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Ways of preferring: Distinction through the 'what' and the 'how' of cultural consumption


Journal of Consumer Culture

Published online on


In this article, we contrast the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of cultural consumption. We use data from an audience survey in two art museums (n = 1448) and contrast manifested preferences towards artefacts of various artists – that is, (dis)liking Duchamp, Rubens, Kandinsky, Pollock and Van Gogh – with how people appropriate works of art. These ways of preferring are measured using items reflecting abstract evaluation criteria people use to assess/evaluate works of art and are considered proxies for aesthetic dispositions. Our results indicate that taste profiles – that is, certain combinations of (dis)liking different artists – are not very strongly related to socio-demographic characteristics and to social status position. However, among individuals having the same preferences, we find differences in ways of preferring. These differences are associated with socio-demographics and also with social inequality. This suggests that in the context of art museums, distinction is not – or only slightly – embedded in manifested preferences, but more in dispositions, that is, in ways of preferring. These findings corroborate theoretical challenges of the premise that dispositions are socialized into individuals and that this explains the social patterning of cultural practices and preferences.