Bourdieu (1984) proposed the concept of “cultural capital,” which suggests that social class corresponds to cultural tastes, a notion that has sparked discussions about cultural hierarchy worldwide.
In contrast to the theory of cultural capital, it was found that American elites showed more eclectic tastes, ranging from high culture to popular culture (Peterson and Simkus 1992). With respect to this finding, Peterson (1992) proposed the concept of cultural omnivores, arguing that the narrow tastes of the upper class were gradually evolving into omnivorous taste with appreciation for various forms of culture. Omnivore theory thus shows that there has been a transition from “exclusivity” – as in the cultural capital theory of Bourdieu (1984) – to “tolerance.”
Many researchers have conducted studies to uncover the factors that determine the omnivorous tendencies in cultural consumption, and have found that the main factor is social class, which is usually determined by income and education level. This has been found to be the most influential variable across countries and cultures. In recent years, research has found personal beliefs, such as political stance and religion, to also be one of the factors at play in omnivorous consumption. In Italian society, for example, Cancellieri and Turrini (2018) report that those with a keen interest in politics displayed omnivorous consumption patterns and the religiously devout displayed voracious consumption patterns. In addition, Katz-Gerro and Jaeger (2012) found a positive relationship between religion and cultural omnivorous consumption.
The present study was conducted to examine whether these various factors also apply in South Korea.
The Impacts of Political Orientation on Omnivorousness
In their study examining whether an individual’s political interests influence omnivorous consumption of music, Cancellieri and Turrini (2018) found a notable positive correlation between political interest and diversity in music tastes.
People who are engaged in civic activities often wish to spend their free time on non-political activities such as attending the opera or watching television (Verba et al. 1997). The level of political interest and activity is rooted not only in personal tastes but also in social processes. Thus, political activities are formed by socially constructed experiences, and the same pattern is observed when it comes to cultural consumption.
Unlike in the Western world, where the class structure has remained relatively stable, in Korea the possibility for social mobility has increased during the turbulent past century, marked as it has been by the Japanese occupation and the Korean War (Choi and Lee 2012). Diverse social bonds motivate individuals to become politically involved (Zuckerman 2005). It is natural for networks, and bonds with one’s family, friends and neighbours, to influence political participation. Hence, the behaviour of an individual is influenced by the people around him or her, and social experiences can be assumed to lead to the same attitude in terms of cultural consumption. In particular, it can be inferred from the literature that those who take part in politics are characterized by a high level of education and household income (Gallego 2007) and that such people will exhibit omnivorous cultural participation.
Our study validates the relationship between active political participation and omnivore consumption. It also shows that those who are progressive tend to be more open about their cultural tastes.
Although the difference in cultural tastes between conservatives and progressives is not clearcut, progressives consume diverse cultural genres without bias.
The Impacts of Religion on Omnivorousness
Several studies have highlighted the relationship between religion and cultural consumption. For example, North and Hargreaves (2007) report that after controlling for certain variables such as education and age, a positive correlation was found between religious fervour and omnivorousness.
But according to other studies, the influence of religion on cultural consumption can vary depending on the country and the religion.
Religious people tend to have broad networks that support the diversity of their cultural consumption patterns (Katz-Gerro and Jaeger 2012). Therefore, religious activities can be viewed as a mechanism for forming social capital.
Religious people are more active when it comes to civic engagement and community life and spend their money and time more generously (Putnam and Campbell 2010). The more involved in the community a person is, the more tolerant s/he is, from which it may be inferred that s/he is more tolerant even when it comes to cultural tastes.
Our study shows that religious people consume more diverse cultural genres than non-religious people. This cultural attitude varies depending on the particular religion, with Catholics displaying the most omnivorous cultural consumption patterns, followed by Protestants and Buddhists. This difference is a result of the religious characteristics that are uniquely observed in Korea.
Networks within a religion that are closed to other religious groups have strong internal social capital but this does not usually extend to the society to which it belongs. This is deemed to be the reason why Protestants were revealed to have less diverse cultural tastes than Catholics, whose networks were found to be better connected externally.
The Impacts of Cultural Infrastructure on Omnivorousness
A person living in a large city with high cultural accessibility, for instance, will have an opportunity to consume diverse forms of culture (Alderson et al. 2007; Purhonen et al. 2010). Noting the role of location, Cutts and Widdop (2017)’s analysis shows that the supply of cultural products in an urban area is essential to the consumption habits of the omnivorous group.
In the case of South Korea, the desire to consume culture and the arts has been on the rise, in concert with the increase in income levels, since the 1990s. This trend has been accompanied by the establishment of municipal museums and theatres with implementation of the local government system.
Since performances and exhibitions at cultural facilities take place within a certain time and space, they need to be viewed on site. Thus, cultural facilities have considerable influence on the cultural consumption of local residents (Choi et al. 2017).
With the increased pace of life, free time is limited and location can be a factor in omnivorous cultural consumption in terms of accessibility. Also, individuals socially learn from – and are stimulated by – the activities of those around them (Agnew 1987). By sharing experiences with the people around them, individuals consider new cultural experiences and expand their cultural consumption.
However our study shows that the number of cultural facilities in a location had a negative impact on omnivorous consumption.
In Korea, the most common form of housing is apartments. Thus, people often see their neighbours and form a bond by exchanging information with them. People tend to rely on their neighbours’ reviews and to visit only those places in the community that have been approved by others.
These results indicate that trust formed through strong interpersonal bonds and social engagements is an important factor in individual consumption behaviour, due to the unique characteristics of Korean society.
Koreans often trust someone whom they have just met for the first time based on the fact that they are from the same town or the same clan (Lee and Yu 2010). Due to the unique cultural characteristics of Korea, people living in the same neighbourhood are able to form strong bonds; they trust and influence each other in terms of consumption behaviour.
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