Art, Tastes & Stratification - SOC00013H

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  • Department: Sociology
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Laurie Hanquinet
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2017-18
    • See module specification for other years: 2018-19

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2017-18

Module aims

The module aims to explore the links between art and society from a sociological perspective. This module encourages students to reflect upon how art is produced and how it is diffused into society, as well as how this process affects peoples tastes.

Art production and consumption are associated with values that are deep-rooted in society and that have to be unraveled and deconstructed, such as the concepts of gift, genius or the universality of tastes. These values are not neutral. On the contrary, they play an important role in the (re)production of social inequalities and are entangled with issues of domination and power. Following insights from the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the recent Great BBC class survey has, for instance, recently highlighted the importance of cultural capital observable through peoples tastes or cultural preferences in social class divisions and more generally social stratification. Cultural preferences are thus embedded in a wide range of social relations (class, gender, age, ethnicity) and hence symbolic and moral boundaries.

The module aims to encourage students to develop a critical view on these different aspects of the relationships between art and society, with a particular focus on the understanding of the social meaning of tastes. Examples of questions students will be asked to reflect upon are: what is an artist? Is an artist somebody naturally gifted? What are the relationships between artists and society? How do art institutions support and diffuse art? How is art received by people? How are tastes formed?

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should:

  • be able to reflect upon the social construction of art and its three main dimensions, production, mediation and reception
  • have a critical vision of the different actors and institutions involved in this process (e.g. the role of museums)
  • be able to engage with the sociological literature on art, artists and taste but also to understand better the main theoretical currents in sociology
  • gain an insight into interdisciplinary approaches on these topics (e.g. museum studies, history of art, etc.).


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 75
Written Report
N/A 10
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
N/A 15

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

As in the First Year, you will continue to receive feedback on your formative assessments via the meetings with your supervisor at the beginning of term. It remains important to attend these meetings with the relevant documentation. However, you will ALSO receive extended feedback on the summative assessment work submitted in this second stage of your degree.

Because all of your summative work is examined by at least two members of the Department, and much of it will also be considered by the external examiners, there is an obvious conflict between the time that this takes and our desire to get feedback to you in useful format as swiftly as possible. For this reason, we will release the marks and the feedback forms to you as soon as they have been agreed internally that is, within the Department and before the external examiners have approved them. This means that we can get the feedback to you at least a fortnight earlier than would otherwise be the case but it also means that the marks for each module may change depending on the decisions of the external examiners, although this is rare.

You should note that, due to the fact that all submissions are second-marked and examined by multiple members of the academic staff, there is no appeal against the marks given.

Essays and other coursework: Detailed feedback for your essays will be found on the feedback forms you receive and through comments written on the work itself. These forms rate your performance according to essay content, organisation and style, using the benchmarks provided by the Departments published marking criteria. They will comment further and in detail about any specific strengths and weaknesses, and will provide suggestions as to how you might improve your work in future. You should make an appointment to see your supervisor to discuss these forms and it may be helpful to take with you a copy of the written work that you submitted. If further clarification is required, this may in consultation with your supervisor be sought from one of the examiners.

Examinations: Feedback for examinations will normally take the form of the mark received for the examination. The Department will, however, also make your scripts available to you for inspection.

Indicative reading

  • Becker, Howard Saul (1984). Art worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Bennett, T., Savage M., Silva E., Warde A., Gayo-Cal, M. and Wright, D. (2009). Culture, Class, Distinction. London: Routledge.
  • Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
  • Harrington A. (2004). Art and Social Theory: Sociological Arguments in Aesthetics. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Inglis, D. (2005). Thinking 'Art' Sociologically, in Inglis, D. & Hughson, J. (eds) The Sociology of Art: ways of seeing. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp.11-29.
  • Peterson R., Kern R. (1996). Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore. American Sociological Review, 61(5), pp. 900-907.
  • Prior N. (2002). Museums and Modernity: Art Galleries and the Making of Modern Culture, Oxford and New York, Berg.
  • Tanner, J. (2003). The sociology of art: a reader. London: Routledge.
  • Zolberg, V. (1990). Constructing a sociology of the arts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.