Understanding the relationship between taste and value in culture and sport

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Understanding the relationship between taste

and value in culture and sport

Research Study Conducted for DCMS

By Andrew Miles and Alice Sullivan

Our aim is to improve the quality of life for all through cultural and sporting activities, support the pursuit of excellence, and champion the tourism, creative and leisure industries.

1. Introduction
The purpose of the ESRC’s Placement Fellowship scheme is to sponsor knowledge exchange between social science researchers and partner organisations, such as government departments. It recognises the particular value of providing opportunities for academic researchers to take on the role of embedded intermediaries between different knowledge and research cultures, working on areas of focused interest to the partnering agency.
In the case of this Fellowship, the call stated that the DCMS wished to work with a high calibre researcher on the topic of 'tastes' in culture and sport activities, as in work on Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion project (Bennett et. al. 2009), using the Taking Part dataset and other relevant sources. The Department was interested to understand how this concept can be related to value - in particular how expressions of taste relate to the value individuals place on engaging in certain activities. Individuals were expected to bring a practical, policy-oriented flavour to their research considering how the concept of taste can play into policy development around widening participation and improving the quality of the experience.
In the event, the DCMS decided to appoint two Fellows with complementary research interests in this field.1 A decision was also taken to re-direct the substantive research focus of the Fellowship from cultural tastes to cultural participation. The reason for this was that the Taking Part dataset does not include items on tastes that could provide the required basis for the analysis suggested in the original call. Nevertheless, one of the outcomes of our work is a set of recommendations designed to inform the DCMS’s data strategy in this and other regards.
We decided to address the issue of cultural participation from two very different perspectives, both substantively and methodologically. In each case, however, our work was principally designed to provide a reflection on the Taking Part survey and what it shows us about cultural engagement in contemporary Britain. Alice Sullivan’s main focus was on the relatively novel (in UK research) analytical technique of Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA), which she applied directly to the Taking Part data to cast light on the clustering of participation. Andrew Miles’s work took a more indirect approach, using qualitative material from other studies to address the meanings attached to participation and how cultural engagement is negotiated in the context of everyday lives.
Although these were largely separate projects, in this report we attempt to draw together their key themes and findings. First, we discuss the principal axes of patterning in the Taking Part data revealed by MCA. We then consider the types of explanation for these patterns that are offered by personal narratives of participation. In advance of this analysis, we present a brief outline of the methodologies employed and their wider significance for understanding participation, and before that, the conceptual frame informing out work. Following the main analytical section, we discuss the implications of our findings for the development of the Taking Part survey and the DCMS’s data strategy more generally.

