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Standards of taste and varieties of goodness

Very broadly speaking, there are three alternative understandings of the
relationship between an object and its individual user. First, the value of an
object is inherent to that object’s use in its capacity for satisfying its user’s
needs or functions. Second, value is based on the individual’s subjective eval-
uation of the object in question, regarding its utility, capacity to give pleas-
ure, etc. The third, culturalist, alternative is to understand the value of an
object in terms of the cultural meaning assigned to it and shared by the mem-
bers of a community. It is thus determined by its place in a common cultural
system of classification and codification. What is common to the three alter-
natives is that there is in them, in fact, no place for any genuine disagreement
about matters of taste. They all seem to exemplify the old maxim according
to which de gustibus disputandum non est. Whether it depends on subjective
preferences or on some inherent objective characteristics, the relative worth
– or quality – of objects is not open to argumentation or any social media-
tion. The third alternative, in its turn, leads to cultural relativism. Within any
one culture the relative value and worth of objects is taken for granted but
they are not open to revaluation or critical argumentation by the members of
any other cultures. In order to better understand the relation between objects
and their users one has to work out the relation between the individual and
the social. With the help of a conceptual framework that makes it possible at
the same time to understand how one can be both a unique individual and a
part of a social whole, how to have an individual taste and to share it with
others, it is possible to speak of (semi-)objective aesthetic standards which,
however, are not stable but, in principle, open to negotiation and therefore
in a state of constant change.
Following the Simmelian idea of a modern society consisting of a multi-
tude of social circles, the social world perspective offers an opportunity to
analyse the emergence and functioning of diverse and independent socially
shared aesthetic standards and etiquettes. It also explains how even those
who do not necessarily share the same taste can, at least to some degree,
sensibly appreciate and even criticise each other’s performances and choices.
Standards of taste and varieties of goodness:
the (un)predictability of modern consumption
Jukka Gronow
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Our modern society is not a mass society; neither is it a totally individualised
society, nor a society consisting of several, totally separate, cultural enclaves.
There are some aesthetic standards of excellence and goodness that can be
mobilised in analysing and evaluating the formation of the demand for con-
sumer goods and services. They do not tell us what the next novelties will be,
but they do tell us that to be successful any novelties will be embedded in
complex social practices and rules.
In our modern food culture there are at least some such relatively well-
known and clear-cut aesthetic standards and etiquettes of taste to which some
particular consumer goods or product groups belong and from which they
derive their special worth and value. An almost classic example is the classifi-
cation of wines according to a very complex taste system, corresponding in
part to their origin and cultivation. Without doubt, to many people wines are
more-or-less irrelevant as objects of consumption or appreciation, and there
are people who might have a totally different relation to wine appreciation,
their interest extending no further than, say, a wine’s alcoholic content or
presumed health effects. But, just as in the case of art, the classic example of
social worlds (see Becker 1982), this does not exhaust the cultural and social
importance of the social world(s) of wine lovers for the marketing and con-
sumption of wines. As will be shown, the importance of such restricted social
worlds to the wider world of mass consumption depends on the degree to
which such social worlds are open to ‘casual visitors’ and welcome tourists.
In cow-milk drinking countries over the last thirty years, one remarkable
development in consumption has been the extremely rapid diversification of
milk products and the subsequent segmentation of the market. From a very
standardised bulk product –consisting basically of only three products: milk,
sour milk and cream – hundreds of new milk products have emerged, all
neatly packaged and branded. The product variety offered for sale on the
cooled shelves of any ordinary local supermarket might well exceed the num-
ber of different wines on sale in the local off-licences. Different systems for
the classification of milk products, in part overlapping with each other, have
evolved, which in the main refer to such objective criteria as the chemical and
nutrient consistency of the milk. In addition to several ‘normal milks’, which
differ from each other only in terms of their varying fat content, ‘luxury’
products are available such as low-fat A-milk, calcium-added milk (for those
fearing or suffering from osteoporosis) or special milk (for those who are
allergic to cows’ milk). These examples would suggest that milk has become
a medicine and drinking milk part of a medical treatment. Even to those who
are more interested in enjoying life’s small pleasures, several alternatives are
on sale, such as sweetened milk-drinks, in handy small plastic bottles or car-
tons, with flavours to be enjoyed as refreshing soft drinks after jogging or ski-
ing, etc. To complete the picture, a similar array of choices can be found, too,
among sour milk and cream products.
It is, however, impossible to prove that this complicated and nuanced
system of product classifications would have arisen side-by-side with some
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standards of taste developed in a social world(s) of lovers of milk-drinks. In
many ways, the development of this modern variety of milk-drinks could
better be explained by the needs of the dairy industry and its initiative in
diversifying its products under the pressures of changing market conditions
and diminishing or stabilising demand. It would also seem to fit very well
into a picture of a somewhat homogeneous market, which at regular inter-
vals welcomes minor novelties and where price diffentials are not remarkable
either. But even in the case of milk-drinks there obviously are some (pseudo)
objective criteria of classification that first determine the position of each
commodity both as belonging to this particular market and as having a place
among potential substitutes. What makes an understanding of such markets
difficult is that the relation between the supply side and the demand side is
not symmetrical: the meanings and practices which the producers suggest do
not necessarily find any adherence among the consumers who might invent
totally new and unanticipated uses for these products.
The Erlebnisrational consumer
Gerhard Schulze’s study Die Erlebnisgesellschaft (1991), of a society empha-
sising subjectivity and inner experiences, includes many valuable insights
and observations concerning the changing nature of modern consumption
and the orientation of modern consumers. Basically an empirical research
into the various consumer schemes and the milieu of Nuremberg, West
Germany, in the 1980s, it achieved the almost prophetic stature of a Zeit-
giadnose, a diagnosis of our times, coined in the slogan Erlebnisgesellschaft.
In Schulze’s opinion a drastic change has occurred in the orientation and
intentions of the consumer. From a traditional, basically instrumental, ori-
entation to finding effective means of satisfying needs, consumers have
moved towards the achievement of subjective mental states. Their inner
experiences are the final and only criteria of success.1As Schulze formulated
it, the subject becomes its own object. Such an activity is rational, but its
rationality is of a rather peculiar kind. So far as the purposive activity of
means’ selection is concerned, this rationality does not differ from instru-
mental rationality, the effective choice of means by which to achieve some
definite ends.
What is peculiar about it is rather the character of the ends themselves. The
goals of actions are ephemeral subjective states, which change constantly, of
which the consumer is often uncertainly aware. Consequently, the selection of
means for their achievement also becomes problematical. It is difficult to
know when those goals have actually been reached or to judge whether they
have been optimally achieved. Needs can be satisfied in principle but one can
never know whether the mental state reached – often only for a fleeting
moment – was really worth the effort. Perhaps one could have done better and
experienced something more exciting or pleasurable by some other means,
elsewhere. Furthermore, the same means that helped to gain satisfactory
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results at one time could equally well fail at some future time: there can be no
guarantee of success (Schulze 1991: 116–17).
