Rethinking cultural value
Sociology University of Portsmouth Portsmouth, England
Taste hierarchies have been challenged, and most prominently, Pierre Bourdieu?s work has led to what Tony Bennett terms ?a Bakhtinian ?discrowning? of official hierarchies of the arts?. Alongside the many positive implications of this ?discrowning? there has been a tendency to countenance cultural relativism as a less uncomfortable option rather than to embark on uneasy debates into issues of cultural value. This is perhaps because attempts to define the worth of one cultural artefact over another have often been left vulnerable to criticism (and often rightly so). The most obvious example that springs to mind is Adorno?s attempts to differentiate the superiority of ?difficult? classical musical compositions over jazz. This paper explores various ways out of this impasse (without resorting to essentialism), utilising examples from reflexive sociological thought that tentatively addresses issues of cultural value: for example work that dares to pronounce the worth of something over nothing (Ritzer); the historical quintessence that is part of the autonomization of the fields of cultural production (Bourdieu); and the symbiosis of cultural industries and cultural forms (Witkin).