2. Research issues
Our respective research projects over the six-month period of the Fellowship shared a common intellectual interest in the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. For Bourdieu, the intergenerational transmission of lifestyles was central to social reproduction. The ruling elite defined themselves in relation to a distinctive and exclusive set of cultural tastes and practices (Bourdieu 1984). The intergenerational transmission of these tastes and practices was fundamental to the production of social class differentials in educational and subsequent occupational attainment (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990).
Bourdieu’s account of a society where the ruling elite participated in high culture and the masses participated in popular culture has been challenged by the cultural omnivore thesis (Peterson and Kern 1996). According to this account, the cultural elite is no longer defined in opposition to popular culture, but rather by its broad-ranging tastes. A great deal of empirical evidence has amassed in support of this characterisation of the cultural divide. But this does not negate the importance of the intergenerational transmission of lifestyles. Consumption of ‘legitimate’ culture is still the preserve of a small minority, regardless of the wider tastes of that minority (Warde et. al. 2007). Hence, the division between omnivores and univores may still both be an expression of, and serve to reproduce, social and economic inequality.
Despite theoretical claims that lifestyles have become individualised and de-coupled from social structures (Bauman 1991; Featherstone 1991; Lash 1994), empirical evidence continues to demonstrate the persistent social stratification of lifestyles. ‘Hardly any aspect of human experience – the clothes one wears, the number of siblings one has, the diseases one is likely to contract, the music to which one listens, the chances that one will serve in the armed forces or fall prey to violent crime – is uncorrelated with some dimension of social rank’ (DiMaggio 1994: 458). Evidence suggests that cultural differentiation is based more strongly on education and social status rather than income and occupational class (Van Eijck and Bargeman 2004; Chan and Goldthorpe 2007). However, the drawing of a sharp distinction between social class and social status can itself be queried (Le Roux et. Al 2008).
These theoretical concerns are reflected in the UK policy arena by government’s concern to democratise participation in culture and sport. Those who do not take part in the high or ‘legitimate’ cultural and sporting activities funded by the DCMS and its Non-departmental public bodies are deemed to be socially excluded. Accordingly, one of the DCMS’s core Strategic Objectives (DSO1) through to 2011 is ‘Opportunity: to encourage more widespread enjoyment of culture, media and sport’. Policy interventions are thus directed at initiatives that will increase the rate of popular participation as measured by the Taking Part survey.
3. Methods
The Taking Part Survey is an annual survey on participation, originally based on a representative sample of 29,000 people in England and Wales.2 It is produced in line with National Statistics protocols to ensure ‘quality assurance’ and fits a model that prioritises large-scale quantitative data and traditional, variable-led statistical analysis in social and economic research.
This approach can be powerful, but also has limitations, especially when used with cross-sectional data, and a set of variables which have been selected for the purpose of assessing performance against government targets, rather than for social research purposes. In contrast, our combined approach to mapping and understanding participation is reflective of a new recognition of the importance of ‘visual’ and the ‘descriptive’ methods in the social sciences (see Savage 2009). Here the concern is to display the pattern of social regularities and to attempt to unravel it with reference to the way networks between individuals and groups form and re-shape social spaces.
More generally, the methods we employ here are offered as an illustration of the need for a mixed-method approach to understanding participation. Our intention is to show how diverse methodological approaches can help to unpack and therefore maximise the value of other, more established approaches. Stemming from this, our broader purpose it to make the case for government to adopt a more open, eclectic stance on the use of evidence, which would enable it to engage with a wider range of audiences.
3.1 Multiple Correspondence Analysis
The Taking Part dataset is the richest available source of data regarding participation in culture, sport and leisure in England. For this project, the 2007-08 dataset was used because it contains information on childhood participation and parental encouragement, alongside adult participation.
Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) is a form of data analysis that has a long tradition within the sociology of culture, and was most famously used by Bourdieu, for example in Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste (1984). More recently, MCA has been used by Gayo-Cal et. al. (2006), Le Roux et. al. (2008) and Bennett et. al. (2009), to analyse British data on cultural participation and tastes.
MCA has advantages and disadvantages compared to standard regression techniques. A clear disadvantage of MCA is that it does not allow for an analysis which partials out certain effects in order to disentangle the relationships between variables (Chan and Goldthorpe 2007). As such, although some proponents of MCA within the French tradition reject other techniques, deriding regression analyses as ‘Anglo-Saxon’ (Le Roux and Rouanet 2004), it seems clear that MCA and regression analyses are in fact complementary tools.
MCA is particularly suited to the analysis of detailed data on lifestyles, such as the Taking Part dataset. This is because whereas regression techniques demand that one variable, or a scale derived from a set of variables, is treated as a dependent variable, and a range of other variables are treated as independent variables, MCA makes no such distinction between variables in terms of their status. As such, it has the following advantages:

  • It allows an examination of detailed patterns of variables – for example, participation and non-participation in a wide range of activities.

  • It allows us to focus on the ‘big picture’, avoiding the common pit-fall associated with regression analysis of focussing only on whether a particular effect is statistically significant, rather than on the main patterns in the data.

  • Because MCA is a geometric technique, and its output is geometric rather than numerical, the presentation of results from MCA is visually appealing.

  • Although it is in fact a quantitative technique, it has great potential as a way of communicating with audiences who are uncomfortable with the numerical presentation of quantitative analysis.

Rather than modelling the data according to a preconceived theoretical model, MCA can be seen as an inductive, data-driven technique, allowing patterns in the data to reveal themselves (Benzecri 1973). Of course, the danger of this is that theoretical models are read into the data, without being subject to hypothesis testing. This is potentially problematic, and it therefore makes sense to combine MCA with other statistical techniques which are more suited to hypothesis-testing. In the case of the Taking Part data, a good deal of research has already been carried out using standard techniques, and the proposed research using MCA will build on and complement this existing research.3