By the phrase Erlebnissociety Schulze intended to strongly emphasise sub-
jective experiences as the peculiar goal of the activity of consumers in a mod-
ern consumer society. As Pasi Falk (1994), for instance, has pointed out, it is
to be doubted that consumption in any society, ever, has been characterised
by the satisfaction of only objective needs.2Therefore it would be better to
treat Schulze’s two types of rationality as pure – ideal – types of action. Obvi-
ously most acts of consumption unite, to a lesser or greater degree, both
aspects. As Csikzentmihalyi (1981) argued, even though there are expressive
activities where instrumental concerns play no role (making love, listening to
music, climbing a mountain, etc.), it is difficult to conceive of purely instru-
mental activities where a person would be unaware of how much or how lit-
tle gratification is derived from the experience at the moment.3In many
cases, however, it makes good sense to speak of consumption as predomi-
nantly oriented towards inner experiences (Erlebnisse) as compared to more
directly needs-oriented or instrumental consumption. Schulze’s own exam-
ples range from dining at a gourmet restaurant – which, to some people,
might be just an ordinary business lunch but which to most would be a spe-
cial treat to be remembered – to a tractor – which might be driven in races
or be an object of adoration to the afficionado but which is mostly ‘con-
sumed’ as a work instrument, plain and simple. However, not even tractors
are just tractors any more, their makers claiming, for instance, to offer their
drivers a sense of exquisite luxury and comfort. Similarly there are not only
gourmet restaurants that cater to the social elite and workplace canteens with
crude spoons and plates for the workers, but many intermediary food outlets
which also claim to be luxurious, at least to a moderate degree.
Pure examples of ‘inner-directed’ consumption are to be found in the cul-
tural artefacts, services and products of the culture industry, from movies and
TV programmes to recordings of music and concerts, from sports events to
literature, from charter flights to southern destinations to Sony PlayStations
– none of which so much as pretend to serve any useful purpose: they are
there ‘just for fun’.
The five principles of consumer demand
Despite or, rather, because of the strong emphasis on the individual’s subjec-
tive experiences which are typical of the new rationality of consumption, the
social patterns emerging from that rationality are far from individualistic in
any common sense of the word. On the contrary, the society of inner expe-
riences is characterised by a very strong degree of social conformity and
homogeneity of behaviour. Erlebnissociety is typically a society of (relatively
homogenous) mass consumption, admittedly with many individual, social
and periodic minor variations, but with very little by way of more daring
expressions of people’s genuine subjectivity or any excessive individuality of
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life styles. This paradoxical conclusion follows from the basic uncertainty
and indeterminacy typical of the situation facing a modern consumer. Five
interesting principles follow in Schulze’s analysis (1991: 433–4). They are all
means of coping with the ephemeral nature of consumer goals and the basic
subjective uncertainty concerning their achievement.
The principle of correspondence
Singular actions are tied together by some criterion, such as the distinctive
style of an individual consumer: things are somehow thought or felt to ‘go
together’ or to fit together. Even that strategy, however, is problematical in
relation to ephemeral goals: for instance, the desire to experience something
‘exciting’ but without being able to articulate what that might be (‘I want to
visit a new, exciting and stylish restaurant, but, at the same time, I probably
wouldn’t feel at home there after all.’)
The principle of abstraction
This is a strategy based on optimising the outcome of consumption habits or
of long-term consumption rather than of single acts. It means using some
abstract criterion of selection over a wide variety of concrete objects. Typical
examples are the preference to consume things sequentially, like TV or radio
series, journals or books, or with common threads, such as movies with the
same main actors or concerts with the same singers, or restaurants with some
typical ethnic cuisine (‘I like Chinese food’ or ‘I only go to real Irish pubs’).
The principle of accumulation
Based on the idea of accumulating singular similar experiences, this princi-
ple leads to a tendency to repetition. What was successful once is probably
worth trying again. On the other hand experiences tend to lose value when
repeated. The paradox, which concerns also the principle of abstraction, is
that the best experiences often come unexpected, as if by chance, walking
along the street (‘I always go to my local pub, but something exciting might
be happening in the pub just around the corner’).
The principle of variation
In compensation for the inherent tendency to repetition, variation is
welcomed. It is, however, important to note that this is a question strictly
of variation – preferably within a genre – not of real novelty. One changes
one’s pub, but not the neighbourhood; or one looks for a pub with a greater
variety of ales, not for the diversity of its wines. The modern Erlebnisrational
consumer is not adventurous.
The principle of autosuggestion
This is the main reason for social conformity, and for the close observance of
the habits of one’s own social milieu. Since one can never be sure of the ‘real’
worth and value of one’s experiences (‘I might have missed something more
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exciting; was this all there was to it after all!’) one constantly looks up for
one’s peers for the confirmation of their authenticity and value. (‘I visited
this new pub across the road because my friends now go there and they told
me it’s nice.’ More generally, the surest sign of a good venue is that it’s full
of people – even better if one has to queue in order to get a table, while next
door is a similar place with lots of empty tables.)
As Schulze pointed out, modern consumers are inclined to social con-
formism not because they feel embarrassed of being different or are afraid of
behaving themselves improperly: it is not social propriety that guides them.
They follow the example set by others out of personal uncertainty, because
they are afraid of missing out on something more exciting and important that
presumably all others are enjoying. There is no other criterion of the value
of an object than one’s own belief in it. It is as good as one believes it to be.
It is also important to note that such consumption and its validation are
beyond the question of manipulation or any false promises since there can-
not after all be any objective criteria to prove that there are some other, more
real, values attached to the object of consumption.
The main conclusion, then, is that the often presumed individualisation of
consumption, for example its liberation both from social restrictions or ties
and from the constraints of physical necessity, does not lead to increasing
heterogeneity but to increasing homogeneity of consumption, and, more
concretely in the case analysed by Schulze, to the formation of a few massive
and internally relatively homogenous schemes and milieux of consumption.
Novely and change are welcomed, but only in small, well-proportioned doses.
Such variation is not allowed to break with the more general principles of
connectedness and uniformity.4
The varieties of goodness
The main problem affecting Schulze’s position – and in this respect it shares
the destiny of many other diagnoses of the goods or ills of modern consumer
society – is that in his scheme there is no place for any socially shared prin-
ciples, or criteria, of goodness other than repetition and the imitation of the
‘generalised’ other: either you like what all the others seem to like or you are
left all on your own to choose according to your own personal whims and
wishes. In his scheme the social milieu in which an individual is living is there
mainly to confirm by the observable example of others that the individual
experience was truly real, that he or she ‘was not just making it all up’. The
principle of the mass is the only etiquette or guideline of taste, or, if you
allow for social segmentation, the example of one’s social group. There can-
not be any scales of goodness – unless the strength of one’s own experiences
and their possible resonance with those of others is taken as such. (For an
interesting account of broad taste classes, see Gans 1974.) Consequently
there cannot be any sensible discussion about the worth of one’s taste: one
cannot possibly present arguments to convince others of its worth; at most
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one might seduce others into trying it. This leads to a state of uncertainty.
