What makes “good” taste? Who decides? And what’s it got to do with inequality? Sociologist Irmak Karademir Hazir grew up watching women in her parents’ clothing boutique. She explains how her fascination for taste emerged from that and why talking about things like fashion, film and music is far from trivial – it’s how we distinguish ourselves from others; how we’re recognised, or dismissed.
Irmak tells Rosie and Alexis how sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu have theorised “distinction”, showing how “highbrow” taste is decided by those with money and other kinds of capital. They also discuss the idea of the “cultural omnivore” and ask: Is what looks like broad consumption – of everything from opera to grime – just elitism in disguise?
Plus: Why are Marvel blockbusters Irmak’s “guilty pleasure”? Why is “symbolic violence” as scary as it sounds? And do we have a moral duty to be honest about our tastes?
Guest: Irmak Karademir Hazir
Hosts: Rosie Hancock, Alexis Hieu Truong
Executive Producer: Alice Bloch
Sound Engineer: David Crackles
Music: Joe Gardner
Artwork: Erin Aniker
Find more about Uncommon Sense at The Sociological Review.
Production Note: This episode was recorded shortly before the devastating earthquake in southern and central Turkey and northern and western Syria.
Irmak, Rosie, Alexis and our producer Alice recommended
From The Sociological Review
By Irmak Karademir Hazir
Further reading and viewing
Alexis Hieu Truong 0:05
Hi, and welcome to Season 2 of Uncommon Sense, from The Sociological Review.
Rosie Hancock 0:10
I'm Rosie Hancock in Sydney, Australia.
Alexis Hieu Truong 0:13
And I'm Alexis Hieu Truong in Ottawa, Canada.
Rosie Hancock 0:17
This is still the place where we see the world through the eyes and ears of sociologists, taking common sense understandings of everyday concepts we like to think we understand – so, you know, emotion, security, listening; all things that we looked at in Season 1 – and giving them a bit of a sideways view. Today, we're talking about "taste". It is assumed there's such a thing as "good taste" – that you have it or you don't – and maybe you're even born with it. But, I think it's also assumed that taste is a pretty light subject – like it's about the foods you eat, the movies you watch, what you put in your trolley at IKEA... It's kind of fun, but it's also maybe shallow and inconsequential.
Alexis Hieu Truong 1:03
But, as sociologists have shown us, it's way more complex than that. And it's way more serious, because talking about taste is basically talking about distinction and about relationships. So, how our position is different from each other – as "higher" or "lower" class, about how and whether our tastes are seen as legit at all. And that brings us to things like class inequality and some terms we hope to unpack here – including that scary sounding term, "symbolic domination". Rosie, what does this word – "taste" – bring up for you?
Rosie Hancock 1:41
You know, I think it feels vaguely moral to me. Like if there's the "right" kind of music or clothes, and we can judge people by whether they're listening to it or not. Or I get to show how great I am, maybe, by you know, what I listened to or what I wear. That's probably my middle class English-influenced upbringing showing and, honestly, it sounds awful when I say it out loud.
Alexis Hieu Truong 2:03
Well, for me, I think of how our tastes allow us to connect with other people or not. Like, if I find someone that has a super niche interest in whatever – like, vaporwave or T-shirts with cool 80s anime robots on them – it's an instant connection. That person gets me; or at least, it feels like it.
Rosie Hancock 2:22
Yeah. Well, today we are with someone who's going to unwrap "taste" for us and then repackage it a bit. She's Irmak Karademir Hazir and is based at Oxford Brookes in the UK. Irmak's work spans subjects like consumption, culture and class, also inequality and social mobility. Hopefully, throughout our conversation, we are going to see how those things can relate. Irmak, hi!
Irmak Karademir Hazir 2:46
Hello. Hi. It's so nice to be here. Thank you.
Rosie Hancock 2:49
It's great to have you. We're doing this recording through a video call. And I was going to do a little bit about how people's backgrounds in these calls tend to really signify their taste – you know, the carefully position book spine behind the politician talking from home, or the piece of kids art that signifies that the speaker is a loving parent, and so on. But your background is pretty nondescript there. Is that on purpose, to remove the visual cues to your taste?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 3:19
Well, maybe... I have young kids, so I can't act on my taste, really. I just need to keep everything safe.
