Music tastes, “fervent eclecticism,” and cultural omnivores

A review of the new TV series High Fidelity suggests musical snobbery has changed:

So how are we to think about the key motto—“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like”—referenced in all three versions of High Fidelity? Hornby’s aphorism might sound outdated in the era of identity politics, when Twitter’s brawls over art can make independent aesthetic judgments seem secondary to proudly lining up with one’s tribe. Hulu’s High Fidelity does, refreshingly, correct the exclusionary spirit that went with the original’s lack of diversity. Yet crucially, the series retains the assurance that music preferences reflect something individual, ineffable, soul-deep, and in need of sharing. Kravitz’s Robin—a brooding biracial and bisexual space cadet enamored of the Beastie Boys, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, and the folk singer Nick Drake—eludes any image neatly tied to race, gender, or sexuality. In one hilarious subplot that highlights taste as an idiosyncratic proxy for identity, Cherise posts a flyer looking for bandmates in sync with her ideal sound: “Think Brian Eno producing Beyoncé fronting Soul Coughing but with Daniel Ash on guitar.”

Such fervent eclecticism is countercultural in any era, because by definition it flouts paradigms. Here it represents another way in which the new High Fidelity audiophiles feel they have, as Cherise puts it at one point, “opted out” of their own algorithm-obedient generation. But they’re not quite the oddballs they think they are. Genre boundaries have been melting in popular music lately, and the quest for self-definition through sound is no niche practice. As I write this, my social feeds are full of people sharing their personalized Spotify report on their most-listened-to songs of the year. Some users are LOLing at the quirkiness of their habits (one friend’s top five artists of 2019 included ultra-glossy contemporary country, hard-edged underground rap, and the Barenaked Ladies). Others cheekily revel in the stereotypes it turns out they’ve fallen into (“so gay,” texts someone whose No. 1 was Carly Rae Jepsen). I’m not seeing a lot of mockery; I am seeing a lot of curiosity, amusement, and discussion. The tools of High Fidelity’s rankers and curators have been democratized, and of course not everyone is going to use them for esoteric adventures. If you’ve got a problem with that, you might be a snob.

This reminds me of sociological research on “cultural omnivores”:

The term cultural omnivorousness was first introduced to the cultural consumption literature by Richard Peterson, in 1992, to refer to a particular cultural appreciation profile. According to his definition, this profile emerged in the late 20th century, in accordance with macro changes experienced in the socioeconomic and political spheres. Omnivorous consumers have an increased breadth of cultural taste and a willingness to cross established hierarchical cultural genre boundaries. In other words, the concept refers to a taste profile that includes both highbrow and lowbrow genres…The omnivore thesis is extremely important for contemporary cultural theory because it pushes researchers to scrutinize the current status of the relationship between culture and power. The contributors to this debate have provided competing answers to the following crucial questions: What is the strength and direction of the association between socioeconomic status and cultural taste? Are we witnessing the decomposition of cultural-class boundaries and snobbishness? How far does cultural omnivorousness bring tolerance and cultural inclusion? These questions, asked within the debate, demonstrate the concept’s significance for our understanding of sociocultural change. Many case studies have shown that eclectic repertoires are more likely to be embodied by the educated middle classes. Peterson himself argued that the employment market has begun to seek this kind of wide-range awareness and cultural inclusiveness. It seems that being a true omnivore requires certain skills, investment, and prior cultural knowledge, which can be translated into advantages in other social fields. Moreover, empirical research is now sufficient enough to show that omnivores are selective and they show little tolerance for the genres associated with lower social/cultural status. Therefore, this repertoire may very well be considered a new form of distinction—a strategy the economically and culturally advantaged use to “make” their identity and distinguish themselves from others.

In short, research shows that tastes in music and other realms is connected to social class. A way to differentiate your tastes from someone else is to have a wider repertoire, particularly for those with resources. Extending this review a bit, then perhaps cultural omnivorousness has spread from those with educational and financial capital to broader segments of society. Could being a cultural omnivore be something more people now aspire to or admire?

Becoming a cultural omnivore and expressing this in daily life is another avenue worth exploring. In High Fidelity, this took place within a record shop where selling music provided the backdrop for ongoing conversations about music. In daily life today, cultural omnivores or those who want to be might have different experiences. Is it easier to be an omnivore with all the streaming music services that allow access to different artists, genres, and songs? While the music supply has expanded, where do conversations about music or extended interactions regarding music now take place?