There is a strong need of aesthetic definition in an Erlebnissociety. As Schulze
emphasised, following a discussion among German academics about the aes-
theticisation of everyday life (Gronow 1997), these experiences are aesthetic
by their nature, or at least they resemble and can be described as such: they
are ‘exciting’, ‘enjoyable’, ‘interesting’, etc.
To take an example used by Schulze, cars are commonly advertised as hav-
ing capacities that, obviously, are practically useless to any ordinary driver.
Since there is a speed limit of some 70 miles per hour in every European coun-
try (except, of course, in Germany, the land of Mercedes Benz), one could not,
without breaking the law, enjoy to its full capacity a new car capable of a speed
of 200 miles per hour which accelerates from zero to 100 in 6 seconds, not to
speak of the other technical attributes advertised in new cars. Many drivers
would probably still regard these cars as objectively better than many slower
and technically less advanced cars. As we know, utensils of home technology,
and computers and mobile phones are regularly marketed in similar terms to
emphasise their technical superiority – thus, its accumulator lasts a week
longer; it is ten times faster than any other; it can be programmed to complete
various distinct tasks; the sound output is greater and its quality higher, etc. –
and announce capacities mostly never utilised by, and of little practical value
to, the great majority of their buyers. A bottle of fine champagne, a Bordeaux
wine or a particular caviar might, in the world of food, be equivalent to a
Mercedes, though most people would perhaps care very little, and would say
that any decent sparkling or red wine or fish roe does equally well. Many
might even argue that what in fact they eat or drink is not only cheaper but
also tastes much better than other alternatives.
In Schulze’s understanding such technically superior qualities as exist are
advertised to make a general impression on the buyer and to enliven her or
his imagination (whatever subconscious motivations ever presumed). They
are symbols of something else (to take a trivial example, fast car = masculine
power), which presumably arouses and appeals to the inner mental states of
consumers: they promise some exciting experiences and participation in the
good life (Falk 1991; Gronow 1997: 442). As such it would not matter at all
if the car could not perform as promised, since the owner could not possibly
ever test it in practice. For the owner it would be quite satisfactory, so long
as he or she is convinced that the car is capable of such performance – and
that some other cars are not.
What makes this kind of reasoning somewhat suspect is that, despite the
inner-orientation of the consumers, many products are nevertheless
presented to them as having presumably technically – and in some sense
objectively – superior qualities and capacities. This is true in particular of
many items of consumer technology, both domestic and other, but also of
more amorphous items, such as foods and drinks. They not only offer a gen-
eral promise of good life with youthfulness, love and sunny beaches (like
Coca Cola) but often refer (and people refer to them too) to their nutritional
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value and healthfulness, not to speak of other, less concrete, characteristics,
such as better taste or propriety according to some social etiquette, conven-
tion or tradition. For people who wish to taste real champagne, a ‘ready-
made’ etiquette advises them on what would be the proper occasion, manner
and place to enjoy it. In other words, they could, like tourists, ‘visit’ a social
world of ‘champagne drinkers’ and borrow its standards of taste for the
occasion. One might, of course, claim that such characterisations as make
possible the evaluation of the goodness or fitness of a product are basically
inherited remnants from an older culture of use oriented more to instru-
mental consumption (or of a traditional, ritualistic consumption). People
not only want to say that something is pleasant or lovely: they are also ratio-
nalising and giving reasons for their preferences and likings, explaining and
convincing others of the superiority of their own choices.
What I argue here – in line with my earlier work on the sociology of taste
(Gronow 1997) – is that it is reasonable to claim both that modern con-
sumers make their choices on their own, often free from both physical and
social constraints, following their personal wishes and whims, and that there
are nevertheless some (semi-)objective aesthetic schemes, codes or guidelines
of taste which help us to evaluate and choose specific objects of consump-
tion. These guidelines are changing and not fixed; yet they are shared – and
often taken for granted – by various groups of people. In following them one
can make use of various value scales to evaluate the internal and relative
goodness of the objects and services offered. Therefore they can also con-
vincingly be utilised in marketing and advertising. From this it follows that
one can improve, even perfect, one’s own performance and evaluate the per-
formance of others. This is a possibility which is not restricted to certain vir-
tuoso shoppers (cf. the role Weber reserved to some rare religious virtuosi)
but one that is left open to practically any ordinary consumer. Just as one can
perform better on the sports field or as an artist, so one can perform better
as a consumer or shopper – say, of mobile phones or Italian sausages and
cheese. Although such performance might appear to many as irrelevant and
uninteresting, all that is needed is that there are some significant others who
acknowledge its value and are ready to appreciate it.
What I argue here is that such criteria of goodness and improvement of both
taste and ‘technical’ performance do make sense, though not as plain and
simple objective criteria of technical superiority as such, nor simply as symbols
which refer to some deeper, inner, subjective meanings. There are objective –
in the sense of socially shared and binding – aesthetic codes that determine
the inner value and relative worth of things to people. They are socially
constructed and negotiable, and as such (semi-)objective, aesthetics which are
taken for granted by the participants in any – smaller or bigger – social world.
They are utilised as reference points even by members of the ‘wider’ society not
necessarily directly involved in their creation and legitimation processes.
This should be evident in the case of such consumer goods as wines, beers or
spirits, in relation to which there are readily available systems of classification
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of taste and quality. But even in the case of the newly created variety of milk
products, both the producers, advertisers and marketers, on the one hand, and
the consumers, on the other, can have recourse to such aesthetic standards
and seek advice to find new uses for old products or old and new uses for new
products. This would not, however, take place in quite the same way as in the
case of wines – where the commercial classification and the classifications
of the social world(s) of wine lovers coincide and dynamically reinforce and
support each other – but in a less pronounced manner. The obvious difference
is that there is no such clear-cut social world under whose auspices all or most
of the products of this branch of food industry would fall. They are not as
essential to the core activities of any social world as, for instance, wines.
The social world perspective
The social world perspective, formulated well over thirty years ago by
symbolic interactionists, offers the best conceptual tools with which to
develop such an idea of an objective aesthetics which is all the time open
to change and which, in principle, encourages the creation of standards and is
potentially receptive to new consumer goods (Noro 1995). Social worlds,
according to their classic definition, emerge and are organised around some
core activities that ‘are believed to be legitimate, fun, appropriate, aestheti-
cally right, morally right, leading to truth’ (Strauss 1983: 128). Such social
worlds can be more or less amorphous or they can be organised, varying from
thematic chatting groups and lovers of particular art forms to more organised
hobby clubs (like a sport-fishing club). Probably the ideal types are to be found
among the many well-established free-time clubs, keeping in mind, however,
that their constituency is not restricted to an inner core of ordinary members
or activists but includes people who are more loosely attached to them and
who often outnumber many times the real activists. The main idea is, how-
ever, that there is some kind of an involved inner core of members in addition
to any amorphous circles of more loosely attached participants with lesser
degrees of involvement. According to Strauss, it is when people start taking
their collective activities seriously that the need for organisation develops.
