Just Sociology

Herbert J Gans: An Alternative Perspective on Culture’s Value and Limitations

Herbert J. Gans, an American sociologist, and author, is best known for his theory on culture.

Gans, who lived through different stages of American social development, observes the practices, ideologies, beliefs, and values that people entertain in different social classes, ethnicities, and geographical regions. This article will delve into Gans’s types of culture, starting with high culture to total cultures, partial cultures, and the hierarchy of tastes.

The second segment will explore Gans’s perspective on culture and its value, including his criticism of mass cultural theorists, plurality in popular culture, and flexibility of cultural choices.

Types of Culture

High Culture

High culture refers to the culture consumed by the upper class, with their sophisticated tastes in art, music, and literature. High culture caters to the social class and psychological issues of the elites, and the appreciation for such art forms expresses their refinement and intellectual prowess.

High culture, according to Gans, serves as an object of exclusion, where elites differentiate themselves from commoners by having the ability to understand and appreciate high culture to its fullest expression.

Upper-Middle Culture

The well-educated middle class consumed upper-middle culture. This group’s taste focuses on fiction with well-defined plots, a rejection of experimental and vulgar works, and consumption of classic literature.

While the elites consider fiction as a lower form of literature, the middle class wanted to read fiction. This is because it embellishes and dramatizes aspects of life that they could relate to.

Lower-Middle Class Culture

The lower-middle-class culture is primarily shown through activities such as reading Cosmopolitan magazines, watching action films, listening to country music, and reading tabloid newspapers. Gans argues that the lower-middle-class consumption of culture is guided by a desire to enjoy life in their financially limited sphere.

Their form of culture is predominantly a reflection of their blue-collar jobs, working-class culture, and elementary education levels.

Quasi Folk Culture

Unlike folk culture, which is a product of self-expression and identity preservation of a specific community, Quasi-folk culture is a blend of pre-World War II and commercialism. This form of culture is enjoyed by the blue-collar workers and rural poor.

Gans suggests that Quasi-folk culture is a source of a community’s pride, identity, and a form of escapism from the rigors of working-class life.

Total Cultures

Total cultures create an intense sense of community among its members. The members share political, religious, communal, or neo-dadaist values.

Total cultures typically attract people from diverse class backgrounds while maintaining uniform participation. Gans posits that these cultures are sensitive to hierarchy and have strong divisions between insiders and outsiders.

Partial Cultures

Partial Cultures are ethnic cultures or part-time versions of total cultures. Partial cultures are closer to mainstream society, and their values are more easily assimilated by people in power.

They are commercially exploited to appeal to consumers and do not share the same sense of community as total cultures.

Hierarchy of Tastes

The hierarchy of tastes is a social class hierarchy that classifies cultural activities as high or low culture. High culture is deemed sophisticated, culturally refined, and more abstract, thereby gaining more social esteem than low culture.

Gans emphasizes that the social hierarchy of tastes is closely linked to the social class. Gans’s Perspective on Culture and its Value

Criticism of Mass Cultural Theorists

Mass cultural theorists, such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, view popular culture from a negative perspective, arguing that it only provides entertainment value and numbs people’s critical faculties. Gans disagrees with this viewpoint, arguing that popular culture offers a plurality of meanings and interpretations.

He views it as a reflection of people’s lived experiences, and it offers opportunities that allow the middle and the lower class to express themselves in a way that is distinct from what their social class tells them they ought to be.

Plurality in Popular Culture

According to Gans, popular culture offers a plurality of meanings and interpretations, often catering to the diverse cultural differences across class and ethnic lines. A single TV program, for instance, can be watched for different reasons by different people of varying cultural backgrounds.

Therefore, the meaning and significance of popular culture vary from individual to individual and often contain a depth that mass cultural theorists do not recognize.

Flexibility of Cultural Choices

Gans believes that there are no hard and fast barriers between taste cultures. An individual can move freely between taste cultures and may participate in activities that belong to different taste cultures.

As people move up in social class, they often shift their cultural interests to reflect their new higher social position. Therefore, the flexibility of cultural choices allows individuals to continuously create their own distinct cultural identity without regard to class distinctions.

Conclusion

This article has examined Herbert J. Gans’s types of culture and his perspective on culture and its value.

The study concludes that Gans provides an alternative view of culture that celebrates the plurality of meanings, interpretations, and values that popular culture can offer. He posits that while there are social hierarchies in the cultural activities that people engage in, cultural choices are not hard and fast barriers between taste cultures.

Gans’s theories offer a rich canvas for interrogating and understanding the complex nature of culture.Herbert J. Gans’ perspective on culture has become a notable contribution to the study of sociology over the years.

His argument that popular culture is a reflection of social identity and offers a plurality of meanings has challenged the popular view of mass cultural theorists such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who view popular culture as a numbing agent. While some scholars find Gans’s perspective immensely useful, others find his ideas limiting.

Therefore, this article evaluates Gans’s perspective, focusing on its value and limitations. Value of Gans’ Perspective

Gans offers a distinctive perspective on culture that argues against the popular view of mass cultural theorists.

He offers an alternative view of popular culture and its value, highlighting its plurality of meanings, interpretations, and values. Gans suggests that popular culture offers people from different social backgrounds the opportunity to define their cultural identities without regards to social class.

His perspective on culture is significant in the following ways.

Useful for Criticizing Critics of Mass Culture

One of the most significant values of Gans’s perspective is that he provides a useful critique of the mass cultural theorists’ position. In particular, Gans argues that mass cultural theorists view popular culture solely through the lens of entertainment value and that it numbs people’s critical faculties.

Gans’ response to this view is a more nuanced consideration of the ways in which popular culture reflects people’s lived experiences and offers opportunities for people to express themselves in a way that is distinct from their social class. Gans’s perspective is beneficial for scholars of culture to challenge the mass cultural theorists’ view of culture and their approach to the study of cultural representation.

Accurate Representation of Cultural Plurality

Gans’s perspective is also valuable because of its accurate representation of the plurality of meanings, interpretations, and values that exist in popular culture. Popular culture offers a diversity of meanings, and a single TV program, for instance, can be watched for different reasons by different people of varying cultural backgrounds.

Gans’ perspective reveals the ways in which the interpretation of popular culture depends on people’s perspectives and experiences. Therefore, this perspective is useful for providing a more accurate and nuanced understanding of cultural plurality.

Limitations of Gans’ Perspective

While Gans’s perspective on culture is valuable, it also has its limitations. In particular, some scholars criticize Gans for his respect for high culture over other forms of culture and his potential for oversimplifying cultural divisions within American society.

Respect for High Culture over Other Forms of Culture

One significant limitation of Gans’s perspective is the respect he shows for high culture over other forms of culture. Gans argues that high culture is a sophisticated form of art that caters to the social class and psychological issues of the elites.

However, his over-valuation of high culture risks placing other forms of culture, such as popular culture or folk culture, in an inferior position. Critics argue that Gans fails to recognize the cultural value of other forms of culture, which are primarily consumed by the working-class people.

While Gans recognizes the value of popular culture, he doesn’t give it as much recognition as high culture, which scholars view as concerning in terms of cultural representation.

Potential Oversimplification of Cultural Divisions in America

Another limitation of Gans’s perspective is the potential for oversimplification in his classification of culture. While Gans’s classification of culture offers a broad understanding of cultural divisions, it has the potential to oversimplify cultural divisions within American society.

Gans’s classification of culture is based on the social class structure of the American society, which conceals the significance of other cultural identities such as race, ethnicity, and sexuality. Critics argue that Gans fails to address the complexities of cultural identity beyond class structures, which limits the application of his perspective in more diverse societies.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Herbert J. Gans’s perspective on culture offers alternative insights into cultural production, consumption, and representation that challenge mass cultural theorist’s views.

His perspective provides valuable critiques of the mass cultural theorists’ approach to cultural representation and their underestimation of popular culture’s plurality. However, Gans’s perspective also has limitations.

It risks placing high culture over low culture and potentially oversimplifying cultural divisions within American society. Therefore, while Gans’s perspective offers insightful ideas that can advance the study of sociology, it is crucial to recognize the limitations of its application in the study of culture.

In summary, this article explores Herbert J. Gans’s types of culture and his perspective on culture and its value.

Gans challenges the popular view of mass cultural theorists and offers an alternative view of popular culture, stressing its plurality of meanings, interpretations, and values. While Gans’s perspective has limitations, his contributions provide valuable insights into cultural production, consumption, and representation, making this perspective essential within the field of sociology.

FAQs:

1. What is Gans’s theory on types of culture?

Gans’s theory on culture proposes different types of culture such as high culture, upper-middle culture, lower-middle class culture, quasi-folk culture, total cultures, partial cultures, and hierarchy of tastes. 2.

What is Gans’s perspective on culture and its value? Gans’s perspective on culture challenges the view of mass cultural theorists by arguing that popular culture offers a plurality of meanings, interpretations, and values.

3. What criticisms has Gans received concerning his perspective on culture?

Critics argue that Gans fails to recognize the cultural value of other forms of culture, such as popular culture, and oversimplifies cultural divisions within American society. 4.

What are the benefits of Gans’s perspective on culture? One of the benefits of Gans’s perspective is that it offers a valuable critique of popular cultural theorists’ position and provides an accurate representation of the plurality of meanings and values in popular culture.

5. What is the value of understanding cultural plurality?

Understanding cultural plurality allows for insight into the diversity of meanings, values, and perspectives people bring to cultural artifacts and practices, which can help us create a more inclusive and just society.

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