One-Day Symposium, April 13, 2018 (CIRLEP (EA4291)
University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne (URCA)
Over the past twenty years, sociologists of culture, on both sides of the Atlantic and from different theoretical standpoints, have insisted on the fact that individuals’ engagement with culture, far from being confined to a restricted number of elitist, distinctive, “snobbish” practices, actually span a broad range of registers, ranging from “low” to “high” and from “legitimate” to “illegitimate” culture. Peterson, Di Maggio, Holt, Lahire, Glevare, Coulangeon have thus all written about what they call either eclecticism, omnivorousness, or dissonance. A lot of individuals, belonging to various, diverse social groups, have been observed to practice – alternatively or conjointly – forms of culture which are categorized either as legitimate or popular. The collapse of the hierarchy between high, legitimate culture, and low, mass culture, as well as the dissociation of cultural hierarchy and the dominance of a given social class has even been said to be one of the defining features of contemporary society, and indeed of the postmodern condition itself.
Because of the dilution of traditional forms of legitimacy, cultural legitimacy has assumed various forms and guises. Among cultural and intellectual elites, it has thus become more important to be seen to like different or differentiated cultural objects than to limit oneself to the sole range of ‘legitimate’ objects. ‘Omnivorousness’, a term coined by sociologist Richard A. Peterson, is now opposed to intellectual ‘snobbishness’. More broadly, culture is now understood as a means to conform or to differentiate oneself: from other social and age groups, but also from one’s own social peers and even sometimes from oneself, as Lahire explains when he speaks of ‘dissonant’ practices. All cultural genres (from comic strips to pop/rock/rap music or television programmes) have now acquired a definite cultural legitimacy and can thus be invested with affective or intellectual value, giving rise to the creation of new hierarchies within the boundaries of one genre and to new forms of distinction among individuals.
The aim of this one-day symposium is to open the investigation of these concepts pioneered in the sociology of culture to other fields, notably those (cultural studies, literature, history) which have traditionally been linked to specific cultural areas (the English-speaking world, for instance) and which are more receptive to the combination of various theoretical standpoints than sociology. Does the notion of the blurring of genres help to define a comprehensive theory of culture?
Papers can focus either on the point of view of consumers, producers or cultural products. Proposals are welcome in the three following topic strands:
– The evolution of cultural tastes and practices in the English-speaking world, taking into consideration the new concepts defined by sociologists, as described above, but also the rise of new practices, particularly those based on the use of digital technology and social networks. Analysis may thus bear on ultracontemporary practices, in particular the role of digital technology in the evolution and transformation of cultural practices. But historical approaches are also welcome: do eclecticism and cultural dissonance have a long history or are they necessarily restricted to hyper-contemporary practices? Is there a ‘long history’ of eclecticism and cultural dissonance or is it a purely contemporaneous phenomenon? Comparative approaches aiming at measuring precisely the ground-breaking role of Anglo- American culture in the process of eroding cultural hierarchies are also welcome.
– Dissonance as seen from the point of view of the creators: is it a recent phenomenon or on the contrary is it a natural part of any creative act? To what extent do artists and creators participate in the blurring of the frontiers between “high” and “low”, “legitimate” and “illegitimate” culture? Examples may be drawn from the fields of literature, the arts, cinema and music. Possible topics may include authors who write both for adults and children, or experiment with “illegitimate” forms such as romance, detective novels, erotic fiction, or write scripts for Hollywood, television, or Broadway; musicians who move from “classical” to “popular” music; film-makers who shoot both for the big screen or for television; visual artists who mix painting, sculpture and comics strips or digital technology.
– The third strand is more self-reflexive and involves the practices of the intellectual elite, to which academics and researchers belong: in what ways do the ‘omnivorous’ habits of that group exert an influence over the blurring of genres and enable the transition of certain cultural objects from the category of the illegitimate to that of the legitimate? How does this process operate? To what extent have researchers, critics and academics become ‘omnivorous’? What effect does this process have over cultural objects and their reception? Isn’t it the case that a certain kind of hierarchy is reinstated between the said objects, based on standards of taste that, rather than being erased, might simply be displaced? What part does teaching play in those evolutions? Does the wish to adapt to the students’ cultural practices shift the boundaries of the various fields of study? Are educational methods not often a step ahead of academic research?
Proposals, no longer than 400 words, must be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or to email@example.com, before November 15, 2018.