Rosie Hancock 3:28
I think Alexis and I both probably feel that. Anyway, let's get on with things. Irmak, you grew up in Western Turkey where I understand your parents ran a clothes boutique; surely that informed your interest in taste? Can you tell us how? What was it like listening in on women's conversations there?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 3:43
Yeah, it was a fascinating social laboratory for me. Of course, at the time, I didn't listen to these with sociological concepts in mind. But I was interested in how women talked about their own tastes – and perhaps more interestingly – about other women's tastes. So, I used to go and help my mother around busy times in the year and listen to women talking about their relatives' tastes, or what is "in fashion" and what is not, or how to represent, you know, their femininity in a respectable way. So, it was a fascinating experience for me. And later on, when I started studying sociology, I noticed that I began to develop an interest in cultural boundaries, taste, consumption, and those topics.
Alexis Hieu Truong 4:32
Okay, so, some of those ideas will come up in a moment when we talk about how sociology talks about taste. But before we get there, Irmak, I'm wondering, you're now based in the UK; and not only the UK, but Oxford – this epicentre of a particular and very powerful brand of "high culture" that's been exported around the world, right? So, as someone who moves between the UK and Turkey and aware those cultures are obviously not just homogeneous – right? – what differences do you see in terms of how people talk about tastes, and so on?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 5:07
I don't want to make broad generalisations and just throw on my personal observations here. But I was very surprised when I first moved to the UK 10 years ago, because I think there's a noticeable difference between how we talk about other people's tastes in Turkey and how people talk about it here in the UK. In Turkey, people are not really very hesitant in observing other people's tastes explicitly, like looking at each other – what they're wearing, what they're listening to – and they don't hesitate to pass judgments when they're evaluating these tastes. However, I noticed when I come here, these things are not done explicitly in public here in the UK. People probably talk about each others taste in a judgmental way, but they do it, they tend to do it behind closed doors. I had an opportunity to compare two data sets – one from the UK, one from Turkey – from a research that asked about people's tastes in different consumption domains. And I was looking particularly at the parts where people talked about clothing tastes. And I immediately recognised that, you know; realised that the data from the UK was really very slim. It wasn't rich at all, because people avoided passing judgments. And they tended to say, "oh, taste, you know, everyone has their own taste, you know, I can't really judge" – perhaps they do judge but not in a research context. They don't reveal it in a research context. Whereas in Turkey, my data was like pages and pages long, because people really like to talk about, judge other people's days explicitly. So yeah, here, it's not that noticeable. Although culture, taste cultures, class is very much in circulation – in media, there are documentaries, shows, in everyday life, people don't hesitate to use "social class" as an everyday term. Whereas in Turkey, it's not that much in circulation, but people do reproduce it in different ways.
Alexis Hieu Truong 7:08
Of course, all of this – the fact that we can often see the kind of differences we're talking about here – is a reminder of how taste is something we're socialised into, right? We'll move soon to how particular thinkers have talked about that. But if I was going to walk into a kind of sociology 101 class, how might the lecturer be defining "taste" for students today?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 7:32
So "taste" broadly refers to our aesthetic and/or preferences on aesthetic and artistic matters. It includes our choices in various consumption domains – including food, exercise, sports, furniture, cars – in various areas, not just exclusively aesthetic and artistic areas. It's a very, very mundane topic, but it's very significant for sociologists – as you suggest – because it is widely accepted that is so socially structured. So, gender identity, race identity, class identities [are] very much shaped and also shaped by our tastes and preferences. But sociologists suggest that it's not individual but a social process.
Rosie Hancock 8:22
I mean, I want to come back to this idea of it being a social process in a second. But before I do that, I should say that, you know, we're going to be talking... talking about "taste" means we're going to talk a lot about "capital". And we like to define the terms that we use in this show. So, "capital" really refers to resources – yes? Like, we usually talk about when it comes to money. But although that matters, we are today mostly going to be talking about "social", "cultural" or "symbolic" capital. And those things – you know, the clothes you wear or the music tastes you have – actually kind of act like resources for us, yes?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 8:59
Yes, they do exactly. What we have accumulated through our childhood in cultural realms acts as a capital. And culture has a currency of its own, just like money. That's the basis of the sociology of taste, I guess.
Rosie Hancock 9:17
Hmm. And that, I mean, this leads us beautifully to Pierre Bourdieu, whose work – albeit with its limitations; of course, being most famously so hard to read – has been central to the sociology of taste, in particular, his book "Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste" which came out in the late 70s. Can you tell us about that study? Why he did it, his methods and why it matters so much to our conversation?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 9:44
So "Distinction" is the first systematic study of taste patterns, and a first study that revealed how tastes are linked to power and inequality. So, Bourdieu conducted this study in the 1960s in France and explored different tastes patterns and their links to economic, social and cultural capital. He used an inductive sort of methodology, in the sense that he actually first mapped out visually the tastes of – the different tastes of – people from different social backgrounds. The method he used – multiple correspondence analysis – is a very, very visual method. So imagine people's tastes appear as dots on a two-dimensional space. And so, if two dots are closer, it means that those two tastes are likely to go together. So let's say you choose portion size and fulfilledness over health. And next to it, you see exercises that build muscles, like muscle building sports – these two would appear together. Concerns over health in food would appear together with taste in golf or tennis, for instance. So what he found is that there are patterns and clusters in these taste profiles. Then he went one step further, and explored how people's social, economic and cultural resources are associated with these taste patterns. He found what he called "taste of distinction", "taste of necessity" – which are associated with different class positions. And that's inspired researchers from around the world to explore taste patterns in their own national contexts. And to explore how it is linked with a power, advantage and domination.
Alexis Hieu Truong 10:08
Hearing you talk about these patterns and these clusters, and these dots, I can imagine kind of this computer screen, like a radar – beep, beep, beep – and I'm feeling, is that all, like, a bit deterministic? Like, almost like some kind of algorithm or advertising exec, Bourdieu kind of seems to know what... that if we like this one thing, we're going to like this other thing – right? – and to be from this particular class, with this particular background, and so on. Even if Bourdieu himself is kind of like an "exception" to his own theory, and it feels like a... Is it a bit depressing, like too predictable or something, perhaps?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 12:27
It's a common criticism – but I think there is room for movement within his theory. For instance, he looks at the impact of, not only the volume of capital, but the composition of capital and the trajectory of capital. So, let's say you're an upwardly mobile person, who has achieved an upper-middle-class position. So in this theory, it is expected that you will be different from someone who has three-generational upper-middle-class background. So the trajectory or class trajectory would have an effect on how you like or dislike things. So it's not like... it doesn't suggest the mechanical reproduction, but more like it offers us conceptual tools, which can be applied into different circumstances to generate a more nuanced understanding of lived class experience.
Rosie Hancock 13:23
You know, it kind of makes me smile that we're talking about Bourdieu because, you know, he's a French intellectual and reading such thinkers, you know, is an expression of taste, right? I kind of wonder what Bourdieu would say about those of us who read Bourdieu? Like, where do we fit in the scheme of things? You know, reading, you know, French thinkers, French intellectuals is itself an expression of taste – it has the effect of distinction. And, you know, that feels really real in academia, because everyone knows those people who you sense want to be seen, you know, reading – I don't know – Roland Barthes' "Mythologies" or Foucault's "Discipline and Punish" because it gives them a certain "je nai se quois". I mean, Bourdieu's books are really big, so people are less likely to carry them round for vanity purposes. But the point is that signifying that, you know, these kinds of thinkers – and importantly, that you can pronounce their names with confidence – is a really big deal. You know, pronounciation is no joke, really. And maybe we should talk a bit about pronounciation.
Irmak Karademir Hazir 14:28
Yes, especially for me, it's no joke when you're speaking a second language. But, of course, this also empowers me because I can pass as any class member, because it's not my native language. Language is an embodied skill. It's not easy to manipulate. It's not easy to change how you pronounce words. Um, so it's very revealing. It's difficult to hide and requires a long process of socialisation to accumulate a legitimated version, legitimated form. And in daily life, it's very easy to decode. I mean, it's, it's out there, isn't it? And easily judgeable and difficult to change.
Alexis Hieu Truong 15:15
What you just said about pronunciation makes me think about what I feel or decisions I've made about how to pronounce certain words in order, like not to sound like I take myself too seriously, and so on. But now, our oldest – like, he's three – and he's starting to pronounce things like I'm pronouncing them, right. And I'm like, "No! Say it the right way. Do do as I say, not as I'm doing" – because people will judge you, right? And we've touched on legitimation – the idea that taste only matters if it's seen by the right people – and relating to that the fact that official "good" taste – at least the mainstream version of it – is typically defined by those with, let's say, "high" social and economic capital. Your taste can lead to you being included or excluded, seen as avant garde or as an outsider, high or low brow, niche or mainstream, depending on who's watching – right? – who's listening. Irmak, how does this tie in to a term we'd like you to define for us – "symbolic domination" ?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 16:21
So, from this theoretical perspective, the "highbrow" and "lowbrow" distinction is arbitrary. Highbrow is highbrow because it's legitimated by people who are in power, who have the cultural and economic resources to make these classifications. And what happens is that we tend to not see this connection – the connection between taste and power. And we think that these are intrinsic qualities. So, some people will have good taste because they are "born with it", or they have the intellectual capacity. This leads to the misrecognition of cultural capital. So we tend to not recognise the links between inequality and the definitions of "good taste". And, in everyday life, this operates as symbolic violence, because people feel inferior, or people feel that they lack quality – just because they don't have the type of taste that is legitimated by those who are in power. For instance, in one of my fieldworks, I was talking to working-class women about their clothing tastes. And I asked them if they ever felt uncomfortable with how they looked. And they said – not all of them, but many – referred to a particularly... a very particular moment in their social interaction, and that was their hospital visits. So, these working-class women wanted to "dress up" in order to be taken seriously and in order to be seen as a respectable person by the doctor. And this means that they know that their habitual ways of dressing don't elicit respect – their habitual ways of clothing does not represent good taste. So they want to "improve" it intentionally, to pass as a respectable person. Whether or not they can pass as a respectable person is another topic of discussion. But that's how symbolic violence works in everyday life.
Rosie Hancock 18:18
I mean, Irmak, it's interesting, you said there – you mentioned "violence" – and we really should stress that distinction can be violent; that it can have violent consequences. And this is something that both feminist thinkers and those writing about race, racism and intersectional inequality have highlighted. Who can we look to here and what points have been made to really extend an update Bourdieu's ideas? In terms of feminist thought, there's surely Bev Skeggs, yes?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 18:49
Yes. Well, Bourdieu has been taken up in different routes. It's been criticised for not elaborating on gender and race as much as it does on class. But some criticisms are really constructive. For instance, feminist researchers brought back the class agenda to feminist research by using a habitus symbolic violence and capital. As you said, Beverly Skeggs' work on "Formations of Class and Gender". Her ethnography with working-class women showed that women know that their embodied styles can be fixed to categories such as "vulgar", "sexual", "pathological", and also result in them losing other forms of capital. Similarly, Angela McRobbie looked at TV shows – I believe there are different versions of these TV shows in different parts of the world – where middle-class women presenters teach women who don't have the right "taste", in quotation marks, how to look "better" and how to look "fashionable". And in these shows, they humiliate those women's original taste profiles – habitual taste patterns – and then they teach them how to look respectable and how to look like middle class. And Angela McRobbie shows by using the concepts of capital and symbolic domination, how these shows – and media more generally – create this hierarchy within embodied femininities.
Rosie Hancock 20:25
Also on on that point of power struggles and contestations around taste, there's a 2016 piece by Derron Wallace called "Reading 'Race' in Bourdieu? Examining Black cultural capital among Black Caribbean youth in South London". It looks at – and I'm quoting from the abstract here – "the benefits of and backlash to Black cultural capital that students encounter from White middle class teachers for deploying Black middle class tastes and styles in the classroom. So we're going to put that in our show notes, as well. But more broadly, Irmak, and I guess, tying in to what we've just been talking about – in societies like the UK, and indeed Australia, where I am – the elite, those in power, tend to be and have historically been White. And that has totally played a role in what the dominant ideas of good or acceptable tastes are, yeah? So, how.. and whether certain tastes can be expressed and deployed, how they're met... I mean, how can we think about that – about the relation of race and racialisation – to distinction and to taste?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 21:33
Yeah, you're right. Legimate taste is associated with White culture in Western societies. And there are different versions of it outside of the European Turkey too. We have ethnic differences. Ethnic differences underpin these hierarchical, you know, cultural formations. It's useful to extend the concept of cultural capital – as we know, there are different formulations now, transnational cultural capital, multicultural capital, ethnic capital, Islamic capital, as you said, Black cultural capital. So these formulations aime to show how class or – maybe more broadly – how power is used in legitimation process, in cultural legitimation process.