Finally, fitting these kinds of tastes in music and other cultural products with broader senses of identity (race, gender, class, etc.) could be fascinating. Is being a cultural omnivore still elitist or tied to particular kinds of people? Or, are there multiple ways to be a cultural omnivore that draw on different identities?

Speculation: more Americans choose to pursue unretirement to find meaning

Various data points show more Americans continuing to work even when do not need the money at retirement age:

Unretirement is becoming more common, researchers report. A 2010 analysis by Nicole Maestas, an economist at Harvard Medical School, found that more than a quarter of retirees later resumed working. A more recent survey, from RAND Corporation, the nonprofit research firm, published in 2017, found almost 40 percent of workers over 65 had previously, at some point, retired…

Even more people might resume working if they could find attractive options. “We asked people over 50 who weren’t working, or looking for a job, whether they’d return if the right opportunity came along,” Dr. Mullen said. “About half said yes.”

Why go back to work? We hear endless warnings about Americans having failed to save enough, and the need for income does motivate some returning workers. But Dr. Maestas, using longitudinal data from the national Health and Retirement Study, has found that the decision to resume working doesn’t usually stem from unexpected financial problems or health expenses…

Researchers note that older workers have different needs. “Younger workers need the paycheck,” Dr. Mullen said. “Older jobseekers look for more autonomy, control over the pace of work. They’re less concerned about benefits. They can think about broader things, like whether the work is meaningful and stimulating.”

One of the primary ways that adult Americans find meaning is in their jobs. Not only does a job help pay the bills, a job has become a reflection of who you are. Think of that normal question that leads off many an adult conversation: “What do you do?” With a shift away from manufacturing and manual labor jobs, service and white-collar jobs can encourage the idea that our personality and skills are intimately tied up with our profession.
Put this emphasis on an identity rooted in a job or career together with a declining engagement in civic groups and a mistrust in institutions. Americans are choosing to interact less with a variety of social groups and this means they have fewer opportunities to find an identity based in those organizations. We are told to be our own people.
Imagine a different kind of retirement than the one depicted in this article: older Americans finish a long working career and then find time to get involved with extended family life or various causes, secular and religious, where they can provide both expertise and labor. Where would many congregations or civic groups be without the contributions of those who are retired and now can devote some more time to the public good? What if the child care needs that many younger families face be met with grandparents who could consistently help? What if retired Americans could regularly mentor children and teenagers who would benefit from wise counsel and a listening ear? That is not to say there are not plenty of retirees who do these things; however, this approach involves a broader look at life satisfaction that goes beyond a paying job.

Study suggests Millennials see diversity as “different experiences”

A recent study looked at how Millennials approach diversity:

Millennials seem to be tilting toward that latter, more easily attainable vision. A recent study from Deloitte and the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, found that when it comes to defining diversity, rather than focusing on demographic features, such as race, or gender, Millennials—those born roughly between 1980 and 2000—are more concerned with hiring those who may have different cognitive viewpoints due to growing up in a different part of the country, or attending a different type of school. Differences in race or gender can play a role in those differing viewpoints, but they may not be singled out as important diversifying characteristics. “Diversity means to me your background based on your previous work experience, where you were born and raised, and any unique factors that contribute to your personality and behavior,” said one Millennial who was surveyed.

This is a departure from what older generations understand diversity to mean. “Millennials frame diversity as a means to a business outcome, which is in stark contrast to older generations that view diversity through the lens of morality (the right thing to do), compliance, and equality,” the study of more than 3,700 individuals spanning different generations, races, and genders found. According to Christie Smith, one of the study’s authors, this generation is already comfortable with the idea of diversity in a traditional sense and they’re looking to expand the definition, which could be a good thing…

Millennials are the most diverse group of young adults the nation has seen. And for some, that may mean that the idea of diversity, at least when it comes to race and ethnicity, feels like a given. Though inequalities that have existed for generations persist, some Millennials might think of them as less of a problem. But research, and current events, would show that may not be the case. “We live in a more diverse world in a superficial sense,” Wingfield says. “When we think about where we live, where we go to school, where we work, that type of diversity hasn’t really happened yet.” That creates a gap between perception and reality she says. “Millennials have this reputation for having adopted this more progressive, forward-thinking viewpoint—at the same time, a lot of the institutions that structure their lives really haven’t changed so much.”

This could turn out to be diversity based on individualism and personal identity as opposed to any large-scale understanding of how different social markers, such as race, class, or gender, contribute to different life chances. And the broader data in the United States continues to suggest that those broader social forces still have a large impact on people’s lives.