Members of the group will
design their own sites, regularise their meetings, produce literature for their
internal and/or external consumption, inventing/testing/improving/producing/
distributing the technology brought into being by the core social world activities;
building networks of relationships with necessary external agents (suppliers,
distributors, purchasers, promoters, service people, even travel agents); and
sometimes, of course, formalizing internal relationships by founding of associa-
tions, complete with constitutions, official positions, rules and regulations.
(1983: 128)
As the list of activities and agencies in and around any social world suggests,
many aspects of commercial consumption naturally become attached to it;
most social worlds can equally well give rise to various forms of commercial
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activity and application. The rapid development of sports gear and wear
offers an illuminating example.
What distinguishes social worlds from other kinds of social organisations is
their voluntary nature. And what distinguishes one social world from another
is the legitimising process specific to each: in the final instance each has a
set of aesthetic rules and procedures, an etiquette or a code, enabling the
setting of standards and evaluation. The purpose of aesthetics is two-fold:
the identification of objects with aesthetic value (‘Is this art?’) and of authen-
tic issues, i.e. issues which belong, or are part of, this particular social world;
and the establishment of the quality or worth, the aesthetic value, of any
single issue that has been acknowledged as authentic (‘Is this good art?’)
(Becker 1982; Gilmore 1990: 150). As Strauss (1982: 180) formulated it,
this question of authenticity is a different issue than whether a given product or
performance measures high, medium, or low on some scale: that is, the question
of how useful, beautiful, safe, or moral it is . . . The former issue pertains to the
boundaries of the social world or sub-social world; the latter involves not a
question of boundaries but of the differential embodiment of in-world values.
It is part of the unofficial nature of most social worlds as well as of aesthetic
judgements in general that there are no – and in principle cannot be any –
explicit rules or regulations concerning such issues. They are learned in a
process of socialisation into the world, new members often following the
example set by other, more experienced, members (learning by doing).
Hence the importance to social worlds – as well as to education in general –
of exemplary figures and models.
Types of involvement in social worlds
Most, if not practically all, people belong, in one way or another, to several
such social worlds, or circles. The extent of their involvement, however, varies
greatly. The typology propounded by David R. Unruh (1979 and 1980), which
is based on degrees of involvement, differentiates four types, ranging from the
near total life – encompassing the involvement of insiders – to the total non-
involvement, or disinterestedness, shown by outsiders or ‘strangers’, who must
nevertheless be somehow ‘taken into account’ by others more involved in the
social world.5These types are (counting from most involved to least involved)
the insiders, the regulars, the tourists and the strangers. Insiders and regulars
are the elements most constitutive of a social world. Insiders, whose entire
social existence and worldview can centre around a single all-important social
world, ‘seek control, direct, and create social worlds for others’. Their role is
one of ‘creation and intimacy’. They also take care of the recruitment of new
members and arouse the interests of potential new participants. Regulars act
as if the social world is their home; they are familiar with its ‘etiquette’, to
which they tend to make few adjustments. Their attitude is characterised by
‘integration, familiarity and attachment’ (Unruh 1979: 121ff.). The legitimacy
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of the etiquette of any social world is achieved by the unquestioning loyalty
of the regulars, who mostly take for granted the rules, the relevance of the
issues and the scales of worth of that social world, and to a lesser extent, by
the interest shown by the tourists.
Tourists, as the name indicates, are occasional visitors to a social world.
They do not show any long-term involvement, being motivated by mere
curiosity. They must be reasonably aware of the social world to be interested
in visiting it, but they are committed to that world only insofar as it remains
‘entertaining, profitable, or diversionary’ (Unruh 1980: 281). Some social
worlds are more dependant on the interest shown by tourists than are others
which are more exclusive.
Strangers, in contrast to the other three types, have no involvement at all
in the social world. They are not interested in, indeed are not necessarily
aware of, its existence or activities. What Unruh evidently has in mind in
saying that any social world must take strangers into account is that they are
the others, the outsiders, the strangers against whom the other, more
involved, participants can contrast their own experiences and worldviews.
The term ‘stranger’ is borrowed from Simmel’s Soziologie, first published in
1908 (see Simmel 1992: 764). For Simmel, a stranger is an outsider who
brings with her or him other and more objective standards and criteria into
a social world and so can inspect it impartially. In this way, the presence of a
stranger can help to relativise the standards.
Any social world thus has an established and legitimised set of aesthetic eval-
uations of its own concerning both the authenticity of the issues (the kinds of
activities, objects and techniques which belong to that social world) and the
evaluation of their relative worth or goodness within that social world. Some
social worlds are conservative and are doubtless more concerned to preserve
their activities and issues in as stable and unchanging a form as possible,
whereas ongoing development and refinement might be a major interest in
others. The rules and practices of a social world are always in principle nego-
tiable, and can therefore be in a state of constant change. A social world per-
spective presents only a phenomenology of social worlds, and gives no reasons
and explanations as such for the variation and multiplication of social worlds.
However, so far as social worlds are either interested in expanding their field
of influence and recruiting new regular members (or attracting tourists) or are
concerned to maintain the interest of the current insiders and regulars, one
would presume that they have some inbuilt mechanism of renewal. Such ren-
ovation would more naturally lead to a continual refining and an increasing
complexifying of ‘the rules of the game’ than it would to any drastic changes
concerning these basic issues or the value of the ‘game’ itself.
The segmentation process of social worlds
There is, however, another mechanism, the segmentation process of social
worlds, or the emergence of new social sub-worlds from established ones.
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The segmentation in the social world of haute cuisine through the repeated
emergence of nouvelle cuisines is a good example of such segmentation (see,
for instance, Mennell 1985).
According to Anselm Strauss (1983), one can describe such a segmentation
process in seven stages:
1 forming a new social sub-world;
2 defining and building its legitimate core activity;
3 differentiating and defining the new borders;
4 writing and rewriting its own history;
5 competing for resources with the old one;
6 elevating and manoeuvring in arenas;
7 further segmentation.
In their exemplary study of recreation specialisation Ditton et al. (1992:
36–7) analysed the ways in which new sub-worlds can distance themselves
from their ‘parent’ worlds. In their own case – sport-fishing – segmentation
took place
around spatial distinction or topographic characteristics (different stretches
of the stream are important);
around different objects (fish species);
around technology and skill (fishing equipment and its use);
around an ideology (delineating real and authentic experience);
along the lines of the intersection of social worlds (emerging new
through recruitment. (According to the authors new members tend to
maximise chances for new lines of activity, uses of technology, ideological
positions and further segmentation; but, in principle, different means and
channels of recruitment could, as such, give rise to further segmentation,
One would expect that segmentation in one of these aspects would lead also
to differentiation in other aspects and, finally, to the emergence of a separate
new social world.