3.2 Narratives of Participation
The principal value of qualitative data is the detailed perspectives they can afford on the meanings that are brought to personal and social lives and the often complex interactions that inform them. Narratives of participation therefore allow us to unpick the ‘indicator’ method of representing and measuring cultural engagement, by revealing understandings of what engagement and participation entail and by locating them in a dynamic, relational way to the everyday experiences and life processes which generate and link different kinds of cultural and social (in)activity.
The importance of just this kind of perspective is recognised by Bourdieu (1984: 506) in Distinction, where he observes that, ‘When endeavouring to grasp systems of tastes a survey by closed questionnaire is never more than second best…It leaves out almost everything to do with the modalities of practices’. It was on the basis of this remark that the designers of the Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion project referred to above followed up their survey with an extensive programme series of interviews.
As no equivalent set of complementary interviews has yet been undertaken in connection with the Taking Part survey, two separate collections of qualitative material from in-depth interviews on participation were drawn on for the Fellowship project work. One comes from a sub-sample of the 1958 Birth Cohort Study (also know as National Child Development Study or NCDS), which was still being undertaken during the period of the Fellowship and which eventually amounted to 170 90-minute interviews.4 The second source of qualitative material is another set of 90 minute in-depth interviews but with a representative sample of 102 users and non-users of Manchester’s high cultural institutions, recruited equally from four area types in and around the city.5
While the NCDS interviews, drawn from a nationally representative study, offer longitudinal insights into the role of subjective, generational and lifecycle processes in mediating people’s involvement in social and cultural activities, a particular benefit of the Manchester case-study is the contextual purchase it affords in examining the territorial and community cultural dimensions of engagement. Due to the parameters imposed by the period and schedule of the Fellowship, the numbers of narratives subjected to detailed analysis was restricted to 50 texts, 25 from each collection.
4. Findings
In this section we report on and attempt to draw together the findings from our respective researches. Using MCA to establish and frame the key patterns and relationships in the Taking Part data, we then discuss how qualitative data on participation from the Manchester case study and from the National Child Development Study might illuminate and increase our understanding of the processes underlying them.
4.1 Drawing a picture of participation in culture and sport
The MCA carried out on the Taking Part data focused on three questions:
1. How do participation and non-participation in particular activities cluster together, and how are these patterns of participation structured according to demographic factors, such as education, sex and age?
2. How does children’s participation map on the patterns of parental participation in culture and sport?
3. How do patterns of participation in culture and sport map on to patterns of well-being, health and social ties?
4.1.1 Participation and non-participation
The analysis reported in Figure 1 reflects participation and non-participation in a broad range of leisure activities. This is based on responses to a general question on free time activities: I would now like to ask you about the things you do in any free time you have. Please look at this list and tell me the number next to each of the things you do in your free time”. This is somewhat different from the subsequent questions, which ask specifically about activities in the last 12 months.
The first axis in Figure 1 clearly reflects activity on the right versus inactivity on the left. The only exceptions to this are gambling and puzzles, which are in the lower left quadrant. Higher levels of education are aligned with activity, and lower levels with inactivity. The second axis is strongly aligned with age, with younger people (under 45s) clustering in the top half of the space. The activities in the top right quadrant include computer games and pubs and clubs, while the inactivities in the top left quadrant include not gardening and not reading. The activities in the bottom right quadrant, which is associated with the 45-64 age group, include home related activities (gardening, DIY, shopping) as well as relatively ‘high-brow’ pursuits (arts and crafts, museums and galleries, reading, academic study, theatre and concerts), and community oriented activities (voluntary work, attending clubs, religious activities). The female category is also located in this quadrant, while the male category is in the corresponding negative quadrant characterised by inactivity on the same dimensions, but the gender categories are fairly close to the origin, suggesting that it would be wrong to over-interpret this distinction. The oldest age groups (65 and over) are aligned with inactivities including no computer games and no internet and email.
Figure 1: Free time activities

In the case of arts participation (Figure 2), the first axis again reflects participation versus non-participation. However, in this case, the non-participation variables cluster strongly around the origin, reflecting the fact that non-participation is the norm. Only not buying novels and not reading are decisively to the left of the origin. The second axis appears to reflect performance (in the lower half of the space) versus private engagement (in the upper half).

Figure 2: Arts Participation in the last 12 months

Turning to TV viewing (Figure 3), the first axis clearly reflects viewing versus not viewing. The second axis appears to reflect a high-brow/ low-brow dimension, with classical music programmes, arts, science and current affairs in the top right quadrant, which is aligned with the older age groups. Reality TV and soaps are in the bottom right quadrant. The younger age groups are aligned with the bottom left quadrant, which includes no news and no current affairs. The male gender is aligned with high-brow participation (such as watching the news) while the female gender is aligned with high-brow non participation (such as not watching the news).

Figure 3: TV Viewing

4.1.2 Intergenerational transmission
Parental encouragement and being taken to cultural sites during childhood are clearly structured according to the level of encouragement and participation rather than the type, so for example, parents who encourage reading are also more likely to encourage sports. The participants’ educational level clearly maps on to the level of encouragement and participation in childhood. People with no qualifications are less likely to have been encouraged, not just in reading and the arts, but also in sport (these patterns are shown in supplementary analyses, available on request). Although we do not have data on the parents’ educational level, it is fair to assume that the patterns shown are driven by highly educated parents tending to encourage their children more, and these children going on to have high levels of educational attainment themselves. This analysis cannot address the question of whether this high level of educational attainment is partly driven by cultural participation and encouragement in childhood. Encouragement in childhood is also linked to adult participation.
The analysis in Figure 4 treats parental encouragement as a supplementary variable. Encouragement is clearly aligned with activity in general. Encouragement in sport is located in the top right quadrant alongside sports participation, and encouragement in reading is located in the botom right quadrant alongside participation in reading.