Estimate that 8.3% of Americans changed racial or ethnic identity between the 2000 and 2010 Census

A new study provides a reminder of the fluidity of racial and ethnic identities as a number of Americans reported different identities on the 2000 and 2010 Census:

The report showed that 1 in 16 people — or approximately 9.8 million of 162 million — who responded to both the 2000 and 2010 censuses gave different answers when it came to race and ethnicity.If extrapolated across the entire population, that would mean that 8.3 percent of people in the United States would have made a change in their racial or ethnic identity in that decade, according to the paper authored by Sonya Rastogi, Leticia E. Fernandez, James M. Noon and Sharon R. Ennis of the U.S. Census Bureau and Carolyn A. Liebler of the University of Minnesota.

The largest change was from Hispanic (some other race) to Hispanic white, with 2.38 million people making that change on their census forms. But the next greatest change was from Hispanic white to Hispanic (some other race), with 1.2 million people deciding that designation fit them better. Put together, these two changes make up more than a third (37 percent) of the race/ethnicity changes in the report…

The groups most likely to change were people who were children and/or living in the West in 2000. That region also had a higher rate of interracial marriage, and multiple race reporting, the report said. The census defines the West as being Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The most stable groups were single-race, non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Asians, with those who checked those boxes staying with them in both censuses. People were also consistent with their Hispanic/non-Hispanic choices.

Those who make strong predictions about the demography of the United States in the coming decades have to contend with changes like this. It isn’t as easy as suggesting that the proportion of whites will continue to decline. What if more Hispanics see themselves as white? White as a category changed quite a bit in the past to include new immigrant groups and will likely continue to change in the future. All of this introduces uncertainty in thinking about how this could play out with contemporary debates, like with immigration.

It would also be interesting to compare the responses provided to the Census versus an everyday understanding of one’s racial and/or ethnic identity. The Census categories have their own history and may not always match lived realities.

When hating McMansions becomes part of a local identity

A BuzzFeed quiz about Bergen County, New Jersey suggests hating McMansions is a mark of local identity:

A new quiz posted on BuzzFeed tests takers’ Bergen County-ness, using malls, spray tanning, and wealth as some of the metrics. The quiz asks BuzzFeed readers to identify which things they’ve done before to see just how Bergen County they are.

Some of the indicators include whether or not you live within 10 minutes of more than two malls, know someone who got her nails done regularly in high school, hate McMansions, and know people who wear Juicy track suits and Tiffany charm bracelets.

Sure, it is an online quiz but this seems to be a popular means these days for establishing, or at least broadcasting, identity. The choice of McMansions as a critical marker is interesting because presumably it means there must be a decent number of them in Bergen County. After all, this is New Jersey, a place that has a lot of suburbs between Philadelphia and New York City. Are the McMansion residents not really Bergen Countiers? Is it fair to presume they are all outsiders chasing cheaper and bigger homes? This particular question sounds more like a means to differentiate between long-term residents of the county versus newer residents who moved into newer subdivisions. This sort of long-time resident versus newcomer has a long history in suburban areas, particularly in places that settlements long before post-World War II suburbanization.

The value of bringing gripping sociology into a continuation high school

Sociologist Victor Rios was recently invited to a Sacramento high school where students were engrossed by his story and book:

When Erin McChesney went to her principal with a new book for her high school English students, he was skeptical.

Consider the cover. The title, “Street Life: Poverty, Gangs and a Ph.D.,” is scrawled in a graffiti-style font. A cartoonish drawing depicts a man half-dressed in graduation regalia, half in trademark gangster attire.

But Bob Wilkerson, principal at Vista Nueva Career and Technical High School, agreed to read it. Not only did he give McChesney the green light to use it in her classroom, he assigned it to his entire staff to read during last year’s summer break. And after McChesney scraped together funds to bring the book’s author, Victor Rios, to campus, Wilkerson relished a day of watching his students engage so deeply in an educational opportunity.

“You know what? I’ve got to get these kids to read. I’ve got to help them read better,” said Wilkerson, a longtime educator. “What I have to think about – within reason – is what is best for my students. And if they’re going to read that – if they’re going to read the autobiography of Derek Jeter – I’m OK with that, because they’re reading.”

On Wednesday, Rios – a former Oakland gangster who teaches sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara – spent the morning at the continuation high school sharing his story and fielding questions about his path from gangs to academia. Speaking to an audience primarily filled with students of color from the impoverished neighborhoods surrounding the East Del Paso Heights campus, Rios spoke of his family’s struggles spanning from Mexico to a drug-infested Oakland neighborhood. He talked about poverty, racism, lack of opportunity, dropping out of a school system that did not engage him – and the teacher from that system who ultimately inspired him.

