The Omnivore Debate: An Article Review
van Eijk, Koen and John Lievens. 2008. “Cultural Omnivorousness as a Combination of Highbrow, Pop, and Folk Elements: The Relation Between Taste Patterns and Attitudes Concerning Social Integration.” Poetics 36. 217-242.
While most scholars acknowledge the elusiveness that the term “culture” invokes, perhaps even more tenuous is the understanding of preferential taste of particular aspects of culture (i.e., taste in music, art, etc.). Certainly if it were easy enough to ask a group of people, “What do you like? And why do you like it?” there would be little—or at least, far less—debate on the subject; however, this is, of course, not the case. ...view middle of the document...
It is this that, rather than enhancing the reading, detracts from it overall.
Contrary to what one would expect, the authors’ well-versed familiarity with their subject weakens the text by eliminating most, if not all, accessibility to outsiders with fresh or new perspectives. Van Eijk and Lievens are so comfortable with their study that they assume anyone reading their work is actually already a cultural scholar. Without the context of their previous works as well as that of other scholar’s works, one would easily be lost in the density of the text. I find this to be incredibly unfortunate as it is nigh impossible to share the contents of this article with friends, family, or colleagues who have no prior knowledge of the cultural omnivore debate or van Eijk’s and Lievens’s previous works, and thus this knowledge will likely remain confined to a particular group of scholars.
However, accessibility of information is not van Eijk’s and Lievens’s purpose in writing this piece. Rather, the duo’s intention is to “move the discussion about the cultural omnivore ahead” by differentiating different types of omnivores and by estimating “taste patterns...and attitudes concerning social integration” (2008: 218). The two scholars attempt to accomplish this by first breaking up taste patterns (what one likes or prefers) into three separate “cultural schemes” or culture-oriented categories: highbrow, pop, and folk, and, as such, an individual can then be defined as a culture omnivore when his or her taste pattern includes interests from more than one culture scheme (218). With the culture omnivore operationalized, van Eijk and Lievens move to discern the role that omnivorous cultural consumption plays in social integration and the maintenance of social networks. The authors focus on six attitudes related to social integration to infer the social implications that result from individuals falling into one or many combinations of the aforementioned culture schemes. The six attitudes are explained in full on page 225, but in short are listed as: utilitarian individualism, solidarity, social disorientation, social isolation, expressive individualism, and communitarianism.
To be sure, van Eijk and Lievens believe that by focusing on the people’s attitudes of others and society based on taste pattern and culture scheme categorization, they can better explore the different social implications that result from being a specific type of omnivore (i.e., one who likes pop-highbrow rather than highbrow-folk, etc.). They describe this quite aptly as on page 219 as follows: “different ways of being a cultural omnivore are expected to have different social implications, or reflect different attitudes”. Moreover, with the attitudes defined, the two authors go on to describe culture schemes. These are categorized as highbrow, folk, and pop, or high culture scheme, trivial scheme, and excitement scheme respectively (219) and are further defined as follows: