Thesis Award for research on cultural omnivores: “Cultural taste says a lot about your social position”
Master’s student of Sociology Romy Oomens has won the Mens & Maatschappij Master’s Thesis Award with her study of the phenomenon of ‘cultural omnivorism’. Her study will be published in the academic journal of the same name. Romy investigated whether educational level and intergenerational mobility cause people to develop a more exclusive or, on the contrary, a broader cultural taste.
“It feels as a great honor to win this Award. Especially as a student at this university of the Humanities and Social Sciences.” Romy Oomens, who is now working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology. “I am the first among my close relatives to have gone to university. I have always had the feeling that this has broadened my cultural horizon. So I was interested in doing research on the effect of educational level and upward mobility on cultural taste. Research has been done for decades on the extent to which cultural taste, whether it is about music, literature, food, or other leisure activities, correlates with socio-economic status. Surprisingly enough, after thirty years, the results remain ambiguous. With my research, I tried to find an explanation for this ambiguity.”
One existing theory states that highly educated people distinguish themselves from less educated people by their very exclusive tastes from which they do not deviate, for instance, classical music and starred restaurants. A different theory argues that the highly educated can be described as cultural omnivores because of their broad, inclusive taste. Romy Oomens discovered that the two theories need not be mutually exclusive. “You can roughly distinguish four groups, including highly educated cultural ‘snobs’ and highly educated cultural omnivores. One difference is age: the cultural ‘snobs’ are often older. The omnivores constitute a younger age group.”
“There is a limit to what real omnivores can take in, though. Not everything is considered to be in good taste. This is largely culturally determined. In het United Kingdom, that my study relates to, the cultural omnivores draw the line at country music. Other studies have shown that, in the United States, metal is a no-no. This shows that the tastes of omnivores are not as heterogeneous as we might think. Still, these highly educated omnivores are more tolerant than the highly educated cultural ‘snobs’, suggesting a growing connectedness with different groups in society. The downside is that this ‘omnivorism’ can give people the feeling of not really belonging anywhere. They are on thin ice because cultural taste says a lot about your social position.”
The Mens & Maatschappij Master’s Thesis Award is presented every year by a professional jury of social scientists from different Dutch universities. The theses are assessed based on both the quality of the research and its relevance for the social sciences. Mens & Maatschappij is an academic journal that is published four times a year. Romy’s study can be read here: https://www.aup-online.com/content/journals/10.5117/MEM2023.2.002.OOME.