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Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore

Richard A. Peterson and Roger M. Kern
American Sociological Review
Vol. 61, No. 5 (Oct., 1996), pp. 900-907
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2096460
Page Count: 8
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore
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Abstract

Appreciation of fine arts became a mark of high status in the late nineteenth century as part of an attempt to distinguish "highbrowed" Anglo Saxons from the new "lowbrowed" immigrants, whose popular entertainments were said to corrupt morals and thus were to be shunned (Levine 1988; DiMaggio 1991). In recent years, however, many high-status persons are far from being snobs and are eclectic, even "omnivorous," in their tastes (Peterson and Simkus 1992). This suggests a qualitative shift in the basis for marking elite status--from snobbish exclusion to omnivorous appropriation. Using comparable 1982 and 1992 surveys, we test for this hypothesized change in tastes. We confirm that highbrows are more omnivorous than others and that they have become increasingly omnivorous over time. Regression analyses reveal that increasing "omnivorousness" is due both to cohort replacement and to changes over the 1980s among highbrows of all ages. We speculate that this shift from snob to omnivore relates to status-group politics influenced by changes in social structure, values, art-world dynamics, and generational conflict.

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