Figure 4: Parental encouragement and adult activity

4.1.3 Participation and wellbeing
Figure 5 treats variables related to health and wellbeing as supplementary categories, in order to examine how they map on to free time activities. Poor health, unhappiness, smoking and abstaining from alcohol are all on the left hand side of the space, linked to non-participation in activities. Drinking, good health, happiness, non-smoking and healthy BMI are all on the right hand side of the space, linked to participation.
So, subjective well-being is linked to non-smoking and a healthy BMI, but also to regular alcohol consumption. Age and educational qualifications map on to this field, as the young and highly educated are happier and healthier. The place of regular alcohol consumption in this map may be surprising, but this is likely to reflect the importance of alcohol to sociability within English culture, as well as the fact that, in some cases, giving up alcohol may be a response to poor health. Also, among British women, heavy drinking is associated with high educational levels and being active in the labour market (Roberts and Ketende 2008). In effect, drinking may not be part of a healthy lifestyle, but, in England, it is part of the lifestyle of healthy and happy people. Unhappiness, smoking and being teetotal are linked with inactivity in the field of free time activities, but the high-brow/ low-brow dimension does not appear to map onto the aspects of well-being captured here.

Figure 5: Participation and wellbeing

4.2 Exploring the Meanings and Dynamic of Participation
The maps of tastes and engagement produced by MCA on the Taking Part data confirm that contemporary lifestyles are strongly demarcated around both the fact and the nature of participation. With respect to the DCMS sectors, the clustering of particular types of activity and inactivity shows quite clearly that not taking part in high-brow cultural activities and, for females in particular, sport is the norm. In-depth accounts of the way people spend their free time in the context of their wider circumstances and everyday lives enables us to understand better the apparent opposition between engagement and disengagement and also its significance.
4.2.1 Perspectives on participation and non-participation
(a) Positive Participation
Interviews with those who rarely or never interact with traditional or mainstream culture show that most are, nevertheless, positively engaged in informal social and cultural arrangements of their own. Largely focused on friends, relationships and ostensibly ‘mundane’ day-to-day activities, these can in fact be quite rich and involved.
The example of Lisa, a young single mother living in a social housing development in South Manchester, provides a case in point. Her interests revolve around her daughter, partner and family. She is particularly fond of shopping and cooking but also enjoys going for coffee, watching TV, reading, playing video games, walking and swimming, going out to county pubs for a meal at the weekend, and playing the odd game of pool or darts.
Here she describes how she schedules her free time during a typical week.
So [Monday to Wednesday after work] I come back…Do window shopping first, and then pick my daughter up from nursery, go to the local park, bring her back and watch the telly, do her tea, bed, watch the telly… And Thursdays, when I get my money [laughs], love it, go to Tesco do my food shopping, and I go into [town] and think, ooh… what shall I treat myself to this week. I normally go in to every single clothes shop, and then start out at the end and work my way up and then go back to the end again and think I’ll have that one. So I do that, go and have a coffee somewhere and then go and pick my daughter up from nursery, go back to Tesco do a bit more food shopping…Saturdays, it depends on what my daughter wants to do, park or swimming or whatever she wants to do, take her wherever... Hmm, don’t get back till late on Saturdays. Sundays normally a relaxing day. Just go to the park, take her on the swings and the slides, maybe go up and see my mum…
Although Lisa’s interests might be considered as everyday and unremarkable, the technical detail in these arrangements and her animation in recounting them suggest otherwise. Rather, the prosaic nature of her routine masks an intensity of engagement that is revealed again when she refers to the link between her interests in food shopping, cookery and her taste in TV programmes.
I love going food shopping. I love it. I’d love to go into Tescos and think right I haven’t got a budget, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. I love food shopping. I love that….I love going round and thinking, you know--,… I think its ‘cause I watch Gordon Ramsey, I think ooh what can--, what can I make tonight, you know. I think… ooh I’ll have that, I’ll…and I love doing all weird concoctions.
Examples such as this suggest that the ‘deficit’ model of participation, which views non-participants in legitimate culture as an isolated and excluded minority, is misplaced. In raising the issue about what is to count as ‘participation’, they also provoke further questions about the relative value (and respective valuation) of particular type of activities. The fact that MCA on the Taking Part data indicates that it is participation per se that matters for health and well-being rather than participation in high rather than low culture (Figure 5 above) suggests that there is nothing intrinsically more valuable about certain types of activity.
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