 1995; Smith and Faris, 2005), thereby indicating the relevance of religion in drawing class boundaries. Moreover, religion has increasingly become a matter of ‘free’ choice: actors can choose religion, combining and practising it along with their preferences (Davie, 2006; Stark and Finke, 2000). Because these preferences are related to the class background of actors (Sherkat and Wilson, 1995), religious affiliation and style are likely to be chosen along class lines and can constitute class markers, similar to food and clothing. Finally, studies employing Bourdieuian frameworks to study class differences in religion (Koehrsen, 2018; Nelson, 2009; Schäfer, 2011, 2015) find that both religious affiliation and religious practices demarcate class boundaries: distinctive religious styles reflect class aesthetics and indicate class belonging. Nevertheless, upper- and middle-class actors may also refrain from showing class differences in religion: settings that allow for more relaxed performances or even require the downplaying of class differences are likely to invite more omnivorous styles that involve lowbrow religious practices. Given that class boundaries can be drawn through religion, approaches theorizing the relationship between cultural consumption and class can generate new insights in the study of religion. In addition to offering new avenues for analyzing religious practices, it can also enrich the cultural study of class.

    Source : journals.sagepub.com

    social class

    social class, also called class, a group of people within a society who possess the same socioeconomic status. Besides being important in social theory, the concept of class as a collection of individuals sharing similar economic circumstances has been widely used in censuses and in studies of social mobility. The term class first came into wide use in the early 19th century, replacing such terms as rank and order as descriptions of the major hierarchical groupings in society. This usage reflected changes in the structure of western European societies after the industrial and political revolutions of the late 18th century.

    social class

    social differentiation

    Alternate titles: class, class distinction

    By The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica • Edit History

    Thomas Hobbes See all media

    Key People: Kublai Khan Vilfredo Pareto Robert E. Park W. Lloyd Warner C. Wright Mills

    Related Topics: class consciousness elites aristocracy vassal samurai

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    Summary

    Read a brief summary of this topic

    social class, also called class, a group of people within a society who possess the same socioeconomic status. Besides being important in social theory, the concept of class as a collection of individuals sharing similar economic circumstances has been widely used in censuses and in studies of social mobility.

    History and usage of the term

    The term class first came into wide use in the early 19th century, replacing such terms as rank and order as descriptions of the major hierarchical groupings in society. This usage reflected changes in the structure of western European societies after the industrial and political revolutions of the late 18th century. Feudal distinctions of rank were declining in importance, and the new social groups that were developing—the commercial and industrial capitalists and the urban working class in the new factories—were defined mainly in economic terms, either by the ownership of capital or, conversely, by dependence on wages. Although the term class has been applied to social groups in a wide range of societies, including ancient city-states, early empires, and caste or feudal societies, it is most usefully confined to the social divisions in modern societies, particularly industrialized ones. Social classes must be distinguished from status groups; the former are based primarily upon economic interests, while the latter are constituted by evaluations of the honour or prestige of an occupation, cultural position, or family descent.

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    Early theories of class

    Theories of social class were fully elaborated only in the 19th century as the modern social sciences, especially sociology, developed. Political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau discussed the issues of social inequality and stratification, and French and English writers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries put forth the idea that the nonpolitical elements in society, such as the economic system and the family, largely determined a society’s form of political life. This idea was taken farther by the French social theorist Henri de Saint-Simon, who argued that a state’s form of government corresponded to the character of the underlying system of economic production. Saint-Simon’s successors introduced the theory of the proletariat, or urban working class, as a major political force in modern society, directly influencing the development of Karl Marx’s theory of class, which has dominated later discussion of the topic.

    John Locke John Locke.

    Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/REX/Shutterstock.com

    Henri de Saint-Simon

    Henri de Saint-Simon, lithograph by L. Deymaru, 19th century.

    BBC Hulton Picture Library

    Karl Marx’s social theory of class

    For Marx, what distinguishes one type of society from another is its mode of production (i.e., the nature of its technology and division of labour), and each mode of production engenders a distinctive class system in which one class controls and directs the process of production while another class is, or other classes are, the direct producers and providers of services to the dominant class. The relations between the classes are antagonistic because they are in conflict over the appropriation of what is produced, and in certain periods, when the mode of production itself is changing as a result of developments in technology and in the utilization of labour, such conflicts become extreme and a new class challenges the dominance of the existing rulers of society. The dominant class, according to Marx, controls not only material production but also the production of ideas; it thus establishes a particular cultural style and a dominant political doctrine, and its control over society is consolidated in a particular type of political system. Rising classes that gain strength and influence as a result of changes in the mode of production generate political doctrines and movements in opposition to the ruling class.

    Karl Marx Karl Marx.

    From Karl Marx's Oekonomische Lehren, by Karl Kautsky, 1887

    The theory of class is at the centre of Marx’s social theory, for it is the social classes formed within a particular mode of production that tend to establish a particular form of state, animate political conflicts, and bring about major changes in the structure of society.

    Source : www.britannica.com

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