Alexis Hieu Truong 22:24
Irmak, talking about inequality makes us wonder how these cycles might be broken, how we might do things differently, let's say. And I wanted to turn to your work here, because I'm thinking of one piece that reminds us of how, even before we can speak, we're being socialised into very particular tastes and preferences, right? So that piece of your work on the on parents' choice about feeding their very young children. Can you tell us about that piece? And what you want to say about how distinction is working here?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 23:00
I developed an interest in the formation of taste in recent years. Like, how do we learn from our families? How do we develop our taste? Well, Bourdieu suggests it's a process, it's a long process of socialisation, so I wanted to look at the roots. I explored how parents from different social classes feed their children. And it was an ethnographic study. So I did feed their children with them, we did go to food shopping. And so I had the opportunity to observe not only their notions of good feeding, but also how they put these notions into practice. What I found was this very, very easily noticeable difference between how different social classes understand variation in diets and variation in feeding. So, families with high volumes of cultural capital wants to introduce their children to variation because they want them to develop an "educated taste palate" – they want them to taste different spices, herbs, and they want their children to learn the journey of the food, from soil to plate. So there were lots of interesting notions that they wanted to develop in their children. And this is very, very early ages, I must say. Whereas these notions were different in families with limited resources – they wanted to teach their children to eat different foods because it's difficult to feed fussy children. So, the notion was more in line with the practical and instrumental approach. So I had the opportunity to see – because it was a longitudinal study – I had the opportunity to see how, as children grow, these notions are taught and how children begin to develop habits on the basis of these class-based notions.
Rosie Hancock 25:06
I mean, yeah. It's amazing how powerful our early socialisation is and just how much capital gets transferred to a child before they even start school. I've got a young child. I know Alexis does, too. And I don't know if Alexis, if you have those kinds of conversations with people like "Oh, where are you sending your kid?" You know, my son is two, he's not going to school anytime soon. But in the same time that those conversations are happening, people say things like, you know, "maybe it doesn't matter so much, because they're going to learn so much from you at home". And I feel like that comment is very loaded, because, you know, they say that because I'm middle class and, you know, maybe it's because I'm an academic. And so there's a certain degree of capital that's assumed, which really seems unjust. And, you know, there's lots of directions to take what I'm saying, but I guess I'm wondering – on the one hand – if we were trying to kind of even out... We're trying to even things out here. On the one hand, you know, you could try and level the playing field by exposing, you know, all kids to lots of different experiences. But maybe, maybe we should actually just be changing our values. So like, breaking this relationship between taste and access to social goods (?)
Irmak Karademir Hazir 26:27
Maybe Bourdieu would think we are too naive, if we ever imagined to, you know, deconstruct the whole hierarchy. But yes, I agree. I mean, it's very difficult. These notions are very well established. And particularly for me – I have young kids too – and for me, it was very disappointing to notice that even as someone who is studying cultural hierarchies, I find myself maybe not explicitly voicing them, but drawing on them when I'm deciding what snacks to buy, you know, what cultural activities I should take my kids to. And I feel guilty when I, you know, choose to stay in – lazy Saturday – put them in front of TV instead of, you know, organising a visit to the local museum. So it is a bit disappointing to see even people who knows about the hierarchy – how it works – we have already internalised it ourselves. So it's, maybe for me, it's important – especially when around children – not to draw explicit cultural boundaries, which will then teach children that some cultures are more inferior and some cultural habits are more superior.
Alice Bloch 27:47
Hi, I'm Alice, and I produce Uncommon Sense. Thanks for listening. We've got loads coming up for you this season. But if you're new here, and you want to go back through our archives to hear people like Bev Skeggs, who Irmak just mentioned, you'll find everything you need over at the podcast page at thesociologicalreview.org. And please do take a moment to subscribe to Uncommon Sense by tapping "follow" in the app that you use to hear your podcasts. It means you'll never miss an episode and we can bring Uncommon Sense to more people. Okay, back to Alexis.
