Access to pleasure

Aesthetics, social inequality, and the structure of culture production

Authored by: Ann Swidler

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter analyzes how differing social resources create unequal access to aesthetic pleasure: the pleasures of group self-expression and solidarity and the pleasures of intense, deep, thrilling cultural experience. The advantages of privileged groups include the ability to create and control specialized venues where audiences that share common tastes can gather; extended periods of aesthetic socialization that allow rich appreciation of the qualities of aesthetic objects or performances; and access to intermediaries, such as critics, who communicate between audiences and culture creators, helping them to create cultural objects that resonate with those audiences. Less privileged groups, such as the youth subcultures that created punk or hip-hop, also find exclusive venues where artists and audiences communicate directly and where creators encounter knowledgeable fans who can appreciate the genre’s subtleties. Such subcultures nonetheless have difficulty keeping control of their cultural creations, which succumb to commercial pressures that dilute their meanings and separate culture creators from knowledgeable audiences. Finally, the chapter considers how the new cultural communities that the internet makes possible might widen and deepen access to aesthetic pleasures.

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