This process of social world segmentation is only a descriptive account; it
gives no tools with which to identify the kinds of social worlds which are
given to segmentation, say when they will segment and why. One could,
however, claim that the greater the number of the insiders and regulars in a
social world the more encouraged is the emergence of new sub-worlds,
which gradually turn into separate worlds. In such social worlds there may
be insufficient room for new insiders wishing to take an active part in the cre-
ation and maintenance of the rules and rituals and who therefore are
tempted to establish a new social world of their own. In the beginning it will
differ only slightly from the old one (‘We play only indoors’ or ‘We eat only
simple and stylish food’, that is the real thing), existing alongside it, but grad-
ually will develop into an independent form of an activity with a particular
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etiquette of its own. One could probably claim that in our societies such
segmentation processes have been greatly accelerated, at least within free-
time activities: for instance, in the world of sport new sub-worlds seem to
emerge all the time and at an accelerating tempo, often also demanding
official recognition as legitimate games (there is, for instance, a growing list
of sports waiting to be approved and taken into the official programme of
the Olympic Games).
The inner development of the ‘rules of the game’ (in a social world) and
the emergence of new ‘games’ (in a social sub-world) are the two parallel
mechanisms that explain the renovation and change of social worlds and
their aesthetic standards.6Whereas the first leads mainly to refinement
and increasing complexity inside an existing social world, the second con-
cerns the very core activity and the authenticity of its issues (something
totally new becomes interesting, exciting and worth promoting.)
The principles of supply
It has already been pointed out that the rationality of producers and sup-
pliers is different from that of consumers; yet they must somehow admit of
being matched and coordinated. We also know that to most – if not practi-
cally all – social worlds some commercial activities are closely attached.
Sometimes a social world finds such commercial activities as it needs already
in the market where they have been used and consumed in other contexts
and for other purposes. They must, however, be redefined in the social
world that now utilises them for its own purposes.7Often, by contrast, a
new social world will give rise to new commercial activities (the opening of
specialist shops, production units or meeting points; the founding of jour-
nals; or the promotion of travel arrangements, etc.); and, occasionally, new
social worlds emerge around technical innovations and their commercial
applications (recently, for instance, various social worlds have emerged
around new computer and information technology). A third alternative is
that such social worlds have initiated and actively promoted the process of
innovation and product development (e.g. the development of the Linux
operating system, created with the contributions of thousands of enthusiasts
all around the world who are members of a loosely organised social world
of computer programmers).
One of the merits of Schulze’s study is that, in addition to analysing
the principles guiding the orientation of demand in a Erlebnissociety, it
described principles governing the supply side. According to him, there are
four such principles of, or strategies for, rationalising the supply of products
and services (Schulze 1991: 442–3).
Schematisation is a strategy that helps to incorporate supplies into
schemes which are relatively stable over longer periods of time and groups
of customers (e.g. musical genres).
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Profiling exists in order to create an aura, or image, of uniqueness around
one’s products in order to differentiate them from others.
Transformation creates and offers novelties for sale (again, safe variations
of the old rather than real novelties).
Suggestion corresponds to the principle of autosuggestion on the demand
side (since growth of production is inbuilt in the whole economic system
there is no need for a principle corresponding to the fifth principle of
accumulation on the side of the consumers).
Both sides, the demanders and the suppliers, are thus interested mainly in
everyday schemes: producers attach some familiar key stimuli to their prod-
ucts; and consumers have a need for simplification to help their orientation.
Change is welcomed, and producers are ready to satisfy it, but there is no big
motivation to produce any unexpected and radically different products and
services: it is wiser and better, in general, for both sides to play safe.
The social world perspective adds to such analyses an important dimension:
it can better explain both consumers’ willingness to approve and adopt real
novelties of all kinds (they make sense as soon as they become essential issues,
objects, services, techniques in any new or old social worlds) and the use of
semi-objective social aesthetics regulating the value and worth of various
items. This offers the producers no straightforward strategy for determining
their future supplies or the marketing of novelties. But it certainly means
that the alternatives available are not just those of sticking to old practices,
earlier proven successful, or of blindly probing one’s way by throwing bait to
consumers. There are genuine criteria of authenticity, worth and goodness
which make sense to consumers and that can also be utilised, at least to some
extent and in various ways, through marketing and design.
Hennion and Méadel (1989: 192) emphasise the crucial role of advertising
agencies and marketing institutions in defining what a product really is. They
formulated a mediating position in which advertising works as operating in
a world where there is neither technical necessity nor determining needs, without
for all that being able to refer comfortably either to the equivalence of all objects
or to the arbitrary nature of all desire. Experts of advertising understood
their work as mainly to mediate – or fulfil a gap – between these two extremes,
to give the product new dimensions. The product is not treated as a ready-made
artefact with predetermined objective functions. It changes in their hands going
through different steps in various marketing and advertising departments or
offices. This is, in their own words, a model ‘where it is no longer possible to draw
a distinction between the technical characteristics of the product and its signifying
character, because everything, from marketing to conditioning by way of product
tests, of measurements of the competition and of the internal mobilization of the
enterprise, functions on the double register of the object: it is a thing, but a thing
for a person. A technical product and a product, which communicates. A product
that fulfils a need if it knows how to create the needer. (p. 199)
What the social world perspective adds to this very illuminating account
of the role of advertising is to show that in accomplishing all this the
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advertising agencies operate in a world inhabited by distinct aesthetic
schemes in which various objects and services can be placed or have already
a well-established position. The schemes and places inhabited by the object
are not stable but in a permanent state of change and transformation, new
schemes emerging while old ones wither away. This is identical to the way in
which individuals inhabit modern society. As Georg Simmel (1955) sug-
gested, individuals normally belong to several social circles, investing various
degrees of involvement in each, and their very individuality is determined by
the specific combination of such social worlds. Thus, one could claim that,
normally, any one artefact or service can simultaneously belong to several
social worlds and play a more-or-less similar or different role and have a dif-
ferent meaning in each of those worlds.
The social world perspective does not, of course, offer any simple solution
to the problems of marketing, still less guarantee commercial success.
Whether any one new object or service offered for sale and marketed to the
members of a social world (presuming that it would be possible to identify
them with sufficient precision) really finds some resonance and stimulates
demand depends, finally, on the insiders and regulars’ recognition of the
object as their own – as having an intrinsic value in this particular social
world. The relations between the producers and these involved members of
social worlds are asymmetrical and not reciprocal: a producer’s rationality is
not the same as that of a consumer. Producers themselves are not usually –
and in many cases could not possibly be – members of these social worlds.
What the producers can do is to try to be well informed about such social
worlds and their particular aesthetics, which might be or become relevant for
consumers of their products. In any case, there is an objective reference
point, a socially valid frame, between the subjective image of the product and
its objective characteristics – which actually first helps to determine them –
to which both consumers and producers, in their respective ways, can refer.