Alexis Hieu Truong 28:29
Now, this is the bit of the show where we dig into a single term or phrase that has become kind of commonplace, but that could do with a bit of more scrutiny, right? Today we're looking at a phrase only marginally less than annoying than "culture vulture" – a phrase that our producer, Alice, at least says used to be heard in the UK. We're talking about the idea of the "cultural omnivore". Irmak, I know there is quite a history to the whole idea. Could you define it for us and talk us through its genealogy? It's kind of controversial, yes?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 29:05
Yes, it is. The debate started when Peterson first coined the term "cultural omnivore" in the US after he studied audience segmentation. So, he looked at music – tastes in music – and found out that those who like opera, and other traditionally "highbrow" music genres, began to develop an interest in popular music and in more "lowbrow" genres. And it triggered the debate – especially in Europe – because it can easily lend itself to a criticism to Bourdieu's reading of cultural hierarchy. So, if people who have "highbrow" taste are now liking "middlebrow" or popular taste – can we still talk about easily identifiable taste clusters that have different societal value? Or, if people who have "legitimate" taste now like popular culture, does it mean that they are less snob or there is less cultural hostility towards lowbrow cultural forms? So it triggered a debate.
Rosie Hancock 30:16
So Irmak, can we ask you where you stand on all of this? And perhaps here's where we should ask you about your own work – because I know you've done co-authored research with Nihal Yalvaç on middle class people going to so-called lowbrow food spaces, places to eat in in Turkey. Can you tell us what that study was about and what you found?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 30:39
Yeah, sure. So, omnivores... "Omnivore" indicates an openness to appreciate different cultural forms, right? What I and Nihal Simay Yalvaç and I did is to explore the lived experience of omnivorousness. Like, how do these people who cross taste boundaries feel about their practices. And so we talked to upper-middle-class people who eat in these lowbrow food spaces. We use the term "spaces" because they're not really, like, some of them are not even restaurants; like, small corner shops near to gas stations on the margins and fringes of the city centre. So, we asked these people about their tastes and what they like and why they eat in those spaces. So, these people – upper-middle-class people – appreciate authentic food. But what we found was they were very much aware of the fact that they were stepping out of their taste culture. So they were aware that their own cultural – or let me say, original tastes profile – has a higher social value. Therefore, they did cross the boundaries strategically. So, they chose to eat those at those places in certain mealtimes, but not in others. They don't want to take their families there and eat together – maybe it's okay to have a lunch there, but it's not a good place to take your family and enjoy a special occasion. So, there were limits to their boundary-crossing – it was more like a selective openness. This made me and some other researchers think that omnivore profiles may be a sign of a new repertoire of distinction. So, to be able to, you know, talk about difference and authentic tastes and places, but also being able to maintain your distance. So, we certainly saw cultural hostility was present alongside an openness to try different foods. To sum up, it's not easy to make generalisations about what omnivorousness can indicate in terms of cultural hostility or inclusiveness.
Alexis Hieu Truong 32:59
Bouncing back on these ideas of, like, being selective – right? – my first thesis director Michel Olivier, writing about cultural practices in Quebec and about the cultural omnivore, basically said like, yeah, of course, like, more openness and so on is always good, right? But it doesn't just kind of stop power relations, right? It transforms power relations. And I guess the question I'm getting to here is basically, these omnivores – they knew how to be the "right" kind of omnivore. It's not about getting everything, but only the "right" kind of selection – right? – one has to be selective, as you said. There's this piece – actually from the late 90s – by Bethany Bryson called "Anything but heavy metal" and it's kind of about what you were just saying, right?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 33:49
Yeah, fascinating study, really. It doesn't use the term "omnivore", but it looks at cultural and political tolerance and how it is associated with taste in music. And that study showed that being open to new musical tastes, well, it brings openness but only to a certain degree. So people, they are more inclined to accept genres that represented less controversial ethnic identities – for instance Latin music – instead of choosing musical genres that are very closely associated with a particular social class such as Heavy Metal.
Rosie Hancock 34:29
I have to say, I feel very seen here because, as a teenager, I was very proud of having a diverse music taste and I would listen to anything but Country music.
Irmak Karademir Hazir 34:40
Oh, yes. In fact Country music was one for me too...
Rosie Hancock 34:51
I mean, I guess even having the chance to behave like an omnivore – like the time cost, the financial cost too – is like a kind of class privilege, yeah? And you know, not everyone with diverse tastes get labelled as an "omnivore", do they? Like an upper-middle-class person who listens to Grime and Gregorian chants, or whatever, is going to be read differently than a working-class teenager who listens to Stormzy and is starting to explore Bach?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 35:22
Exactly, yes. It is a very important point. There are various ways in which people can draw from different taste clusters. For instance, let's say you are an upwardly mobile person who grew up in a working class family. You will still have your, you know, typical working-class cultural habits, but you will learn new middle-class values and tastes along the way. But studies show that – especially Sam Friedman's study – shows that those people feel really hesitant in... those people have difficulty in embodying these new tastes. And he calls them, he calls this state as "cultural homelessness". Whereas an upper-class person who intentionally opens their repertoire to lowbrow forms will embody it differently, will capitalise on it differently.
