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Cultural capital and social revolution: Arts consumption in a major Russian city, 1991–2017

Highlights•There exists repeated survey data on arts participation in Russia during the 1990s economic crisis.•High-brow culture is much less income elastic than lowbrow culture.•Economic decline of a group does not affect the prestige of its lifestyle.•Change of class structure does not affect cultural classification.•Increase in social mobility rates does not lead to increase in cultural mobility.AbstractWhat happens to cultural capital comprised of “prestigious cultural resources” when the whole system of economic inequality changes, and the group regarded as the major possessor and guardian of traditional status culture finds itself at the bottom of the new income distribution? The answer to this question may shed some light on two widely debated issues: (1) Is cultural capital essentially an instrument of exclusion adopted by economic-based classes, with the status dimension of social stratification being an epiphenomenon of class structure? (2) Is cultural participation governed by strategic status-seeking? This paper argues that possible combinations of answers to these questions suggest three different scenarios of reactions to the loosening of links between distribution of cultural and economic capital: “meltdown” (the failure of high culture to mark boundaries of an economically privileged group results in a considerable decline in cultural participation, particularly among younger individuals (DiMaggio & Mukhtar, 2004), “transfer” (status culture being taken over by the descendants of the new economically advantaged groups), and “permanence” (no significant change occurs). In this paper, we analyse a unique database which allows tracing arts participation rates by major categories of consumers in Saint Petersburg, Russia, between 1991 and 2017—the period of the emergence of capitalism, also widely regarded as the time of economic decline of the traditional Soviet intelligentsia. We argue that the evidence supports the permanence scenario, thus demonstrating the existence of an autonomous status hierarchy that can reproduce in generations irrespective of processes of re-distribution of wealth.

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