(These frames are also, however, transformed constantly due to their own
activities and interests.) This is equally true in the worlds of fashion and
home electronics, of cuisine and cars, wines and beers, PCs and mobile
phones, etc.
The point was made earlier that at times new commercially successful
enterprises emerge directly from the activities of (non-commercial) social
worlds. Insiders who started as enthusiastic volunteers, with a particular
hobby as their passion, may gradually turn it into a profession, open shops,
workshops or service centres. They might thereafter become pure business-
men, though some will preserve or even strengthen their former status as core
members in their social worlds. In a similar way, one could claim that pro-
ducers often are their own best customers (think, for instance, of the various
art worlds whose producers, mediators, critics and managers frequent exhibi-
tions, buy each others’ works). In this way, there could be, at least in some
fields, a closer relationship, even cooperation, between certain producers and
key consumers. For example, Pierre Bourdieu (1984: 367) suggested that
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members of the new middle class, in particular those active in new profes-
sions, often were their own best customers.
The food scene: how to identify social worlds
One of the main problems in the empirical study of social worlds is of know-
ing how to identify them. It is evident that one can identify in food culture
(defined here as cooking and eating), as in almost any important sphere of
human life, numerous more-or-less well-organised big social worlds. No
systematic empirical research has been conducted about them and therefore
the following remarks are preliminary and hypothetical.8
It would understandably be impossible to identify all the members of a
social world – not to speak of tourists and strangers – lacking any formal
organisation and membership status. Their identification becomes obviously
more difficult the less involved the members are. Howard Becker (1982; see
also Unruh 1980: 291) suggests that the best way to recognise a social world
is to identify its core product – loosely defined as objects, experiences or
events (for instance, wine-tasting) – and trace it back to all those who con-
tribute to its production and circulation (in addition to the obvious wine pro-
ducers and sellers, connoisseurs, experts, critics, etc.). Equally important as
key products for the identification of social worlds are their communication
centres since the limits of effective communication are also the limits of any
one social world. Such centres vary from authorised publishers and publica-
tions, to information sites and key informants (e.g. wine journals and media
programmes). Also, social worlds often present themselves to outsiders in
specific places and spaces, such as specialist outlets (a gourmet shop or a wine
exhibition) where members gather.
The social worlds perspective can explain one of the surprising features of
modern food culture. It has been argued that eating and culinary delights are
not, as a matter of course, the central issues in the lives of most people. The
meals of most Scandinavians, for instance, are by no means notably imagi-
native or varied (Kjaernes 2001). And yet popular culture tells a different
story: many TV programmes on food compete with the most popular soap
operas in terms of viewing figures; the most popular food journals have large
circulations; newspapers feature popular food columns; every year hundreds
of new cookery books, many of them big editions, are published for Christ-
mas; and sampling the local cuisine is a ‘must’ for holidaymakers wherever
they are. Judging from this one would imagine that culinary culture, both at
home and in restaurants, would occupy a prominent place in the lives of
most people and that people generally would be extremely concerned with
issues of eating.
The secret is that social worlds of food, probably because they are rela-
tively familiar and offer ease of access to practically everyone, seem to seduce
many tourists willing to visit them at least occasionally to have a taste of – or
only a look at9–what they have to offer. Thus, many people offer themselves
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and their families occasional ‘treats’, Sunday lunches or dinners with friends,
at which something ‘special’ is served; and to do so, they have merely to
‘visit’ some relevant social worlds. For tourists, the ‘relevance of a social
world is often times pre-packaged, directed and coached’ (Unruh 1979:
124), and often for sale too. Regulars and insiders have an important task to
enact their social worlds for the benefit of interested tourists and offer their
treats in nice ready-made packages.
Judging by the popularity of food columns in newspapers and food and
health journals, many tourists visit these social worlds with regularity. The
origins of all public discourses on food cannot, by any means, be traced back
to any social world in the strict sense. Much of the programmatic, ideologi-
cal, entertaining or persuasive talk about food in the media most certainly
does not have any direct relation or relevance to any existing social world.
They are mostly just recycled items from the very rich historical cultural
knowledge of food accumulated through the ages and offered for public
entertainment by journalists; and, like other retro-fashions they are often
wrapped up in new packaging. Therefore, in order to identify interesting
social worlds of food one should, following Becker’s advice, look out for var-
ious recommended standards of taste and etiquette, but also, and primarily,
for products and ‘services’ (in the wider sense of the word), techniques,
instruments and tools, as well as for communication centres of various kinds
and key figures.
With these reservations in mind, one could as a preliminary divide the
social worlds of food into two big groups. One group is concerned mainly
with culinary taste, cooking skills and table etiquette. Further division by
such criteria as the presumed cultural or geographical origin of foodstuffs,
preferred methods of preparation or kitchen technology, preferred venues
for and company with whom to share the experience, the importance of
cooking versus eating, or some natural classification of dishes (fish, vegetar-
ian, beef, etc., or according to their provenance). If one adds the dimension
of drink one easily finds several more (beer-lovers versus wine-lovers, fans of
single-malt whisky versus Russian vodka, abstainers, mineral-water enthusi-
asts, traditional sour-milk drinkers, etc.). It would be relatively easy to find
in almost any European country clubs, journals, publications, restaurants and
other meeting places that cherish one or more of these or similar ‘core’
issues. Evidently there are also tens of thousands of insiders and regulars who
treat them with gravity.
One of the most influential and interesting recent examples of this kind of
social world is the Slow Food (SF) Movement, which originated in Italy but
has become a worldwide phenomenon (see Murdoch and Miele, chapter 7
of this volume). It started as a reaction to the opening of McDonald’s restau-
rants in Rome and around Italy in the early 1980s, its main task the promo-
tion of local and regional cuisines. It has developed a formal organisation and
very elaborate standards of culinary taste that are used to judge whether any
given food or dish is ‘authentic’, i.e. real slow food, and what its relative
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worth is. SF is interesting because it has had commercial implications from
the very beginning. During its short life it has already experienced segmen-
tation and change as ecological concerns and agricultural policy have become
increasingly important issues on its agenda. SF offers an interesting example
of a social world that has evolved into a social movement. What separates a
social movement from a ‘pure’ world is that it has a political agenda and a
platform from which to defend the importance of its concern, with varying
degrees of activity and aggression, to others, or ‘strangers’.
The other important, and rapidly increasing, visible group of social worlds
is centred around the issues of health and fitness. The most popular and
organised ones inevitably are concerned mainly with weight-watching. The
worldwide enterprise Weight Watchers is probably one of the best organised
and biggest, but new dietary programmes, with their own techniques and
methods, promises and ideologies, and with (inconsistently) serious and
involved practitioners, emerge all the time. Weight Watchers has an added
dimension, which makes it, like Alcoholics Anonymous, akin to a religious
sect: one can become ‘hooked’ on it. Losing weight following the pro-
grammed steps becomes a lifelong struggle for adherents, just as a virtuous
life is the goal of a believer wishing to please a god. On the other hand, any
‘tourist’ can make a visit to this world by, for example, buying a ready-made
Weight Watcher’s meal from the supermarket.