Sounds like a good learning experience. Additionally, it is good to see a sociologist using his work and life to help inspire others.

What other sociology texts might be similarly inspiring to high school students? Perhaps books of a similar ilk, ones that are both personal and interesting in terms of explaining social phenomena not easily understood, would work. Is appealing more to high schooler’s sense of identity formation and construction the way to go or can some of them understand a more structural approach? If I remember correctly, the sociology class offered at my high school (which I did not take) tended to rely on pop sociology books like Fast Food Nation.

Photographing suburban McMansions around the world

See pictures of large suburban homes around the world as well as read insights about the developments from the photographer:

After six years of travel to five different continents, Adolfsson has published Suburbia Gone Wild, a new photography book that goes in and around the model homes of wealthy cul-de-sacs in cities like Bangalore, Moscow, and Cairo. His discoveries reveal a world that continues to homogenize around emerging clusters of wealth aspiring to a particularly American brand of suburban life.

It wasn’t always easy for Adolfsson to capture these oddly beautiful shots of perfectly arranged kitchen pantries and opulent living rooms. His method was to photograph the model homes inside these developments, hiring locals to pretend to be a significant other who would then distract sales reps as he snuck off to take pictures around the house…

This copy+paste behavior is a result of America’s cultural dominance over the past five decades, exported through soap operas, movies, and magazines. I also think that the “lifestyle” fills a cultural gap as many of these countries didn’t have an upper middle class until recently and haven’t established a strong identity for this growing class yet…

I came to the realization that many of the residents living in these suburbs share a common identity with residents living in similar communities around the world, whether it’s Bangkok, Cairo, Moscow or São Paulo, than they do with their fellow countrymen living outside the gates of these suburbs. I think this is the beginning of a huge global shift where national identity is becoming less relevant.

Another cultural export of the United States of America.

I like the connection to a global/Americanized/suburbanized mentality. At the same time, this is only available to an upper-income section of global society so this is a limited group. It could get a lot more interesting if these people from around the world started gathering and interacting on a more consistent basis. Perhaps this is already happening in tourist spots, conferences, places of consumption (from retail to media), or corporate offices.

There would be a lot of room for research on how this global/suburban identity then meshes with more local identities. Critics have argued that suburbs within America have their own culture, full of everything from conformity to individualism (depending on which critic you listen to over the last six decades). But, the United States is now a suburban nation so the suburban identity is quite common and is expressed all over the place from movies to TV to books to politics. It would be a lot different in countries without an established suburban ethos.

The gendered tasks you do at work can affect the gendered work you do at home

A new study in the American Journal of Sociology looks at what men who work in female-dominated careers do at home:

When stacked up against men who have jobs where men and women are equally represented, men in gender-atypical jobs put in an extra hour each week on typically male housework. What’s more, these men’s wives stick to female-typed tasks, spending about four hours more each week cooking dinner, vacuuming or throwing in a load of laundry. Meanwhile, women who work in male-centric professions also tend to pursue more female-typed housework but not with the same consistency as men in female-dominated arenas — perhaps because they perceive it as less of a threat to their femininity. (It should also be noted that a different study in the Journal of Family Psychology found that doing housework after a day on the job isn’t good for anyone, regardless of gender.)

What’s going on here? It seems to be a manifestation of what sociologists call the “neutralization of gender deviance.” Or, in plainspeak, “men are trying to bolster their masculinity at home,” says Daniel Schneider, the study’s author and a doctoral student in sociology and social policy at Princeton University…

Truth be told, Schneider was surprised by the findings. He’d expected to discover that men in gender-typical jobs — a mechanic, for example — would spend more time at home working on car or home maintenance. By that logic, he also anticipated that men in male-atypical jobs would come home and do more cooking and cleaning-type housework typically associated with women.

But humans don’t always make sense. “The market and home are really intertwined and influence each other,” says Schneider. “But they are not necessarily intertwined in a rational way. Instead, they’re intertwined in a way that’s about cultural salience and the meaning of gender.”

In other words: gender norms and expectations influence how people act. If we were to interview men who work in more female fields, would they be able to describe this process discovered in survey data? Also,  I wonder if this is tied to the amount of time people spend at work.