Alexis Hieu Truong 36:14
Some of the things you're saying is pointing us in the direction that we don't just have the tastes – right? – we put them on display. So, I wonder, what you think of the role of the internet in, for example, how we develop and perform that taste? And perhaps, how also we break the patterns of transmission from parent to child, as we discussed earlier? Has it been some kind of leveller? Allowing genuine omnivore-like exploration, and have algorithms kind of helped or hindered that kind of machine-aided open-mindedness?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 36:47
Erm, Alexis, there is controversy around this as well. Sociologists never agree. There are researches showing that algorithms and more broadly technology is levelling. However, some recent research shows that it actually reproduces its algorithms. For instance, the other day, I was reading a fascinating article by Airoldi – appeared in "Poetics" – looking at how YouTube algorithms suggest new videos to listeners, and whether or not it helps them to open up to new musical genres. And what they found is that YouTube's algorithm reproduces bubbles of taste and suggests videos that are similar to users' profiles. And they conclude that, because algorithms are human-made structures, they draw on the categories that we have in society, such as, you know, the racial stereotypes Google search brings. So, technology draws on human and society and our established notions. And this made me think that algorithms may not actually – or digital culture, or internet – may not actually eradicate the boundaries as much as I assumed.
Rosie Hancock 38:14
Okay, Irmak, so we're heading into the part of the show where we ask everyone to share their recommendation for something from pop culture that speaks to our theme. It's normally – like we normally do this as like a speed round – but we thought we'd take our time with it today and go a bit meta, since we are talking about taste. And so, when we say "pop culture", what what does that signal to you? All of these months that we've been recording the show, we've been using that term and believe me – we've really tried to think of another – and we've pretty much been implying that we want guests to say something relatively lowbrow, if you like. So mainstream, not too academic, not too "clever". Maybe that's a bit of a problem. And I guess the way in which that term – "pop culture" – gets used today echoes back to the Frankfurt School and Adorno, for example. So, critical of lowbrow "brainwashing" popular music, as opposed to, like, jazz, for example... Like, what what comes to your mind when you think about Pop Culture?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 39:14
When I first started to read about Pop Culture, I was obviously influenced by Adorno and Frankfurt School, as you know, they see popular culture as a byproduct of the cultural industry – something that is harmful because it kills our creative, our intellectual, our capacity to engage with culture in a critical way. Whereas, I feel more, nowadays – not nowadays, but as I read – I began to feel a bit more closer to cultural studies' approach. Stuart Hall and cultural studies' traditions tend to accept the commercial value of popular culture, but they also see some value in it, because popular culture represents the struggles of everyday life. It represents the tastes of, you know... it represents the tastes of people. And it's also a side for struggle – like, we don't have to be cultural dupes consuming things that is imposed on us; like, we can decode it in differently critical ways. So I guess, popular culture, to me, is an area that is not necessarily harmful, that can be articulated and engaged with different terms, creative ways.
Alexis Hieu Truong 40:36
Hmm. Bouncing back on this, Irmak, we have asked you for your pop culture recommendation. And I believe you want to talk to us about Marvel films. Is that correct?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 40:49
Yes. Marvel movies. I mean, I really like them. Well, my children loves the fact that I like Marvel movies, it's a common area of interest in our household. And more, more generally, I like watching blockbuster movies. I like to feel entertained. And I like fantastic worlds, worlds where people have super powers. Although, you know, during the day, I teach about how to look critically to cultural products. I like to entertain myself by watching these popular cultural movies.
Rosie Hancock 41:29
I mean, it's so interesting that we often reflect on these things as a bit of like a guilty pleasure. Like, why do we need to be guilty about this? Come on. I know that mine for today would would have to be "Hairspray" – and I'm talking about the original version – the film from the 80s directed by John Waters. It's like a comedy musical, it's a cult classic, and it's just great, really. Alexis, yours is a French film, yeah? Can you tell me a bit about that?