In general, however, such social worlds could be called ‘dietary worlds’ as
opposed to ‘taste worlds’. They recommend tightly organised and restricted
diets (from strict vegetarians to vitamin freaks, from those who eat only ‘liv-
ing food’ to those who cook everything in an oven, from those who follow
the rules of official nutrition science to those who practise some self-made or
‘folk’ dietary beliefs – diet variations are endless). Many insiders find that
such social worlds fill their time and give life meaning, whereas regulars
might follow the diets recommended but not make that their main duty. At
the same time numerous tourists continue to visit one or more of them peri-
odically, not necessarily staying loyal to a single world for any extended
period of time, not taking them necessarily all that seriously, either, but, any-
how, following and adopting their aesthetics in some relevant aspects. In ulti-
mate cases, a social world can become almost private. In such cases a
dedicated insider faces the danger of receiving the stigma of deviancy or
mental illness. Such would be the case, for instance, for a private collector
who keeps her or his collection totally secret or has value standards that are
not intelligible to anyone else.
Good and bad food
How does all this help us to determine the goodness of any food product, a
dish, a dinner or a drink? The question is problematical and its answer can be
determined only within the limits of a certain social world. Many products,
just like individuals, can participate in numerous social worlds at the same
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time, and therefore their measuring stocks can be diverse and often even
negate one another. Anyone interested in marketing a product can therefore
choose from two distinct strategies. One is to try to convince as many social
circles as possible that the product is of special value to them, even though to
each of them it would be so in a different way: it can be tasty, nutritionally
balanced, an essential part of a traditional national cuisine, local, vitamised,
easy to cook, festive, etc. The more ‘hooks’ the product has the better – up to
that certain point when they start competing with and eliminating each other
and cease to be at all convincing. To many regulars and insiders products with
multiple dimensions might also feel inauthentic.
The other marketing strategy is to concentrate effort to convey the merits
of the product to just a single social world, one to which, however, it is
understood to be extraordinarily important – possibly the product without
which that social world could not exist at all. This leads to specialisation and
emphasises the uniqueness of the product. It is easy to name numerous,
already classic, examples from the social world of haute cuisine, such as truf-
fles, oysters, foie gras; champagne or wines from Bourdeaux; or, in their own
right, traditional British ales; and, to take some Finnish examples, caviar
from white fish, river crabs, or some particular wild mushrooms or berries.
One could equally well name several such products that are important and
very specific to certain dietary social worlds (milk products to people who
do not tolerate milk, margarine without any fat at all, products with calcium
added to people fearing osteoporosis, ecological products cultivated without
any possible ‘unnatural’ technical means, etc.). Most social worlds are open
to tourists from other worlds who can often make use of such special offers
and by experimenting with them or redefining them incorporate them into
their own aesthetics and thus enrich their own culinary experiences. This
process of crossbreeding, and the ensuing potential for the emergence of new
social sub-worlds, seem to be accelerating in our times.
There is a group of social worlds related to food and eating that enjoys a
peculiar position and a certain hegemonic privilege in defining certain gen-
erally applicable aesthetic standards. These comprise state officials and
experts who enjoy the legitimising status of science and whose task it is to
take care of national health and guard us from the risks or harmful effects of
food and drink. Insofar as such experts and their organisations have alone
acted as guardians of food safety their authority has been undisputed (cf.,
however, the cases of food scares and scandals like mad cow disease). When,
with developments in biotechnology and preventive medicine, they are
increasingly expected to identify not only what is dangerous and harmful but
also what is good and healthful, their role becomes more problematical. To
the extent that they can issue legal restrictions and punish those who break
them (for instance, in such clear-cut cases when ‘false’ vodka kills people, or
when there is a danger of food poisoning) they play a special role, not quite
like those of other social worlds active in food culture (such worlds are more
organised and have clear rules restricting their membership, too).10
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On the other hand, so far as they act as experts who give advice and infor-
mation, and make recommendations about healthful eating habits, their
social institutions do not, in fact, differ much from those of other social
worlds. They have their loyal followers as well as tourists, their occasional,
rather mildly interested, visitors. What marks them out as different is that
they speak with the – undoubtedly great – authority of science and the State.
At least as far as product development in the food industry is concerned,
these ‘semi-official’, and at times pseudo-official, social worlds which enjoy
the authority of health sciences are at present the central points of reference.
Even though the numerous new milks, sour milks and creams sometimes
taste unusual and some people might claim to enjoy the taste of one more
than that of another, in the main the dividing lines between the products are
based on their presumed health effects. At one level one can choose between
different degrees of fat content in milk; at a more sophisticated and, as a rule,
expensive level, one can choose from all kinds of health-promoting or
illness-preventing additives and ingredients of milk. But, ultimately, we do
not really know whether these classifications – readily offered by the pro-
ducers, with the support of the social worlds of science and printed on the
packaging or declared in advertisements – are, in fact, regarded by their users
as relevant to the attainment of the desired inner experiences. Some of them
might be considered totally irrelevant, and people’s real reasons for buying
them might lie altogether elsewhere. Some again might be made to fit into a
very different context of aesthetic evaluation.
Thus, the social world perspective offers a discursive way of understand-
ing quality and claims to quality. It allows for the fact that people in distinct
social circles make different judgements about products and foodstuffs. Such
judgements are not reflections of personal idiosyncracies, but tend to con-
form to the standards (though these are subject to regular alteration) upheld
within particular social worlds. Quality, or rather the identification of rele-
vant qualities, is therefore part of an ongoing process of negotiation, of claim
and counter-claim, both within a social circle and across boundaries to other
circles. There is, on this view, no generic consumer whose behaviour can by
modelled outside of particular, and often specialising, social contests.
1 This is, of course, reminiscent of the idea of a more general cultural change from
instrumental to expressive orientation, or from work to leisure and pleasure, pre-
sented in theories of post-industrial society (see, for instance, Bell 1974).
2 Even though it has a particular emphasis of its own, Schulze’s diagnosis resem-
bles, in some respects, the characterisations of many recent analysts concerning
the essential novelty of a modern society of consumption. In his early work Jean
Baudrillard (1981), for instance, contrasted the economy of signs with the pro-
duction of use values. Colin Campbell (1986) identified the daydreamer who is
always striving for something new and previously unexperienced as the model of
the modern consumer. It has also obvious resemblances to Pasi Falk’s eternal
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seeker for the substitutes among the world of commodities as a substitute for the
maternal symbiosis lost in early childhood. Falk’s modern consumer (1994) can,
in fact, never be satisfied. Bauman’s diagnosis (2000) of the ‘lonely’, always wish-
ful, consumer, faced with the hopeless task of finding real satisfaction, reached
almost existentialist dimensions. The modern consumer is, in Bauman’s under-
standing, forced to live in a condition of perpetual uncertainty and angst. Such an
existentialist interpretation of the human condition of the modern consumer as
something that never can genuinely be shared with others is deeply rooted in the
general suspicion concerning leisure, pleasure and expressive activities as some-
thing purely subjective and therefore less essential than instrumental activities like
productive work (see Csikszentmihalyi 1981).
