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Counting Taste as Cultural Capital: Variable Decorative Material Culture in 32 Urban Houses

Angela Orlando

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 90


Bourdieu hypothesized that people belonging to similar classes had similar tastes in art objects. By peering into the private living spaces of 32 self-identified middle-class families scattered throughout Los Angeles County, this working paper compares the primarily decorative objects displayed in four of the houses’ most publicly visible rooms: the living rooms, dining rooms, family rooms, and foyers. It inquires into the relationships between taste and variables differentiating the households, using four subsets of hypotheses involving quantity and density of objects in the homes, socioeconomic status, marital satisfaction, and gender. While the sample proved too small for rigorous statistical analysis, aggregate patterns led to new ways of thinking about taste preferences. This study suggests that household objects, especially those objects that might at first seem non-utilitarian, speak silent volumes about their owners’ cultural capital. Further, it suggests that class, and the cultural capital upon which it partially depends, is but one variable contributing to people’s relationship with their household aesthetic.

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