Culture and the built environment

Between meaning and money

Authored by: David Gartman

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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In modern capitalist societies the built environment is not just a set of useful shelters sold for a profit. It also carries cultural meanings of distinction and escape from the alienation of work, as David Harvey recognizes. Fredric Jameson develops this cultural imperative of the built environment, arguing that these artifacts can symbolically solve the social contradictions of the day. He argues that in post-Fordist capitalism people turn to the past for meanings in an economy of disintegrating mass markets and the rise of global production. The result is postmodernism, an eclectic mix of historic styles. Other sociologists focus on the institutional level of the architectural profession to explain changes in architectural aesthetics. Sociologists like Mauro Guillen, David Brain, and Magali Larson argue that struggles for professional prestige and business drive architects to pioneer new styles. Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of culture incorporates both the societal and professional struggles. Class position conditions different aesthetic tastes, which unconsciously condition artistic productions. Because society as a whole validates the tastes of the dominant class, the cultural artifacts of this class make its members seem superior. I apply Bourdieu’s model to explain the differential development of modern architecture in the US and Europe.

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