More broadly, this is a reminder that what happens in our career or at the workplace has an influence on other areas of our life. On one hand, perhaps this seems fairly obvious: our culture is one where people are defined by their occupation and what they do. As I tell my students, when you meet people as an adult, the first or one of the first questions you tend to be asked is, “what do you do [for work, a living]?” These puts a lot of pressure on individuals to have meaningful jobs. On the other hand, we tend to act like we can compartmentalize work and home. This goes back into history as there was a separation of home and work only in the Industrial Revolution as jobs moved out of the household or close by to larger factories and offices owned by corporations. While technology may have blurred the lines in recent decades, we still tend to have strong physical and mental boundaries between home and work.

Considering how much time full-time workers put into their jobs today, it should be little surprise that it is hard to keep these spheres apart. At the same time, specifying how it affects other areas of our lives is worth considering.

Sociologist ties rooting for the Kansas City Royals to Midwestern values

The Kansas City Royals have a rich history including a 1985 World Series victory. However, the last two decades have been difficult: the team has had three winning seasons since 1990, no playoff visits during that time, and seven straight losing seasons. So why do fans keep rooting for the team? A sociologist suggests that rooting for the Royals is tied to Midwestern values:

Yet the Royals likely will sell out Kauffman Stadium on opening day, draw more than 2 million fans and continue to have a loyal following on the blogosphere.

“Loyalty in the face of hard times is a long-held Midwestern value, and dealing with hard times is a regular challenge for anyone whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and related businesses,” said Jay Coakley, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. “However, we must go deeper than this value to explain the loyalty of Royals fans over the past decade.”…

“The fans’ connection with a team becomes a part of their identity,” said Coakley, the author of the textbook “Sports in Society.”

“Fans everywhere reaffirm those identities for each other so that they feel special — and they often make a special point of doing this when teams are unsuccessful and they need extra reaffirmation to justify their support in the face of regular losses. Over time, this pattern of identity reaffirmation becomes regularized, and the fan identity serves as an important basis for their sense of self as well as their social lives and everyday conversations with fans and nonfans alike.

“Losses and losing seasons become topics of conversations much like the last hailstorm or dry season that ruined crops. Of course, some people eventually become weary of predictable bad times and leave their farms or fan identities behind.

“But many stick it out year after year because it is who they are, and giving up on yourself is a hard thing to do.”

Coakley is suggesting that an rooting interest in a sports team becomes internalized and the basis for a kind of community. Fans identify with the team and the city (see this recent post on the differences between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants). I wonder if we could look at the times that fans use the term “we” to refer both to themselves and the team to get an idea of how much these identities have merged.

But it is particularly interesting that Coakley ties fan’s devotion to the Royals to Midwestern values derived from farming and agriculture. Would a sociologist in Boston come up with a different cultural explanation for why Red Sox fans are so devoted? This seems like a fairly convenient explanation that might not hold up in other places.

Baylor opens 25% of board to non-Baptist Christians

American Christian colleges and universities have different structures in place in order to maintain their Christian distinctiveness. Baylor just made a change in their policy for their board:

While a number of Baptist colleges and universities in recent years have loosened or ended ties to state Baptist conventions, the move by Baylor is notable because it is widely considered the flagship university of Southern Baptists. The move came despite opposition from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which last year voted down a similar proposal by Houston Baptist University to permit the election of a minority of non-Baptist trustees there, with church leaders arguing at the time that allowing non-Baptist trustees would dilute the university’s religious identity…

Of Baylor’s 14,900 students, the university states that nearly 5,287 identify as Baptists — making them the largest religious group, but by no means a majority. The next largest groups are Roman Catholic (2,128), nondenominational Christians (2,091), and Methodists (1,156). Most of the other students identify with various Christian denominations, but the college also enrolls 125 Hindu students, 122 Muslim students, 84 Buddhist students, 22 Jewish students and 43 atheists.

Samuel Schuman, who studied Baylor for his 2009 book, Seeing the Light: Religious Colleges in 21st Century America (Johns Hopkins University Press), called the vote by the university’s board both “significant and inevitable.” He explained that “there has been tension for quite a while at Baylor about aspirations to be a national research university and their strict Southern Baptist tradition, and I think it was almost inevitable that something would have to give a bit.”

If we can take Schuman at his word, then this sounds like a common struggle for Christian schools: maintaining distinctiveness while also pursuing education and status. Baylor is not the only school to struggle with this; the University of Notre Dame is an example of a Catholic institution that a decision decades ago to become a major research school while also maintaining its Catholic identity. Juggling these two identities, research school plus Christian school, takes a lot of work on the ground on a campus.