3 Cf. Mukerji’s comment (1978: 349) that ‘the tendency to conceive of plastic
combs in people’s pockets and paintings in museums as completely unrelated
kinds of objects obscures an important connection between the two: both are
designed to have cultural meanings and social ones’.
4 This conclusion supports Gronow and Warde’s argument (2001) in another
context: that one should pay more attention to repetitive behaviour, routines
and ‘ordinary’ consumption. In fact, in most cases of everyday consumption (for
instance, eating) hardly any exciting subjective experiences are sought after (this
is related to the problem of ‘high involvement’ versus ‘low involvement’ in
At first glance there would seem to be a contradiction between the tendency to
conformity and fashion. One can, however, solve the contradiction between the
demand for novelty and surprise as expressed in fashion and the schematisation
and the consequent monotony of consumption identified in Schulze’s principles.
Despite the principal novelty, contingency, unexpectedness of fashion, it repre-
sents a pacified and not a ‘revolutionising’ mode of change. Typically, fashion ful-
fils the criteria of variation within a genre. As Herbert Blumer (1969) argued,
fashion is a relatively harmless means of learning to tolerate and cope with per-
petual social change.
5 As C. W. Park and Mittal Banwari (1985) have argued in discussing the notions
of low and high involvement widely used in consumer research, to be involved
presumes some emotional intensity and awareness. Some items of consumption
might, however, be very important to a consumer simply as part of his daily rou-
tines, in which case it would not be natural to say that he or she is highly involved
with them. By distinguishing between insiders and regulars one can avoid the
problem, at least in part. Insiders are really involved in their social world, while
regulars take it more routinely for granted. The social world and its objects, issues
and activities are important in the lives of both of them, and could not easily be
replaced by others.
6 In Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis of the processes of distinction both of these mech-
anisms are present. Competition with a social class tends to lead to refinement,
whereas the emergence of ‘new classes’ as challengers tends to redefine the rules
of the game. In the latter case the value of the former aspirations is totally denied
and new standards of worth established.
7 One of the best examples is the redefinition which necessarily accompanies the
transformation of ordinary objects in daily use into valued collectibles. To take
another good example used by Mukerji (1978: 354): ‘some features of pot frag-
ments in museums may interest potters, and other may interest anthropologists’.
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8 See, however, Gary Fine’s exemplary (1996) study of the social world of food
producers and restaurant cooks, and the aesthetic standards of their craft as well
as their relationship to the economic interests of their trade.
9 Reading or collecting cookery books can also be a serious hobby.
10 The character and the role of the legally authorised rules of food safety which
exist in every country could be compared with the building codes of plumbing,
used as an example by Muckerji (1978: 356): ‘today plumbing and other craft tra-
ditions are protected and innovations in plumbing techniques limited by building
codes which are meant to distinguish between good and bad work, but also to
allow for a large amount of good work to be both created and legitimated. Codes
are strict enough to discourage massive amounts of amateur work, making the
work of professional plumbers more valuable, but they are not detailed enough
to distinguish outstanding from adequate work. In this system almost everyone
can have good plumbing (or plumbing that is recognizable within the traditional
value systems), but probably little rare and independently valuable plumbing is
identifiable.’ Present-day Russia is an instance of a country with many such codes
that often are not followed and where hardly anyone actually believes in their
functioning. For instance, according to some recent reports 40 per cent of all
instant coffee on sale in Russia is faked and one-third of the inhabitants of St
Petersburg report having suffered from food poisoning during the last year.
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... Consequently, by intensive training and exercise, one can become more competent or qualified in the world. Some worlds can be extremely complicated, allowing for a lot of virtuosity and mastery; others can be more simple (Gronow 2004). ...
Practice theorists have indicated the importance of understanding everyday life – how it changes and stays the same – in responding to current environmental problems, including the proliferation of food packaging waste. Focusing on individuals as carriers of practices who carry them out is essential for the diffusion of sustainable practices because the more carriers are recruited by less wasteful food consumption, such as packaging-free shopping, the more they are likely to spread. Thus far, however, insights regarding the dynamics of how practices recruit their carriers have been limited. Based on a focused ethnography in a recently opened packaging-free shop and its customers’ homes in Germany, this study specifies the dynamics of recruitment by introducing the concept of connection points. The presence of connection points enables a practice to recruit carriers, allowing them to maintain daily routines to a certain degree, while in the process of adopting a new practice that entails changing their everyday life. This reveals a paradoxical dynamic: continuity, in very diverse ways, seems to pave the way towards change.
Writing about symbolic interaction and the arts, one becomes immersed in issues of social organization. The development of an interactionist approach to social structure has greatly benefited from research in the arts, particularly the effort to construct a macro-level interactionist conception of society. An emphasis on an integrated micro-macro analysis is the distinguishing feature of the interactionist approach to social organization. Social worlds are useful as an interactionist unit of social organization because of the dual emphasis on structural and cultural elements. This dual emphasis is illustrated by artistic participants' group construct of an “art world.” This chapter reviews studies in the arts, clustered into production, distribution, and consumption stages, that are of interest to interactionists if not actually done by interactionist researchers. It treats these stages as a technical separation of activities, often not so clearly differentiated socially. It prefers to define the “production” of culture in a generic sense, applicable to all three technical stages including “processes of creation, manufacture, marketing, distribution, exhibiting, inculcation, evaluation, and consumption.”
The conceptual dichotomy between instrumental and expressive activities confines leisure to the expressive sphere and makes it dependent on more essential instrumental institutions. Ontogenetically, however, expressive experiences are prior to instrumental ones, and they serve as the criteria by which the latter are evaluated. Each generation must learn that expressive experiences are available in the instrumental roles of society, or the social system is unlikely to survive. Therefore it is essential to provide socialization into expressive experience through role models who are able to enjoy their instrumental roles.
The modern society of consumption is a society of fashion. Fashion has extended its influence over various fields of social life and, together with taste, become central to our understanding of the inner dynamics of any modern society. The Sociology of Taste looks at the role of taste - or the aesthetic reflection - in society at large and in modern society in particular. Taking case studies from social life, for example eating and food culture, it illustrates the role of fashion in the formation of collective taste.
The concept of social world is given greater analytical power by categorizing differential participation through a typology of social types—strangers, tourists, regulars, and insiders. These trans-situational social types are examined in terms of their commitment, relationships, experiences, and orientation to social worlds. Social worlds are also discussed in terms of three qualities of interaction—relevance, accessibility, and receptivity.