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A Struggle on Two Fronts: Boundary Drawing in the Lower Region of the Social Space and the Symbolic Market for ‘Down-to-Earthness’


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In this article we use qualitative interviews to examine how Norwegians possessing low volumes of cultural and economic capital demarcate themselves symbolically from the lifestyles of those above and below them in social space. In downward boundary drawing, a range of types of people are regarded as inferior because of perceived moral and aesthetic deficiencies. In upward boundary drawing, anti-elitist sentiments are strong: people practising resource-demanding lifestyles are viewed as harbouring ‘snobbish’ and ‘elitist’ attitudes. However, our analysis suggests that contemporary forms of anti-elitism are far from absolute, as symbolic expressions of privilege are markedly less challenged if they are parcelled in a ‘down-to-earth’ attitude. Previous studies have shown attempts by the privileged to downplay differences in cross-class encounters, accompanied by displays of openness and down-to-earthness. Our findings suggest that there is in fact a symbolic ‘market’ for such performances in the lower region of social space. This cross-class sympathy, we argue, helps naturalize, and thereby legitimize, class inequalities. The implications of this finding are outlined with reference to current scholarly debates about politics and populism, status and recognition and intersections between class and gender in the structuring of social inequalities. The article also contributes key methodological insights into the mapping of symbolic boundaries. Challenging Lamont's influential framework, we demonstrate that there is a need for a more complex analytical strategy rather than simply measuring the ‘relative salience’ of various boundaries in terms of their occurrence in qualitative interview data. In distinguishing analytically between usurpationary and exclusionary boundary strategies, we show that moral boundaries in particular can take on qualitatively different forms and that subtypes of boundaries are sometimes so tightly intertwined that separating them to measure their relative salience would neglect the complex ways in which they combine to engender both aversion to and sympathies for others.
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A struggle on two fronts: boundary drawing in the
lower region of the social space and the symbolic
market for ‘down-to-earthness’
Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
In this article we use qualitative interviews to examine how Norwegians
possessing low volumes of cultural and economic capital demarcate themselves
symbolically from the lifestyles of those above and below them in social space.
In downward boundary drawing, a range of types of people are regarded as
inferior because of perceived moral and aesthetic deficiencies. In upward
boundary drawing, anti-elitist sentiments are strong: people practising resource-
demanding lifestyles are viewed as harbouring ‘snobbish’ and ‘elitist’ attitudes.
However, our analysis suggests that contemporary forms of anti-elitism are far
from absolute, as symbolic expressions of privilege are markedly less challenged
if they are parcelled in a ‘down-to-earth’ attitude. Previous studies have shown
attempts by the privileged to downplay differences in cross-class encounters,
accompanied by displays of openness and down-to-earthness. Our findings
suggest that there is in fact a symbolic ‘market’ for such performances in the
lower region of social space. This cross-class sympathy, we argue, helps natural-
ize, and thereby legitimize, class inequalities. The implications of this finding
are outlined with reference to current scholarly debates about politics and
populism, status and recognition and intersections between class and gender in
the structuring of social inequalities. The article also contributes key methodo-
logical insights into the mapping of symbolic boundaries. Challenging Lamont’s
influential framework, we demonstrate that there is a need for a more complex
analytical strategy rather than simply measuring the ‘relative salience’ of
various boundaries in terms of their occurrence in qualitative interview data. In
distinguishing analytically between usurpationary and exclusionary boundary
strategies, we show that moral boundaries in particular can take on qualitatively
different forms and that subtypes of boundaries are sometimes so tightly
intertwined that separating them to measure their relative salience would
neglect the complex ways in which they combine to engender both aversion to
and sympathies for others.
Jarness (University of Bergen) Flemmen (University of Oslo) (Corresponding author email:
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 ISSN 0007-1315 print/1468-4446 online.
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 101 Station Landing, Suite 300,
Medford, MA 02155, USA on behalf of the LSE. DOI: 10.1111/1468-4446.12345
The British Journal of Sociology 2017
Keywords: Class; symbolic boundaries; lifestyle; taste; legitimacy;
egalitarianism; stratification
Do class differences in lifestyles and cultural tastes give rise to hostilities and
boundaries between social classes, and if so, in which ways? The extent to which
classes, and especially the working classes, exhibited some form of distinct class
consciousness was long a moot point in class analysis (Lockwood 1995).
However, this came under strain due to the increased recognition that the social
and political visibility of the traditional working class was waning. Partly in
response to this, what has been dubbed cultural class analysis then proceeded
to study how identities, tastes and politics might be classed,evenintheabsence
of explicit class identities (see, e.g., Bennett et al. 2009; Harrits 2013; Laurison
2015; Skeggs 1997; Reay 2011). This line of research has drawn on the ideas of
Bourdieu (1984, 1985) to map out whether and how differences in lifestyle and
politics correspond to the class structure. However, few studies deal systemati-
cally with the way in which those possessing relatively little capital regard and
relate to people above and below them in the social space. This is perhaps
especially striking in light of the result of the recent Brexit referendum and the
election of Donald J. Trump, both of which partly depended on mobilizing
anti-elitist sentiments.
In this article, we expand on the approach developed by Lamont (1992, 2000)
to explore how social actors in the lower regions of social space categorize and
evaluate in their own terms others’ way of life; this is referred to by Lamont as
‘symbolic boundary work’. Following cultural class analysis in agreeing that
class divisions might not be perceived and expressed in an explicit class idiom,
we examine the conceptual distinctions actors employ to make sense of cultural
class differences. Using in-depth qualitative interviews, we unpack how
symbolic class boundaries are perceived, constructed and reproduced by those
situated in the lower regions of Norwegian social space.
Our case, Norway, a comparatively egalitarian and recognizably social-
democratic society, is of particular interest in this context. It is a country where
the labour movement retains important political power, both through the
Norwegian Labour Party and a fairly high degree of unionization. It is also a
country where voter turnout is relatively high (PewResearchCenter 2016).
Nevertheless, Norway remains a class society, not least in terms of cultural
stratification: the lifestyles of those lacking cultural and economic capital are
clearly different from those of the well-to-do and are characterized by lack of
interest in institutionally recognized cultural goods and activities, as well as a
distinct taste for goods and leisure activities typically denigrated and mocked
by the more privileged (Flemmen, Jarness and Rosenlund 2017; Rosenlund
2009). As Norway is a comparatively egalitarian, yet culturally stratified, class
society, it is particularly interesting to explore how Norwegians perceive,
2Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
classify and judge people ‘not of their own kind’. In this regard, recent work has
shown that although the Norwegian upper and middle classes draw strong sym-
bolic boundaries against stereotypical, working-class lifestyles (Jarness 2013),
they are nevertheless imbued with conflicting egalitarian sentiments, making
them reluctant to express their social superiority (Ljunggren 2017; Gullestad
1992). However, accounts of privileged groups’ self-perceived ‘ordinariness’,
‘tolerance’ and ‘openness’ do not necessarily say much about how these people
and their practices and attitudes are perceived and judged ‘from below’, that is,
whether there is in fact a symbolic market for mundane displays of down-to-
Cultural class analysis and the working class
The rise of right-wing populism and the increasing anger and discontent of the
disenfranchised have revitalized the sociological interest in the lower regions of
the class structure (Gest 2015; Hochschild 2016; Judis 2016). However, recent
developments in class analysis inspired by Bourdieu have been more concerned
with the ‘elite’ and the upper echelons of the class structure, deeming analyses
of the ‘problematic of the proletariat’ an endeavour of the past (see esp. Savage
2015). Moreover, although large-scale surveys of lifestyles and cultural tastes
include working-class respondents, the practices and tastes included are typi-
cally skewed towards the upper regions of the class structure, resulting in mis-
leading depictions of the working class as culturally ‘inactive’ and ‘disengaged’
(see, e.g., Bennett et al. 2009; Savage et al. 2013; see also the critiques in
Flemmen, Jarness and Rosenlund 2017; Skeggs 2015).
Although ‘remembering elites’ (Savage and Williams 2008) is undoubtedly
important to understand the class structuring of social inequalities in contempo-
rary society, there is the risk of ‘forgetting’ the lower regions of the class
structure. To understand elite power and its legitimacy (or, indeed, the decline
of elite legitimacy), it is crucial to examine the worldviews of members of the
lower classes, especially their sense of who is ‘like me’ and who is ‘not’, in terms
of everyday expressions of hostility and solidarity.
Although recent work in cultural class analysis has been geared primarily
towards elites, some scholars still emphasize the experiences, lifestyles and
outlooks of people lower down in the class structure. One prime concern of this
line of research is the ways in which people disidentify with class labels, while
living classed lives with classed identities. Skeggs (1997) has detailed how
working-class women, who experience exclusion from the labour market and
the education system, and who are struggling to feel comfortable with
themselves, disidentify with class, instead emphasizing a claimed respectability.
Charlesworth (2000: 2) has argued that the despair of an atomized working
class, affected by unemployment and poverty, is signalled by the way in which
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British Journal of Sociology V
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017
‘the most dispossessed individuals understand their lives the least and are
certainly the least able to articulate their existence’. Atkinson (2010) has shown
how aspirations and the perception of opportunities and life choices are
even though this is not reflexively seen by social actors as involving class.
Similarly, Mckenzie (2015) has explored experiences of the stigmatization and
devaluation of working-class life on a council estate in Nottingham.
A crucial aspect to this is the way in which class domination extends to
encompass symbolic relations of power between classes. The working class is
thus not dominated merely by purely economic relations but additionally
denigrated by being constructed as ‘ignorant’, ‘uncultivated’, ‘vulgar’ and so
forth. Bourdieu (1984, 1985), playing on Weber’s concepts, has argued that the
homology between the social space and lifestyles means that class divisions
tend to take on the form of status divisions. Accordingly, class divisions tend to
be ‘misrecognized’, meaning that they are not seen for what they really are
(social divisions in terms of an unequal distribution of forms of capital, opportu-
nities and privileges) but perceived through a ‘socially innocent language of
likes and dislikes’ (1984: 239).
However, in contemporary research, some of the questions of class identifica-
tion remain, even though these are now treated in a more open-ended and fluid
manner. It is often presupposed that cultural class formation is mediated through
class language (either through identification or disidentification). Some aspects
of the paradigm of ‘class consciousness’ thus continue to influence this stream of
research. A better solution, as we will argue here, is to employ a much more
inductive approach to mapping how people in different regions of the class struc-
ture classify and evaluate other people through their own, lay discourse. In par-
ticular, we draw inspiration from the approach developed by Lamont (1992,
2000) to map symbolic boundaries, that is, subjective categorizations and evalua-
tions of people, practices, tastes, attitudes, manners and so forth.
Especially pertinent for our purposes is the analysis of symbolic boundary
drawing among working-class men in France and the United States, where
Lamont (2000) has demonstrated that moral standards can function as an alterna-
tive to economic definitions of success, thereby offering the working class a way
to maintain dignity and make sense of their lives. Crucially, her working-class
interviewees de-emphasize socio-economic and cultural hierarchies and place
much more emphasis on moral value when classifying and evaluating others.
They thus situate themselves above, or at least side by side with, the upper classes
according to a moral hierarchy to which they attach overarching importance.
This approach offers interesting yet unfulfilled potential in that it may unpack
whether and how the lifestyles and attitudes of the economically and culturally
privileged are perceived as legitimate by those lower down in the social space.
For instance, in a recent study of the upper regions of the British and
Norwegian social space, it has been shown that people practising lifestyles
4Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
requiring considerable economic and cultural resources are strikingly aware
that others may perceive them as ‘snobbish’ and ‘elitist’ and that they tend to
downplay (strategically or otherwise) difference in cross-class encounters to
avoid the suspicion of outsiders (Jarness and Friedman 2017). Such condescend-
ing strategies, it is argued, allow the privileged to benefit from public adherence
to culturally dominant norms of tolerance and openness, while harbouring
private prejudice. However, whether a symbolic market exists for such displays
of openness and down-to-earthness – that is, whether the downplaying of differ-
ence is in fact effective and the suspicion of the less privileged is thus avoided –
remains understudied.
In our analysis, we follow cultural class analysis in viewing class divisions as
manifested in the distribution of forms of capital, but we take this a step further
by anchoring our analysis in an actual model of social space, constructed
empirically based on survey data. This allows us to select respondents based on
their relational positioning in this structure, rather than based on one single
criterion such as occupation or neighbourhood. We thus avoid substantialist
and common-sense concepts of class by selecting our respondents based on
their positions in social space, defined by the distribution of and relation
between economic and cultural capital (Bourdieu 1984). Moreover, we are not
dealing with the ‘most marginalized’ on the fringes of social space: we analyse
symbolic boundaries at work in a broader social stratum, but one that remains
defined by relatively low volumes of capital. Finally, we avoid a narrow focus
on explicit class identification; instead, we map how social actors regard and
understand symbolic class boundaries in their own terms. Instead of scrutinizing
forms of classed self-identity and experience, and the labels people would or
would not apply themselves, we follow Lamont in mapping inductively the way
in which they demarcate and symbolically distance themselves from others in
their own terms.
Data and analytical strategy
We draw upon data from the project entitled ‘Class, Status, Closure’ (Jarness
2013) in the city of Stavanger, Norway’s fourth largest by population. The
advent and expansion of a booming offshore oil industry since the late 1960s
has led to tremendous changes for the city in terms of population growth,
occupational structure, levels of education and the average income of the
population. Stavanger’s economy was long dependent on small-scale fishing
and canning industries, but it is now often referred to as the ‘oil capital of
Norway’, as several oil companies have their headquarters there. Partly due to
the presence of oil companies and the influx of well-paid residents, the city fea-
tures on several lists as one of the most expensive in the world. When the
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British Journal of Sociology V
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017
interviews were conducted, the unemployment rate was less than 2 per cent,
significantly lower than the Norwegian and European average.
Forty-six qualitative interviews were conducted between September 2009
and May 2010. The analysis expands on previous studies of Stavanger’s class
structure. Applying Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) to representa-
tive survey data, Rosenlund (2009, 2014) has shown that the local class structure
can be represented as a multidimensional social space that strikingly resembles
the model proposed by Bourdieu (1984: 128–9). In order to ensure an even
distribution of interviewees across the social space, we used the ORDC class
scheme which distinguishes occupational classes and class fractions according to
the main dimensions of social space (Hansen, Flemmen and Andersen 2009).
We selected a number of occupations typical of each category and then
searched for potential interviewees using Google and the Yellow Pages online.
Finding interviewees employed in such typical occupations was straightforward.
To situate our interviewees in Stavanger’s social space, we asked them to
complete parts of the survey questionnaire about their amounts of economic
and cultural capital. Our interviewees could then be defined as supplementary
individuals in the MCA and projected onto the social space. This allows us to
visualize the position of our respondents along the primary dimension of capital
volume and the secondary dimension of capital composition. As Figure I shows,
the 46 interviewees are evenly distributed across the space which suggests that
our sampling strategy was successful.
In this analysis, we focus on a subsample of 22 interviewees located in the
lower regions of the social space, that is, below the origin of the vertical capital-
volume axis of the space. This means that all interviewees are endowed with
relatively low volumes of both cultural and economic capital (below the mean
of the representative sample). The subsample includes 12 men and 10 women
aged 24–62 (avg. 36.8) all of whom are ethnic Norwegians. It includes construc-
tion workers, carpenters, electricians, shopkeepers, hairdressers, social workers,
security guards, preschool assistants and primary-school teachers.
To Lamont, symbolic boundaries are ‘conceptual distinctions made by social
actors to categorize objects, people [and] practices’ (Lamont and Molnar 2002:
168, our emphasis). They would thus appear to be phenomena of what Giddens
(1984: 4–8) has called discursive consciousness. To Bourdieu, however, socio-
cultural distinctions owe a large part of their effectiveness to operating on a
practical level, constituting a form of ‘knowledge without concepts’ (Bourdieu
1984: 470–5). In the current paper, we seek to study precisely the Lamontian
articulation of these distinctions in discursive form. We regard qualitative
interviews as well suited to tapping into the conceptual distinctions actors make
on a discursive level, as they capture how tastes, practices, attitudes and
judgements may be represented through the discursive figurations of language
(Giddens 1984: 41–4). However, our methodological position recognizes that
the day-to-day drawing of symbolic boundaries might be more practical than
6Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
discursive in nature, so our interviews can be read as prompting interviewees to
give discursive form to their practical knowledge.
In particular, our qualitative interviews were guided by a semi-structured
schedule, inviting interviewees to classify and evaluate other people’s lifestyles
and report experiences of other people being judgemental in everyday life.
The schedule was inspired by that of Lamont (1992, 2000) but the questions
were intended to map perceived differences in lifestyle and leisure activities,
with a particular emphasis on forms of material and cultural consumption. We
also added specific questions adjusted to the local context, for instance probing
views of specific places, establishments and urban areas in Stavanger. We also
probed interviewees’ accounts of cross-class encounters in everyday life,
thereby eliciting accounts of feelings of awkwardness and disgust, as well as
awe and deference, to people ‘not of their kind’.
We examine two analytically distinct types of boundary drawing, focusing on
the way in which our interviewees distance themselves from the lifestyles of
Figure I: Interviewees in social space. The vertical dimension depicts differences in capital
volume. The horizontal dimension depicts differences in capital composition.
A struggle on two fronts 7
British Journal of Sociology V
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017
those regarded as above and below them in social space. On the one hand, we
elucidate what might be dubbed symbolically usurpationary strategies, directed
‘upwards’ and aimed at biting into, or challenging, the privileged positions of
others, typically by drawing on alternative standards of evaluation. On the other
hand, we look at symbolically exclusionary strategies, directed ‘downwards’ as
an attempt to secure a position of relative advantage by symbolically denigrat-
ing or subordinating others. We thus tease out the way in which our interview-
ees engage in a distinct symbolic version of what Parkin (1979: 89–116) has
referred to as dual closure.
In line with our recent interventions (Jarness 2017; Jarness and Friedman
2017), we also problematize Lamont’s influential analytical strategy involving
mapping the ‘relative salience’ of various subtypes of symbolic boundaries, for
example, cultural, moral and socio-economic ones (see Lamont 1992: 6, 32, 222;
2000: 58, 255). This strategy involves measuring which boundary type most
frequently occurs, or is most strongly expressed, by interviewees. However, as
we will demonstrate throughout the analysis, various boundaries rarely appear
in a pure form; accordingly, separating them to measure their relative salience
would neglect the complex ways in which they combine to rouse aversion to
others. Moreover, in drawing on the distinction between usurpationary and
exclusionary boundary strategies, we demonstrate how moral boundaries in
particular take on qualitatively different forms in the interviewees’ demarcation
of themselves from others.
Initial coding involved identifying key themes such as ‘boundary drawing’,
‘taste’, ‘cross-class encounter’ and ‘legitimation’. We then recoded the excerpts
from the qualitative interviews to identify more finely grained themes, such as
subtypes of symbolic boundaries (e.g., ‘cultural’, ‘moral’ and so forth), as well
as the direction of judgements (e.g., ‘upwards’ and ‘downwards’).
Upward boundary drawing
Explicit demarcations from groups classified by the interviewees as ‘the rich’, ‘the
upper class’, ‘the posh people’ and ‘the snobs’ are especially prominent in the
data. ‘Flashiness’ and ‘self-assertion’ expressed by consuming expensive material
goods are viewed with particular suspicion. Although most of the interviewees
report that they themselves may also enjoy expensive material goods such as
cars, boats, holiday homes and sports equipment, ‘excessive luxury’ and ‘squan-
dering’ are clearly frowned upon and often linked to a dubious form of morality.
Martin, a carpenter in his late 40s, expresses a clear aversion to such squandering.
He draws a distinction between people who acquire goods to use and enjoy them
and certain types of ‘rich people’ who ‘just shop for the sake of it’:
I see all these rich people and how they spend their money. [...] I just
don’t understand why they need all the stuff they buy. [...] It’s just
8Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
squandering. They’ve got boats, cars, houses, cabins... [...] How on earth
do they have time to enjoy all the stuff they buy? They never use their
boat. They just own it for the sake of owning it. [...] People like that
don’t even have the time to maintain the things they own. They hire
people to do that. They hire people to paint their house, mow their lawns
and clean the windows. They don’t have time for it, because they spend
their time earning money so that they can buy even more stuff.
In a similar vein, Maria, a primary-school teacher in her early 40s, tells us that it
‘hurts’ to observe rich people’s obsession with constantly acquiring new things,
exemplified by ‘throwing out the kitchen because it’s two years old and it’s time
for something new’. Patrick, a construction worker in his mid-40s, expresses
similar scepticism of people spending too much money on their looks, especially
on clothes, telling us that he often catches himself thinking that such people
‘only do this to show off’.
The consumption of what the interviewees regard as ‘high culture’ also elicits
suspicion. An interest in such culture is typically seen as something alien. For
instance, a preschool assistant, Aurora, in her mid-30s, associates reading the
playwright, Henrik Ibsen, with being ‘forced’ to read him at school, telling us
that she still harbours ‘a lot of prejudices’ against this type of literature.
Although reporting some interest in going to the theatre, Marianne, a hair-
dresser in her late 40s, avoids certain types of plays that are considered ‘too
weird’ because she feels uncomfortable about ‘not understanding the story’.
Interestingly, she tells us that she suspects that sometimes ‘even the actors don’t
know what’s going on either’. Such opinions reflect a more general pattern
across our data: other people’s preferences for certain forms of theatre, litera-
ture and the fine arts are typically associated with a ‘snobbish attitude’ of think-
ing one is ‘better than others’. For instance, David, an electrician in his mid-20s,
associates people with such preferences with those ‘living privileged lives’ with
no sense of what it is like to be ‘less lucky’ in terms of possessing resources:
They typically enjoy high culture and they drink their champagne. [...]
But in a sense it’s just funny. People who have been lucky... You know,
people who have landed on the right side of things, and who then think
they’re better than others lower down on the social ladder. It’s extremely
narrow-minded to think like that.
Such anti-elitist sentiments indicate that the interviewees are very much aware
of the differences between the tastes and lifestyles of their ‘own kind of people’
and those of ‘the others’. Moreover, they typically link this difference to their
lay conceptions of social hierarchies, which in many cases are explicitly linked
to the possession of economic resources. They seem to be endowed with a
social ‘sense of one’s place’, as well as a ‘sense of other people’s place’ in social
space (Bourdieu 1984: 471).
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British Journal of Sociology V
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017
The antipathies to people perceived as harbouring ‘elitist’ and ‘snobbish’ atti-
tudes are even expressed in a highly specific spatial sense: the interviewees
know exactly where they can find people ‘not of their own kind’, expressing
explicit aversions to settling down in or frequenting certain neighbourhoods,
urban areas and establishments in Stavanger. Typical places rousing distaste
include venues showcasing ‘high culture’, such as classical music and drama.
Lars, a security guard in his mid-20s, depicts such places as the preserves of
‘posh, West-end people’, explaining that such places make him feel ‘out of place’
and ‘uncomfortable’ because others would judge him for looking different:
I don’t feel at home because it’s for people in suits and ties and the whole
package. [...] At places like that you have to dress in a particular way,
you know, to blend in with high society. And I think that’s wrong. [...]
Especially when you have to play this role that you’re not used to, or dress
in ways you’re not used to. [...] I guess you look out of place. And you
easily get labelled.
Similarly, an electrician, David, also in his mid-20s, reports avoiding certain
types of ‘posh’ bars and restaurants. The perceived stigma of being different
seems to play a decisive role in his navigation of Stavanger’s urban areas.
to elicit aversion to certain bars:
I don’t like the thought of being stopped at the door and told you’re not
welcome. You know, just for wearing a hoody. It’s ridiculous. Stigmatizing
some while laying out these red carpets for others. You know, five
hundred people in a queue outside, just waiting to get in, and these types
from certain circles walk past them all, just by whispering a secret pass-
word to the bouncer.
Interestingly, a certain tension manifests itself in narratives of resourceful
others. Sometimes it is the wealth or the specific activities or tastes that seem to
elicit aversion. More often, however, it is the perceived elitist attitudes of the
resourceful that seem to be the targets of distaste, for example, the ‘smugness’,
‘flashiness’ and ‘snobbishness’ of the privileged. Such qualities are often
inferred from the practising of lifestyles that typically require considerable
cultural and economic resources. Crucially, however, most of the interviewees
report having no problem with resourceful people practising exclusive lifestyles
as long as they do not ‘look down on them’ for not wanting to conform to their
lifestyles and tastes. This crucial distinction is epitomized by the following quote
by Eva, a secretary in her mid-40s, who expresses scepticism of the perceived
dubious propensity of the rich to denigrate those who do not care about expen-
sive brands of clothing:
Eva: I don’t care if the rich are interested in branded clothes. But I find it
disturbing if that’s the only kind of clothes they wear, and if they also look
10 Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
down on others for not doing so. [...] They think they’re high above peo-
ple who don’t wear the same brands they do. [...] I remember when I
went to school, there were two kinds of people; those who wore branded
clothes and those who didn’t. And it signalized your rank in the group.
Q: Is that something you experience nowadays? Others looking down on
you... Not necessarily because of clothing, but...
Eva:...because of education and stuff like that? Yeah, I guess so. [...]
There are a lot of people who experience that. [...] But you know, society
would have collapsed if it wasn’t for people like [us]. Not everyone can be
doctors, lawyers and such, if you know what I mean? [...] It’s the personal-
ity that counts, not your bloody occupation!
The contention that occupational prestige, education, money, the possession of
goods or the mastery of certain lifestyles ‘do not count’ in calculating human
value is a recurring theme in the interviews. Instead, moral qualities such as
being kind, caring, open, respectful, thoughtful, down-to-earth and ordinary
seem to be the most important criteria against which other people are eval-
uated. If other people break with these standards, sharp boundaries are drawn,
especially if they are perceived as rich and/or powerful. Encountering such
people, either at work or in other social settings, seems to elicit awkwardness
and sometimes outright contempt.
Describing such people as ‘narrow-minded’ and ‘judgmental’, the interview-
ees’ accounts reflect an attempt to instil a different kind of social hierarchy: a
moral one, where such narrow-minded, judgmental people of privilege would
be at the bottom. Indeed, the interviewees seldom report feeling inferior to
such people. Although they do report some unpleasant experiences from other
people judging them, some of them seem fairly immune to the denigration of
their assessors. For instance, Robert, an electrician in his mid-20s, is conscious
of people frowning on his holidays to Ayia Napa in Cyprus. However, such
judgment seems to bounce off him easily: ‘I couldn’t care less. It’s not my style
to care what others think about what I do, if you see what I mean?’ The
interviewees also show signs of resistance to stigmatization. For instance, Lars,
a security guard, recounts an anecdote, humorously stating that he recently felt
an urge to fight back, quite literally:
Just the other day, at work, I had to clean up some popcorn that someone
had spilled all over the floor. And then this man came walking by. [...]
You know, wearing a leather coat, shiny shoes and a cane. He almost
looked like a baron. And a couple of ladies by his side too. And then said
to me: ‘I can see you’re cleaning up. That’s good!’ You know, just to snipe
at the working class. I said to him: ‘Yeah, somebody’s got to do it.’ It was
really funny. And a bit peculiar. [...] At the time what I really wanted was
a stick with barbed wire instead of the broom.
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A certain tension is, however, traceable in the interviewees’ reporting encoun-
tering ‘snobbish’ people in everyday life. On the one hand, they do not express
much desire to partake in ‘snobbish’ upper-class lifestyles; on the contrary, they
draw on moral criteria of evaluation in depicting themselves as opposed to such
people, suggesting that they see themselves as above such people in a subjec-
tively constructed moral hierarchy. This boundary drawing against ‘immoral’
people of privilege can be interpreted as an endeavour fuelled by egalitarian
sentiments to impose alternative criteria of evaluation in opposition to the
perceived existence of an unjust distribution of social esteem.
On the other hand, however, the moral boundaries drawn against ‘elitist’,
‘snobbish’ people may also indicate reactions to feelings of inferiority: the
moral indignation expressed against ‘elitism’ and ‘snobbishness’ may indirectly
imply a defensive need to maintain a sense of dignity and self-worth against the
background of one’s low position in the class structure. Indeed, several inter-
viewees oscillate between moral defiance and cultural deference when talking
about people above them.
For instance, Klara, a preschool teacher in her late
30s, recounts that although she regards people interested in ‘high culture’ as
somewhat suspect, she nevertheless wishes she had ‘the same abilities to under-
stand and appreciate the same books and plays as they do’. Similarly, Marianne,
a hairdresser, admits that her aversion to the lifestyles of the rich may stem
from ‘envy and secretly wanting to wear their expensive clothes and go to the
same destinations on holiday’. Thus, from the point of view of outsiders, there
is a certain tension linked to the interviewees’ classification of the practice of
‘snobbish’ lifestyles. Interestingly, those who express the clearest cultural
goodwill and deference are female interviewees, while males show the clearest
signs of resistance.
However, the mobilization of moral boundaries does not necessarily indicate
a straightforward attack on the ‘morally corrupt upper class’ as a whole. On the
contrary, several interviewees distinguish between people of privilege who
are regarded as ‘decent’ and ‘accommodating towards others’ and those who
are regarded as ‘snobbish’ and ‘looking down on others’; the former are clearly
valued over the latter. The electrician, David, for instance, stresses that while
he is ‘conscious of differences’ between himself and his peers on the one hand
and ‘high society’ on the other, he is ‘ok with this’ as long as such people let
him be and ‘don’t talk shit because of the things I like’. He then tells an
anecdote of a ‘narrow-minded boss’ at a large firm where he used to work who
gave him a ‘hard time’ for his interest in surfing and skateboarding. Yet David
emphasized that this person was an exception to the rule and that ‘most rich
people are ok, I guess’.
The following account of a secretary, Eva, also exemplifies such a distinction.
On the one hand, she disparages ‘people in high places’ with attitudes like
‘we’re the boys, we stick together’; on the other, she maintains that ‘everyone’s
not like that’, citing the example of a CEO living nearby:
12 Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
He earns insane amounts of money. But still, he’s the sweetest guy in the
world. I guess if you’d walked into him on the street, you wouldn’t have
noticed that he’s got this fancy job, lots of money... Well, I guess you
could tell in some respects. Anyway, there are these other types that have
to emphasize their fancy titles. I noticed that at this other place I worked
earlier. It was really important to them, the kinds of titles they had and
the kinds of people they knew.
The preschool teacher, Klara, provides a very similar account. Located in one
of Stavanger’s most expensive neighbourhoods, the kindergarten she works at
is populated by children hailing from ‘a fairly homogenous group’, visible for
instance ‘in the clothes they wear’ and ‘the types of cars parking outside. You
know, Audi, Mercedes...’ Having to interact with the children’s parents
every day, she clearly distinguishes between different types of rich people:
‘Sometimes I can get along with people who are preoccupied with their fancy
concerts, white tablecloths and champagne glasses. But they have to be nice
and treat you decently.’ Interestingly, however, Klara then expresses indigna-
tion at people who are judgmental of the privileged just because they are
‘resourceful’ and enjoy ‘high culture’:
Who are we to judge and say stuff like, ‘Oh, they’ve got this high culture,
things, I get really sad, because they are people with feelings too. [...]And
all people should be treated equally. Just because they wear fancy suits,
drive Mercedes, have nice houses and work as CEOs, lawyers and doctors...
Who are we to judge them? And it really pisses me off when people start
rambling on about such people. They are nice people who deserve respect.
Although the interviewees draw sharp boundaries against people who are per-
ceived as ‘snobbish’ and ‘smug’, many of them seem to tacitly accept – and
some even explicitly esteem – people of privilege who are regarded as comply-
ing with crucial moral standards of ordinariness and decency. Accordingly,
being upper class and privileged in terms of resources, or practising esoteric or
exclusive lifestyles, does not in itself necessarily result in aversion and distaste if
such people act within the limits of the morally justifiable. It is seldom the
possession of money, education, knowledge or the mastery of certain lifestyles
to which the interviewees express their aversion (although this too occurs, as
we have seen above). Rather, it is generally when people are perceived as
‘snobbish’, ‘flashy’ or ‘self-assertive’ in such matters that hostility arises. Our
findings thus suggest that most of our interviewees see differences in resources
and lifestyles as acceptable as long as practitioners of lifestyles which could
potentially rouse suspicion: (1) do not assert themselves based on practising
these lifestyles in ways perceived as morally reprehensible by non-practitioners;
and (2) exhibit open, accommodating and jovial attitudes towards others.
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Downward boundary drawing
Although upward boundary drawing against people of privilege who breach
moral standards constitutes a considerable proportion of the aversion expressed
by the interviewees, downward boundary drawing – against people perceived as
somewhat inferior – is also prominent in our data. The targets of downward
boundary drawing include ‘people living on social security benefits’, ‘criminals’,
‘immigrants’, ‘drug addicts’ and ‘drunks’. For instance, Lars, the security guard,
expresses contempt for ‘people on welfare’ who he says ‘know how to bend the
They’re trying to make the most of it. It goes all the way down to how
they act in the social security office. You know, if you know the rules, you
don’t really have to work. If you know all the loopholes and how to
express yourself in the right way, you’re on easy street. [...]Imean,the
fact that people get social security benefits... I don’t have a problem with
that. But at the other end of the relationship there has got to be some sort
of criteria.
Although moral boundary drawing can certainly function as an anti-elitist
attempt to impose alternative criteria of evaluation opposed to the perceived
existence of an unjust distribution of social esteem, it can also function as a
source of exclusion. In the quote above it is clear that people not living up to
moral standards are denigrated and regarded as inferior. Although egalitarian
sentiments are salient in the ways interviewees distance themselves from the
perceived presence of others being judgmental, they also draw on moral criteria
in their own judgments of others’ lifestyles. Morality, then, can be a source of
both usurpation and exclusion (Parkin 1979). In the first instance, moral criteria
are evoked to demarcate oneself (or one’s group) from resourceful others
being judgmental and thinking that one is better than others because of what
one is or does. In the second instance, moral criteria are evoked to demarcate
oneself (or one’s group) from inferior groups practising what are regarded as
intrinsically immoral lifestyles (e.g., acquiring social security benefits in
illegitimate ways).
Moreover, unlike with upward boundary drawing – which is almost wholly
linked to moral criteria of evaluation – different kinds of criteria are compara-
bly more prominent in downward boundary drawing. Indeed, interviewees
frequently draw on cultural-aesthetical criteria of evaluation in depicting them-
selves in opposition to people who are regarded – either explicitly or implicitly –
as ‘lower types of people’. Cultural-aesthetical judgments are frequent in depic-
tions of all sorts of things, ranging from clothing styles to home cookery and
musical tastes. For instance, Ella, a shopkeeper in her mid-20s, reports being a
big music fan. She has wide tastes for a number of genres and spends a lot of
her time digging up ‘hidden treasures’ from subgenres of hip-hop and
14 Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
punk-rock. Moreover, she has a ‘hard time’ understanding how others can live
their lives ‘just listening to hit music on the radio’. This, she contends, testifies
to ‘bad taste in music, or a lack of musical taste’. Also a big music fan, Daniel, a
preschool assistant in his late 50s, maintains that people who listen to Swedish
dansband music and musical acts such as DDE (a popular Norwegian band that
is frequently mocked in the media by music critics) are ‘simple minded’.
Elisabeth, a nurse in her late 20s, expresses disdain for other women ‘who have
spent two hours on their make-up, resulting in hiding how they really look’, and
primary-school teacher Maria, in her early 40s, catches herself thinking ‘oh my
God, I’m glad I didn’t eat all those cakes’ when she encounters people seen as
overweight. Similarly, preschool teacher Klara classifies as ‘vulgar’ women who
lack ‘dress sense’ and who typically ‘wear fishnet stockings and low-cut dresses’.
Although morality is certainly present in both upward and downward bound-
ary drawing, it is by no means the only criterion of evaluation in demarcating
oneself from others. Moreover, moral boundaries seldom appear in pure form:
moral and aesthetic criteria of evaluation are typically tightly intertwined when
the interviewees discuss certain people denigrated for practising lifestyles and
exhibiting tastes alien to their own. For instance, certain types of sartorial
styles – such as wearing low-cut dresses – are seen as aesthetically ‘vulgar’ and
morally dubious, as they are associated with ‘inappropriate’ promiscuity.
Moreover, certain body shapes – especially people regarded as ‘overweight’ –
are often seen as aesthetically deficient (e.g., ‘less attractive’) as well as morally
deficient, associated with the notion of ‘letting oneself go’ and thus, in a sense,
as failing to perform respectability. People’s moral and aesthetic deficiencies
are thus seen as two sides of the same coin and thus work together to reinforce
the distaste of others.
Above we saw how upward boundary drawing was linked to a social and spa-
tial ‘sense of one’s place’. Similarly, downward boundary drawing seems to
manifest itself in the interviewees’ navigation of physical space, with specific
neighbourhoods and urban areas recurring in the data. Typical derogatory
labels used to depict the people inhabiting such neighbourhoods include ‘crimi-
nals’ and ‘people living on social security benefits’. The preschool teacher,
Klara, for instance, describes a particular street in the urban district of Hundva
as best ‘steered clear of’, not only because the people living there behave in
ways calling for the attention of the authorities, but also because they
apparently lack the means to perform respectability:
Down at Terje Vigens road, for instance... Or Terje Blue Light road, as
people call it. People use bed sheets as curtains. Lots of noise at night-
time, police cars driving back and forth. Families that I wouldn’t have as
my neighbours, if you know what I mean?
Places recurrently evoking distaste also include specific restaurants, bars and
nightclubs. The clientele at such places are associated with ‘unhealthy’ drinking
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British Journal of Sociology V
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017
habits, ‘rowdy’ behaviour, as well as promiscuity and ‘desperate pulling strat-
egies’. Emil, a social worker in his late 30s, admits that ‘according to his prejudi-
ces, mainly drunks [...]gotosuchplaces:
You know, people sitting by the bar and complaining to the bartender,
telling their whole life story. That’s what I imagine. [...] And then there
are these meat markets where people have these desperate pulling
strategies just before closing time. It just doesn’t appeal to me.
As summarized in Table I, interviewees located in the lower regions of the
social space draw symbolic boundaries both upwards, against a perceived
‘snobbery’ related to lifestyle among resourceful others, and downwards,
against people perceived as somewhat inferior because of their moral and
aesthetic deficiencies. These discursive demarcations indicate that the inter-
viewees are endowed with a social and a spatial sense of their place as they nav-
igate the local milieu by seeking interaction with their peers while avoiding
others perceived as both higher and lower than themselves in social hierarchies.
In other words, their boundary work seems to be highly consequential in media-
ting what Bottero (2005) calls ‘differential association’, the process whereby
Table I: Dual boundary drawing
Upward boundary drawing Downward boundary drawing
People referred
to as
Upper class, snobs, the rich, the
prosperous, the resourceful, the
privileged, west-end people,
fancy people, people in high
places, posh people, so-called
specialists, high society, the
The deprived, the poor, the
lower class, boy racers,
drunks, drug-addicts, the
grey mass, people living on
social security benefits,
immigrants, criminals
Lifestyles rousing
Preferences for ‘fancy’, ‘expensive’
and ‘excessive’ goods,
preferences for ‘high-flown’,
‘narrow’, ‘weird’ and ‘abstract’
culture, squandering, taking
oneself too seriously, ‘showing
off’ one’s riches
Poor work ethic, lying and
being dishonest, vandalism,
living beyond one’s means,
preferences for denigrated
cultural and material goods,
going to denigrated places
for one’s holidays,
Opinionated, smug, narrow-minded,
elitist, snobbish, flashy, noses in
the air, disparaging, conspicuous,
slick, showing off, pretentious,
judgemental, egoistic, greedy,
impudent, arrogant, vain,
superior, excluding, conceited,
self-assertive, dominating, shiny,
aggressive, intolerant, bragging,
individualistic, sly, demanding
Slobby, shallow, dishonest,
vulgar, simple-minded,
negative, low willpower, low
ambitions, lazy, slow, lack of
personality, careless,
negligent, less attractive,
in poor taste, lack of
self-respect, rowdy, loud,
coarse, loutish, unhealthy,
16 Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
people sharing a similar social position are more likely to interact socially with
members of the same group than with members of other groups.
Interestingly, the demarcations against other people seen as lacking taste or
leading morally dubious lives are strikingly similar to the boundary drawing of
people located in the upper regions of Norwegian social space against ‘a lower
type’ of person (see Jarness 2013). Remarkably, they even point to some of the
same preferences for denigrated cultural and material products, such as listen-
ing to Swedish dansband music and wearing low-cut dresses in everyday life.
Thus, in distancing themselves from the tastes and morals of people below
them, interviewees from the lower echelons of the social space draw on some of
the same discursive repertoires of evaluation as those in the upper ones. In
doing so, they help reproduce dominant taste hierarchies and reinforce defini-
tions of ‘bad taste’.
Thus, our findings indicate an interesting tension: the interviewees distance
themselves from people above, while reproducing the categories and reper-
toires of evaluation used against themselves. This tension resonates with the
analysis of Skeggs (1997) of the ambivalence implied by British working-class
women’s attempts to disidentify with other people’s classifications of them,
while trying to maintain respectability by distancing themselves from people
further below. In particular, the examples of boundary drawing against failing
to perform respectability resonate with Skeggs’s point that such demarcations
are not only classed but also highly gendered: the targets of such judgment are
typically women exhibiting some form of ‘vulgarity’.
Concluding discussion
Our analysis has shown how differences in lifestyles and tastes are classified and
evaluated by interviewees situated in the lower regions of Norwegian social
space. The results indicate clear symbolic boundaries, directed both upwards
and downwards in social space. Despite the uniqueness of our case – a particu-
larly affluent city in an egalitarian, affluent country – our findings resonate
remarkably well with studies of class-cultural hostilities conducted in rather
different societal and geographical contexts. Our findings about boundary
drawing directed both upwards and downwards resembles research into class
hostilities conducted in a number of countries, including the US, the UK, the
Netherlands and Denmark (see, e.g., Lamont 2000; Mckenzie 2015;
Skjøtt-Larsen 2012; Skeggs 1997; Van der Waal et al. 2010; Hochschild 2016;
Van Eijk 2013).
Our study highlights morality as a key dimension in class-cultural boundaries,
in addition to the more frequently scrutinized cultural-aesthetical dimension.
Our research thus seems to support a rather diverse group of authors who have
argued in favour of a ‘moral turn’ in class analysis (see, e.g., Lamont 1992;
A struggle on two fronts 17
British Journal of Sociology V
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017
Svallfors 2006; Sayer 2005). However, our analysis also contributes with
additional substantive insights. Although the interviewees mobilize moral
sentiments to challenge the legitimacy of perceived socio-cultural hierarchies,
many accounts go beyond merely upending such hierarchies. Indeed, the impor-
tance attached to these moral sentiments sometimes extends solidarity across
major social fault lines. Accordingly, although mobilizing moral boundaries
against upper-class snobbishness can result in a sense of dignity and worthiness
among the working class, as argued by Lamont (2000), it is far from obvious
that this mobilization has much impact on delegitimizing symbolic power
relations between social classes. On the contrary, our analysis suggests that an
unintended consequence of attempts to instil alternative, moral hierarchies may
in fact be that they contribute to naturalizing, and thereby legitimizing, class
Previous studies have shown that members of the upper and middle classes
are careful to express their ‘ordinariness’ (Savage, Bagnall and Longhurst
2001), reflected for instance in their ‘openness’ to cultural consumption
(Ollivier 2008; DiMaggio 1987) and even in their downplaying of lifestyle differ-
ences in cross-class encounters to conceal their harbouring of judgmental
attitudes towards lower-class lifestyles (Jarness and Friedman 2017). These
studies do not, however, explain how displays of openness and ordinariness are
perceived, classified and evaluated from below. Our findings suggest that there
is in fact a distinct symbolic ‘market’ for such performances of down-to-earth-
ness: people lower down in the class structure seem to approve of displays of
such qualities. It is as if the well-heeled (whether intentionally or otherwise)
produce displays of accommodating attitudes towards those in the lower regions
of social space, who then consume these displays, thereby generating a high
sense of esteem for those who, despite their riches and social advantages vis-
vis the less fortunate, are then seen as ‘one of us’.
Arguably, this process can help maintain the legitimacy of class inequalities.
As pointed out by Bourdieu (1985), when class divisions (i.e., the unequal distri-
bution of capital and, hence, opportunities and privileges) assume the form of
status divisions in terms of lifestyle differences and symbolic distinctions, the
underlying class divisions tend to be ‘misrecognized’, that is, the divisions are
not seen ‘for what they objectively are’ but in a form ‘which renders them
legitimate in the eyes of the beholder’ (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990: xxii). Our
interviewees are primarily (and in some cases exclusively) concerned with
explicit displays of status hierarchies – disparaging those who are seen as
showing signs of ‘snobbish’ attitudes, while accepting those who downplay
differences – and seldom with social hierarchies and inequalities as such. This
point enables us to understand how people in lower class positions often have
sympathies and express allegiances with people or groups from more privileged
classes. As long as the privileged are perceived as ‘ordinary’, ‘down-to-earth’
18 Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
and, accordingly, ‘one of us’, it seems their riches and privileges remain largely
There are also interesting implications to be drawn regarding current dis-
cussions of politics and populism, particularly for the emerging line of
research aiming to study the connections between social, cultural and politi-
cal divisions (Flemmen, Jarness and Rosenlund forthcoming; Harrits 2013;
Laurison 2015). A notable feature of our interviewees’ boundary drawing is
that they do not appear to distinguish between fractions or subgroups within
the higher reaches of the social structure. Their condemnation of the privi-
leged seems to make no distinction between those privileged in terms of cul-
tural capital, economic capital or political positions (or in lay terms with
similar meanings). Much has been written about the way in which contempo-
rary right-wing populism is based on a distinct type of anti-elitism, where cul-
tural and political elites can be singled out as problematically ‘aloof’, while
billionaires can be portrayed as ‘ordinary’ and ‘one of us’ (Frank 2004). This
would seem to pose a problem for the Left, expecting the less well-off to root
for their redistributionist policies, while regarding ‘economic elites’, or
‘capitalists’ as the ‘real enemy’. It is interesting to note, then, that our inter-
viewees did not seem to make these kinds of distinctions between different
types of elites. The success of the populist right may perhaps be interpreted
as the product of a successful channelling of a rather generalized distrust of
the well-off to target cultural elites and political elites in particular. However,
based on our interview data, it could be imagined that this generalized dis-
trust can be mobilized for other political agendas than that of the populist
Right, as there are clear traces of aversion to ‘snobbery’ linked to the posses-
sion of economic resources. In this respect, symbolic usurpationary strategies
may be amenable to rather different political articulations. However, the
exclusionary boundary drawing directed downwards seems more immediately
compatible with populist, right-wing articulations than with the traditional
views based on solidarity of the labour movement. Indeed, those occupying
the lower regions of the Norwegian class structure have increasingly
embraced the politics of the populist, and seemingly anti-elitist, right-wing
Progress Party, weakening their traditional allegiance to the Labour Party’s
social-democratic policies (Jenssen 2017).
Thus, although symbolic usurpationary strategies can result in an increased
sense of self-worth and self-respect among the lower classes, it seems such strat-
egies are not particularly conductive to challenging the distribution of cultural
and economic capital. Such usurpationary strategies may, however, reinforce
the tendency of the upper class to appear ‘down-to-earth’. Indeed, similar
expressions of usurpationary strategies are found within the upper class itself:
the cultural fractions draw sharp moral boundaries against the perceived ‘snob-
bishness’ and ‘elitism’ of the economic fraction and vice versa (Jarness 2017).
Thus, it seems the internal fractioning of the upper region of social space at
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British Journal of Sociology V
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017
least to some extent renders possible symbolic and political allegiances with the
lower region.
Our data do not, however, indicate a similar internal fractioning between the
economic and cultural capital fractions within the lower region of the social
space; interviewees drawn towards the cultural-capital pole along the second
dimension of the social space do not exhibit different kinds of attitudes or
boundary drawing than those drawn towards the economic-capital pole. This
seems to chime well with survey-based studies of lifestyle differentiation in
Scandinavian societies that show clear differences along the dimension of
capital composition in the upper regions of the social space, yet markedly less
differentiation by capital composition as one moves down the dimension of
capital volume (Flemmen, Jarness and Rosenlund 2017; Prieur, Rosenlund and
Skjøtt-Larsen 2008; Rosenlund 2009).
It is also interesting to note that compared to the interviewees located in the
upper regions of the social space, the interviewees quoted above express a
much less pronounced self-reflexive reluctance to judge ‘those below’. Whereas
the former typically justify or preface their judgements of others with reserva-
tions (‘I’m not a snob, but...’), and even report strategically downplaying differ-
ence in cross-class encounters (Jarness and Friedman 2017), this is rarely the
case with the latter. Indeed, in the current sample the exclusionary boundary
drawing downwards is comparatively harsh. Although it is beyond the scope of
this article to assess properly why such marked class differences in self-
presentations occur, a clue can be found in Jackman’s (1994) work: arguably,
dominant groups have much to lose by distancing themselves too clearly from
dominated groups, as the legitimacy of the power relation depends partly on
the latter having a positive impression of the former. In other words, they need
to include the dominated in a relationship that allows for their own status to be
recognized bottom-up. Thus, it is understandable why people located higher up
in social space – particularly those who are public figures and under the critical
scrutiny of the public eye – are much more prone to experiencing the risk of
being seen as ‘snobbish’ and ‘elitist’. A more careful and strategic kind of
impression management’ (Goffman 1959) is thus required in the upper regions
of social space than in the lower.
Our results also point to interesting intersections between class and gender.
As we have seen, some of the judgements expressed by the interviewees are
highly gendered. For instance, judgements directed downwards at failing to
perform respectability (e.g., ‘wearing low-cut dresses’) typically target women,
whereas upward judgments of elitism (e.g., depicting people in power as ‘we’re
the boys, we stick together’) typically target men. Moreover, the interviewees
who typically express cultural goodwill indicating a desire to ‘understand’ legiti-
mate culture (e.g., certain types of plays and literature) are also women. This
resonates well with survey-based research showing that women are more cultur-
ally engaged and less likely to reject legitimate culture (Christin 2012; Lizardo
20 Vegard Jarness and Magne Paalgard Flemmen
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017 British Journal of Sociology
2006). It is also interesting to note that the instances of resistance to hierarchies
(e.g., jokingly fantasizing about fighting upper-class people with barbed wire)
are only found among male interviewees and that the clearest instances of
moral sentiments extending solidarity across major social fault lines (and thus
implicitly accepting class hierarchies) are found among female interviewees.
Although more work is called for in this regard, a tentative hypothesis could be
that insofar as social hierarchies, for instance within workplaces or industries,
are male dominated, women – who thus tend to observe male rivalry ‘from the
outside’ – will be more prone to misrecognizing the social hierarchies as such
(cf. Bourdieu 1998).
Our final points are methodological in terms of the empirical mapping of
symbolic boundaries. Our analysis has demonstrated that there is a need for a
more complex analytical strategy than Lamont’s (1992, 2000) way of simply
measuring the ‘relative salience’ of various boundaries in terms of their fre-
quency in qualitative interview data. First, in our data the various types of
boundaries depicted by Lamont rarely appear in pure form: moral boundaries
are typically tightly intertwined with cultural boundaries. For instance, many
interviewees frown upon people wearing low-cut dresses, as such people are
seen as aesthetically vulgar (in the sense of lacking taste) and morally dubious
(in the sense of failing to perform respectability). Thus, cultural and moral
boundaries often work in mutually constitutive and reinforcing ways, rather
than in competing and contradictory ones. True, the framework of ‘relative sali-
ence’ may inadvertently capture the fact that interviewees’ boundary work can
be characterized as both cultural and moral, but by explicitly honing in on the
intertwinement of different boundaries, we believe that the mapping of bound-
ary drawing can be taken one step further. In particular, we have demonstrated
that moral and cultural boundaries are sometimes so strongly intertwined that
separating them to measure their relative salience neglects the complex ways in
which they combine to rouse aversion to others. This is particularly the case
when the interviewees draw boundaries downwards.
Second, although moral sentiments are undoubtedly salient across our data,
there is a crucial difference between their mobilization in boundary drawing
upwards and downwards. In upward boundary drawing, they are typically used
as what Parkin (1979) calls usurpationary strategies, that is, as means to chal-
lenge the privileged positions of others, in this case by questioning the morality
of upper-class ‘snobbish’ and ‘elitist’ attitudes and outlooks. In downward
boundary drawing, in contrast, they are used as exclusionary strategies, or as
means to secure a position of relative advantage by symbolically denigrating or
subordinating others seen as inferior. Thus, the very same interviewees draw
different types of moral boundaries when classifying different people, depend-
ing on whom and what the classified people are perceived to be. In other words,
merely demonstrating that moral boundaries are more salient than other types
obscures the very different functions morality plays in upward and downward
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British Journal of Sociology V
CLondon School of Economics and Political Science 2017
boundary drawing. In the first instance, its function is apparently egalitarian
and in a sense working to counteract perceived cultural hierarchies; in the
second, it is clearly more judgmental and hierarchical and working to reinforce
cultural boundaries and stereotypes of ‘bad taste’ and ‘lower-class’ lifestyles.
Although these points do not directly contradict Lamont, we believe they do
point towards new theoretical-methodological directions in the study of sym-
bolic boundaries, particularly the analysis of the complex ways morality rouses
cross-class hostility and solidarity. This, we believe, is especially important in
understanding how class inequalities can be effectively maintained, even within
societies that apparently cultivate strong egalitarian sentiments and ideals.
(Date accepted: November 2017)
1. We would like to thank Maren Toft,
Sam Friedman, Maud Lauvstad Hansen
and three anonymous BJS reviewers for
their valuable input. We are also grateful
to the Frank Parkin Appreciation Society
for love, support and inspiration.
2. http://statistikk.stavanger.kommune.
3. For more information about sampling
procedures, the interviewees and details
about the construction of the social space,
see Jarness (2013) and Rosenlund (2014).
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... Boundary work is the process through which individuals draw conceptual distinctions between "us" and "them" and make judgments about what actions, behaviors, and lifestyles are appropriate or not (Lamont and Molnar 2002). Symbolic boundaries establish a hierarchy of worth among people and practices (Jarness and Flemmen 2019;Lamont et al. 1996;Lamont and Fournier 1993). ...
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Scholars posit that lower-income undergraduates experience “cultural mismatch,” which undermines their sense of belonging, promotes withdrawal from campus, and limits mobility upon graduation. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 103 undergraduates at an elite university, we examine how students’ diverse trajectories to college affect how they identify as members of the community and modulate the relationship between social class and sense of belonging. While upper-income undergraduates find commonalities between themselves and college peers and integrate into the community, lower-income students offer divergent accounts. The doubly disadvantaged—lower-income undergraduates who attended local, typically distressed public high schools—felt a heightened sense of difference, drew moral boundaries, and withdrew from campus life. Alternatively, the privileged poor—lower-income undergraduates who attended boarding, day, and preparatory high schools—adopted a cosmopolitan approach focused on continued expansion of horizons and integrated into campus. Through detailing this overlooked diversity among lower-income undergraduates, our findings expand theoretical frameworks for examining sense of belonging to include boundary work that shapes students’ agendas, thereby deepening our understanding of the reproduction of inequality in college.
The paper contributes to the study of institutional trust by making a connection to “cultural backlash” theory and analyzing more recent forms of news consumption. We examine how trust in politics, media, and science is shaped by “cultural backlash” and media use in nine European countries. We employ representative survey data collected in 2021 in Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom as part of a large European research project. The results suggest that both exogenous (or “cultural”) and endogenous (or “institutional”) dimensions of cultural backlash matter for explaining institutional trust. Trust benefits from progressive–liberal values and less ideological extremism, but is hindered by discontentment with societal developments and political disengagement. Using public television is positively, and social media negatively associated with trust. While we find distinctions across institutions, there is huge consistency across countries.
The relationship between media practices and social inequality has been studied within a range of sub-disciplines in media and communication studies and cultural sociology. In various, more or less direct, ways these studies point to the fact that habitus – the socially formed class specific relations to the social world – generates certain tastes, lifestyles, practices and preferences. When social groups form relatively distinct media practices, and distance themselves from the practices of other groups, they reproduce their social position, and ‘make’ their class. By analysing in-depth interviews with members of an emerging cultural middle-class, this study shows how class-making also manifests in the ways in which people expect that others would ‘look down’ on their media practices. By anticipating stigma from imagined others, the cultural middle-class stays in line with class-specific lifestyles and media practices, thus cementing their distinct character in the social space.
The aim of this paper is to address the dynamics of contemporary cultural capital by interrogating what counts for young people as valuable cultural resources. Considerable support is given in later scholarship for Bourdieu’s model of the social space, as the overall volume of economic and cultural capital combined is regularly found to be the most important axis of opposition, just as in Bourdieu’s work Distinction. Yet, while Bourdieu found the second axis to be structured by an opposition between those with cultural rather than economic capital, and vice versa, many later studies instead find oppositions between the young and the old to structure the second axis. Up till now, this finding has not been adequately addressed. In this paper, we hold that considering age‐related inequalities offers a powerful way of interpreting recent developments in order to understand the changing stakes of cultural capital, and also their interaction with the intensification of inequalities in economic capital. After a theoretical clarification of the relationship between cultural capital and youth, we will synthesise research on young people and explore the significance of youthful cultural consumption. We will pragmatically focus on the 15–30 years old and put a particular accent on Norwegian studies in our review, as they are the most sophisticated in this genre. Four areas are explored: the restricted role of classical culture; the appeal of popular culture; digital distinctions, and moral‐political positions as markers of distinction.
This article provides better understanding of less-educated citizens’ underrepresentation in citizens’ initiatives. Based on in-depth interviews with less-educated citizens in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the study discerned that the concepts of ‘feelings of entitlement’ and a ‘taste for politics’ are crucial for understanding their (non-)participation. The study uncovered that sub-dimensions of these concepts occur in different combinations, yielding four ideal types of (non-)participation: retreating non-participation, rebellious participation, potentially cooperating participation and pragmatic non-participation. In addition to well-known explanations as lack of time, money, social capital and political knowledge, the findings underline the fruitfulness of an approach that enables to uncover citizens’ perspectives for understanding their (non-)participation in citizens’ initiatives. Contrary to conventional understanding, this research also shows that a lack of feelings of entitlement does not necessarily inspire a distaste for politics, and that distaste for politics stimulates non-participation for some, while it inspires others to become politically active.
This chapter focuses on the resistance discourse which is inclined towards popular and everyday cultural participation. The discourse is based on an opposition to the norm of highbrow-oriented cultural participation. Most methodological challenges of the interviews are especially related to this discourse. The boundaries drawn in the resistance discourse are basically all directed upwards. They are either aesthetical (directed against highbrow-oriented cultural practices) or moral (directed against people considered snobbish). There is strong awareness of exploitation in the resistance discourse. People close to the resistance discourse are aware of their low status, but they call for being treated as equals. In the resistance discourse, clearly situated the furthest away from normative cultural participation, there is a desire for egalitarianism.
This chapter focuses on the second out of three discourses found in the data. Within this ‘functionality discourse’, there is mainly popular and everyday participation. This discourse emphasises the practical usefulness of cultural practices: it is an area of personal ‘feelgood’. The functionality discourse is marked by a link between cultural participation and the structuring factors of life. At the same time, cultural participation is rarely conceived of as culturally distinctive. There is an emphasis on modesty, but the boundaries drawn are aesthetical and directed upwards towards impractical cultural practices. In other words, in the functionality discourse, there are delicate traces of anti-elitism. This indifferent and self-assured attitude towards cultural participation that characterises the functionality discourse could be considered a version of egalitarianism.
This chapter contextualises cultural participation as one of the three dimensions of cultural practices. It first discusses cultural participation as a positional good and as a vehicle of social exclusion. The chapter then introduces some of the main contributions arguing that the highbrow-oriented culture could be losing its distinctive value—most importantly, the discussions on the ‘rise of the omnivore’ and the ‘meltdown scenario’. This chapter also summarises the research on the cultural practices of different underprivileged classes. It is argued that moral boundaries are an important means for underprivileged classes to defend their worth in a scenario of ‘lacking’ cultural or economic resources. Finally, this chapter shows that public cultural policy serves as an important tool for validating specific kinds of cultural participation.KeywordsCultural participationCultural exclusionMoral turnWorthOmnivorousness
This chapter summarises the main findings. First, cultural non-participation is first and foremost a methodological artefact. Second, cultural non-participation (in highbrow-oriented activities) is only in some cases ‘compensated’ by informal social of kin-based participation. Rather, there are generally very active people and people who mostly engage in everyday pursuits. Third, the three main categories of talking about cultural non-participation in Finland were the following three: ‘affirmation’, ‘functionality’ and ‘resistance’ discourses. The chapter then discusses the problematic role of cultural policy in subverting existing hierarchies. After discussing briefly the main limitations, the chapter concludes that the best possibilities for equalising or at least balancing cultural participation lie in an equal society and that understanding this is key in our societies characterised by cultural divides.KeywordsCultural participationCultural non-participationAffirmationFunctionalityResistanceCultural equality
Building on previous work about cultural informalisation and the growing urban–rural divide in western democracies, this article studies symbolic boundary work as performed by white youths living in rural areas in the Netherlands. We conducted a micro-sociological analysis of how these youths celebrate regional festivals in the Netherlands, and particularly the meanings they attach to their affective displays of intoxication and sexuality. We show how distinction is ‘done’ here by many of these youths taking pride in drinking too much beer, sexual directness and impropriety, which they argue are expressions of conviviality and down-to-earthness. In doing so, they appear to be finding dignity and redemption in an image of themselves as savages and reappropriating it as part of their own ‘civility’, contrasting their revelry with what they perceive to be urban, middle-class snobbery.
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In this article, we address whether and how contemporary social classes are marked by distinct lifestyles. We assess the model of the social space, a novel approach to class analysis pioneered by Bourdieu's Distinction. Although pivotal in Bourdieu's work, this model is too often overlooked in later research, making its contemporary relevance difficult to assess. We redress this by using the social space as a framework through which to study the cultural manifestation of class divisions in lifestyle differences in contemporary Norwegian society. Through a Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) of unusually rich survey data, we reveal a structure strikingly similar to the model in Distinction, with a primary dimension of the volume of capital, and a secondary dimension of the composition of capital. While avoiding the substantialist fallacy of predefined notions of 'highbrow' and 'lowbrow' tastes, we explore how 168 lifestyle items map onto this social space. This reveals distinct classed lifestyles according to both dimensions of the social space. The lifestyles of the upper classes are distinctly demanding in terms of resources. Among those rich in economic capital, this manifests itself in a lifestyle which involves a quest for excitement, and which is bodily oriented and expensive. For their counterparts rich in cultural capital, a more ascetic and intellectually oriented lifestyle manifests itself, demanding of resources in the sense of requiring symbolic mastery, combining a taste for canonized, legitimate culture with more cosmopolitan and 'popular' items. In contrast to many studies' descriptions of the lower classes as 'disengaged' and 'inactive', we find evidence of distinct tastes on their part. Our analysis thus affirms the validity of Bourdieu's model of social class and the contention that classes tend to take the form of status groups. We challenge dominant positions in cultural stratification research, while questioning the aptness of the metaphor of the 'omnivore', as well as recent analyses of 'emerging cultural capital'.
In this chapter we focus on the notion of homology, understood as a systematic correspondence between social structures. We discuss and empirically assess a specific hypothesis forwarded in Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction about a homologous relationship between three structures: a social space, a space of lifestyles and a space of political stances. Using Multiple Correspondence Analysis, we advance a novel technique for assessing the homology thesis. Focusing on the case of contemporary Norwegian society, we show that the distinct social universes of class, culture and politics exhibit strikingly similar structures. The structure of the social space – with a primary division between high and low volumes of capital, and a secondary chiastic division between cultural and economic – is echoed in both the space of lifestyles and the space of political stances. The chapter not only unveils the persistence of class-structured lifestyles and political attitudes, it also develops methodological tools to move beyond the misguided substantialist fallacy often implicated in assessing the homology thesis. The truly relational way of assessing it, we argue, is to compare rigorously the structures of independently constructed spaces, and not singular variables drawn from the social universes in question.