Alexis Hieu Truong 41:56
But it's a bit of a guilty pleasure... Also, it's a romantic comedy, right? So maybe the lowbrow version of entertainment type of thing. But yeah, I'd like to recommend an older French movie called Le Goût des autres (The Taste of Others). And it's actually a comedy that's based... Well, it's like Bourdieu's theory of Taste and Distinction in action, and in dating, I guess. So, now that I think of it, I wish maybe they, they'd make a sequel around cultural omnivores and univores – falling in love and contemporary times, or something like that – maybe Irmak, you can work on that script?
Rosie Hancock 42:36
I feel like, Irmak, it's worth digging into this idea of "guilty pleasure". Right? Like, how can we see that guilt sociologically? What is it? Where is it coming from?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 42:48
So, we are, we're living busy lives, we have lots of pressure and anxiety, and we want to entertain ourselves, we want to take pleasure. We don't always want to engage with culture in an intellectual way, and then, sometimes, feel guilty of our choices. But that's, that's reality. And the fact that we feel ashamed tells a lot about cultural hierarchy and the distinction between popular culture and highbrow culture. Well – for me – the other day I was watching "Pretty Woman", and I noticed, like, I teach this – this can be used as an example of symbolic violence. Because, you know, the whole story is to improve the appearance, and style, and respectability of Julia Roberts' character. I teach it during the day and watch it during the evening – that, what does it about me? But sometimes, we just want to consume cultural goods instead of critically reflecting on them, decoding them, debating them. So, here comes the guilty pleasure.
Alexis Hieu Truong 44:06
I guess as we mentioned, that cultural studies have been central to talking about how different cultural forms are taken seriously, but academics – may be generally speaking, perhaps; especially those of us in say, like, discliplines like sociology and anthropology – do seem, I think, to avoid admitting that they watch a lot of TV. Like maybe, we just did it, right? Or they might not want us to know that they have big TVs and so on. So, we're really engaged in the reproduction of those power relations, as you mentioned, right? So, having these guilty pleasures and then kind of teaching about the power relations – but at the same time hiding it, right?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 44:45
No, no me too. I mean, I watch Marvel movies almost every summer, when I visit my parents during holiday times and my father always askes me, "You're watching this because you're writing an article on it, right? Tell me please, don't tell me you're enjoying it." And yeah, I pretend that I was, because at one point I was really writing an article on legitimation in films, but the article had nothing to do with Marvel movies. But I felt like I have to hide this fact. There's like, "Yes, I'm watching it for work, Dad!"
Rosie Hancock 45:22
So, do we have a responsibility to talk more honestly about our tastes? Since we were just talking about not telling everyone at work what we like to watch. Like, talking about our capital? Is it impossible maybe to do it? As soon as we do it we're performing something else. So we're still performing at type of distinction, or what do you think?
Irmak Karademir Hazir 45:45
I think we have a moral responsibility to talk about our taste more openly. And I think we should – again, it may sound very naive – but I think we should try to undo symbolic violence. It's, I think, very important to talk about taste hierarchies openly – to explicitly recognise that – especially around people whose job doesn't require them to think about these in detail. I talked to my family, to my friends who are not doing social sciences. When the topic is "taste", I try to explain them how some of the things we take for granted are actually very much embedded in power relations. So, by thinking about cultural boundaries, and how we draw cultural boundaries, and talking about hierarchies of taste and power, I think we may – maybe not create a change – but it's a moral responsibility to put these into circulation, try to undo symbolic violence.
Rosie Hancock 46:51
All right, so I feel like I'm gonna... What I'm taking from you, Irmak, is that I need to be bolder about talking about my bad taste and my guilty pleasures, because it's actually an ethical and political duty to dismantle an unequal society. And I just got to be bold about it. So, that's what I'm going to do. Look, it's been so lovely talking to you. And thank you so much for this, for this wonderful chat today.
Irmak Karademir Hazir 47:17
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to be here.
Alexis Hieu Truong 47:26
And that is it for today. You can catch our reading list by clicking on the Podcasts page at the Sociological Review website, or browse our show notes in the app you're using to hear this.
Rosie Hancock 47:38
We'll be back next month when we're talking about "breakups". If you've enjoyed listening, as ever, please give us a rating and tap "follow" in the app you used to hear this, and remember to share us far and wide, with friends, students family, anyone with good taste (?)
Alexis Hieu Truong 47:56
Our executive producer was Alice Bloch, our sound engineer was Dave Crackles. See you back here soon.
Rosie Hancock 48:02
Alexis Hieu Truong 48:02