DiMaggio, P. (1987). Classification in Art. _American Sociological Review_, 52(4):440-455.

Paul DiMaggio, PhD, Sociology from Harvard, is Professor of Sociology and past Chair of the Sociology Department at Princeton University. He has written on organizational analysis, particularly nonprofit and cultural organization, on art participation patterns, and cultural conflict in the U.S. He is currently studying social inequity implications of new digital technologies.

In this paper, DiMaggio presents a new framework “to analyze the relationships between social structure, patterns of artistic consumption and production, and the ways in which artistic genres are classified” (440). The societal level study of artistic systems provides insights into the menus of production, drivers of demand, and how artistic innovations reflect a society’s social milieu. The arts constitute today’s “common cultural currency” (443), thus he proposes these four dimensions of artistic classification systems (ACSs):

  1. differentiation: the number of genres in an ACS
  2. hierarchy: reflects the “degree of concentration of cultural authority” (447)
  3. universality
  4. boundary strength: the degree to which production and consumption are protected; “function of structural consolidation” (449)

These dimensions are affected by: formal characteristics of social structures, the organization of educational systems, and the internal relations between cultural dimensions. Importantly, different societies express each ACS dimensions differently, expressing particular cognitive and organizational aspects.

Taste is socially significant as “a form of ritual identification” (443) that helps establish social networks and attainment of desirable personal connections. To have good taste is to possess cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1985, 1986), which can then be substituted for economic capital. (Elsewhere DiMaggio has said that the communications revolution has expanded the social range of actors, “most status cultures are located in diffuse networks” [445].)

There are three mediating systems of production and each one expresses the ACS dimensions in whatever ways suit their objectives:

  1. commercial: producers, seeking profits, will proffer “more weakly framed genres than…ritual classification” (449)
  2. professionals: artists, aiming to establish reputations, produce “narrower, less universal” (449) variations among genres
  3. administrative: governments regulate, so they tend to be “variable” (450

DiMaggio concludes by proposing that the American erosion of cultural boundaries owes to these intersecting factors: the transition of local upper class to national elite, the rise of commercial classification principles with the rise of popular culture, the development of autonomous and competing high-culture art worlds, and the modern state’s mass higher education policy.


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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Cultural Economy, Minor Field, Research Fields


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