Cosmopolitan Individualism: Omnivorousness as Cultural Border-Crossing
Sociology Emory University Atlanta, USA
Bourdieu's Distinction (1984) posits that a market for cultural goods exists, whose logics stratify society into cultural elites and the hoi polloi. For Bourdieu, knowledge of high culture is handed down between generations, stratifying access to valuable resources and opportunities, thereby reproducing the socio-economic hierarchy. Research has extended Bourdieu's conception of cultural consumption by suggesting a more nuanced concept: omnivorism. This research contends that omnivorism is the current method of high status arts consumption (Peterson and Simkus 1992; Peterson and Kern 1996; Bryson 1996). The homology between socio-economic position and cultural consumption is replaced by a heterology (Garcia-Alvarez, Katz-Gerro, and Lopez-Sintas 2007). Much of the literature contends that status and class drive cultural consumption. This argument is my point of departure. Using survey data from the Americans Perceptions of Artists Survey (2002), I contribute to the theoretical understanding of omnivorism by exploring broader cultural-institutional factors impacting levels omnivorousness.
The omnivore literature has not fully explored social networks' impacts on cultural consumption (DiMaggio 2004). Omnivorousness, not simply an individual consumption pattern, represents a cultural theme characteristic of the West, and present throughout the world. Cultural institutionalists see models of individualism as the dominant formulation of identity, anchoring the individual in society and serving as a motor for distinction (Frank and Meyer 2002, Frank, Meyer, and Miyahara 1995, Frank and McEneaney 1999). This argument borrows from Durkheim's The Division of Labor in Society (1984) and Simmel's "Individuals and Freedom" (1971) and "The Metropolis and Mental Life" (ibid.). Durkheim's individualism is the least common denominator in highly differentiated societies, while Simmel's is the dominant form of self-preservation, expression, and affiliation in modern polities.
Conceptualizing omnivorousness as cultural border crossings, the frequency individuals participate in high and low cultural events, I aim to show how individualism shapes omnivorousness. The results support my argument: controlling for class (income) and status (education), urbanity, dense arts networks membership, and voluntarism, indicating a Durkheimian "religion of humanity", increase levels of cultural border crossings. I argue that a "cosmopolitan individualism" provides a cultural foundation for omnivorousness, suggesting that cosmopolitan omnivorism is the modus operandi of high status cultural consumption.