Australian Culture, Inequalities and Social Divisions: Class, Politics and Taste

Social Sciences Week Australia: 7-13 September, 2020Fields, Capitals, Habitus' Book Cover

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Time: 2:00pm-3:30pm

Location: This event will be hosted online via Zoom. Please register on the EventBrite(opens in a new window) page to receive the Zoom details.

Format: A brief introduction followed by five short (ten-minute) presentations, an open discussion and concluding comments.


Professor Tony Bennett, Dr Michelle Kelly, Professor Greg Noble, Professor Deborah Stevenson, Associate Professor Liam Magee, and Emeritus Professor David Rowe, all of the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University.


We acknowledge that today's online event emanates from the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, which is situated on the country of the Burramattagal People of the Darug Nation. We acknowledge their ancestors who have been Traditional Owners of their country for tens of thousands of years, and pay our respect to Elders past and present.

Event Outline

This Social Sciences Week event arises from the now-completed Australian Research Council-funded project Australian Cultural Fields: National and Transnational Dynamics based at Western Sydney University. Among the project’s many publications is a major new book, Fields, Capitals, Habitus: Australian Culture, Inequalities and Social Divisions(opens in a new window) (Routledge 2020), edited by Tony Bennett, David Carter, Modesto Gayo, Michelle Kelly, and Greg Noble. The research offers an insightful analysis of the relations between culture and society in contemporary Australia, involving a detailed national survey and in-depth interviews of Australian cultural tastes and practices. It demonstrates the pivotal significance of the role that culture plays at the intersections of a range of social divisions and inequalities: between classes, age cohorts, ethnicities, genders, city and country, and the relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Presenters will address selected elements of Australians’ cultural preferences across six cultural fields (the visual arts, literature, music, heritage, television and sport) and how they interact within the Australian ‘space of lifestyles’. Australian Culture, Inequalities and Social Divisions: Class, Politics and Taste pays close attention to social class, including the role of ‘middlebrow’ cultures in Australia and of new forms of Indigenous cultural capital in the emergence of an Indigenous middle class. It also explores aspects of the gendered, political, personal and community associations of cultural tastes across Australia’s Anglo-Celtic, Italian, Lebanese, Chinese and Indian populations. In so doing, the event illuminates the formations of cultural capital in Australia as a multicultural settler colonial society in challenging common claims that culture is just a matter of personal taste.

More information about the Australian Cultural Fields project can be found on the project website(opens in a new window).

The research team partnered with the ABC to develop an online survey to give the Australian public the chance to reflect on their personal cultural tastes. This short quiz on tastes in music, television and literature enables participants to get a sense of how their age, gender, level of education and social class shape the distinctive pattern of their cultural tastes and interests. Over 750,00 people have taken the cultural taste quiz so far. Take the quiz(opens in a new window).


1. Culture and Social Divisions: Social Class, Education, Age

Tony Bennett

The Australian Cultural Fields data show that, generally speaking, the cultural tastes and activities of Australians are most significantly differentiated along lines in which the forces of social class and education interact with one another. This presentation will offer an overview of these intersecting divisions by considering the connections between different aspects of education – level, type of school attended, parental level of education – and different class positions, and the different ways in which they influence cultural tastes and practices in art, literature, music, sport, heritage and television. It will also discuss how the force of these factors in differentiating cultural activities is inflected by the role of age in ways that underline the changing dynamics of socio-cultural distinction in contemporary Australia.

2. Indigenous Cultural Tastes and Capitals: Gendered and Class Formations

Michelle Kelly

This presentation investigates the differences and similarities between the tastes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous participants in a national survey of cultural tastes and practices. It reviews how Indigenous cultural tastes and practices are internally differentiated according to class and gender, and the differentiations of Indigenous taste most strongly associated with particular cultural fields. I pay particular attention to the role played by distinctive forms of Indigenous cultural capital in emerging class differences among Indigenous Australians.

3. Ethnoscapes of Taste in Australia

Greg Noble

This presentation will draw on findings from the Australian Cultural Fields project to explore the impact of migration, multiculturalism and transnationalisation on patterns of cultural consumption. It examines ethno-specific patterns of taste and how they have reshaped ‘mainstream’ tastes. It suggests, however, that we can’t treat ethnicities as coherent or given categories, but rather should see them as consisting in complex ‘ethnoscapes’ (Appadurai 1996) which reconfigure the relations between ethnicity and cultural hierarchies of taste in a dynamic and complex set of issues.

4. Capital Geographies: Mapping the Spaces of Urban Cultural Capital

Liam Magee and Deborah Stevenson

With reference to the Australian Cultural Fields survey data for metropolitan Sydney, this presentation probes the urban dimensions of contemporary cultural capital and the consumption of culture. It shows that, rather than pulling cultural capital toward the city centre, patterns of participation in some fields indicate more diffuse spatial distributions. Less dependent upon monumental cultural and civic infrastructure, capital circulates and accumulates through communication and media networks, as well as through the suburban spaces of intimacy: the home, the car, and the personal space created by headphones and smart devices. Indeed, urban cultural capital is revealed to be variable, contested and multi-spatial.

5. Consuming Politics: Culture, Nation and the Global

David Rowe

This presentation focuses on the political dimensions of cultural consumption regarding views involving both key political issues and broader orientations to politics that emerged in the Australian Cultural Fields household interviews. Taking a wide-ranging approach to the political, it shows how discussions of cultural consumption draw people to diverse issues including national identity, migration, Indigenous Australia, multiculturalism, Americanisation, globalisation, racism, community and commerce. The focus here is on the ways in which politics and cultural consumption are interwoven, producing complex relations to the nation, cultural diversity and the larger global context within and between different social positions. Participants’ accounts are shown to demonstrate the centrality of ambivalence in our relations both to questions of cultural value and of the nation.


Tony Bennett is Research Professor in Social and Cultural Theory in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and of the Academy of the Social Sciences in the UK, and has held previous professorial positions at Griffith University, The Open University, and The University of Melbourne. His research spans the fields of cultural studies, cultural sociology, and museum studies, and he has served as a director of nationally-funded research centres in Australia and the UK. Professor Bennett is author/editor of over 30 books. His most recent publications include Making Culture, Changing Society (2013), Collecting, Organising, Governing: Anthropology, Museums and Liberal Government (co-author, 2017), Museums, Power, Knowledge (2018), Fields, Capitals, Habitus: Australian Culture, Social Divisions and Inequalities (convening author and editor, 2020), and The Australian Art Field: Practices, Policies, Institutions (convening editor, 2020). He was awarded the 2016 Gerbrands Laureate by the Foundation for Ethnology of Leiden in recognition of his work on the relations between museums and anthropology.

Michelle Kelly is Research Officer at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. Previously, she was the Senior Research Officer and Project Manager of the Australian Cultural Fields: National and Transnational Dynamics Discovery Project funded by the Australian Research Council (DP140101970). She is co-editor of Fields, Capitals, Habitus: Australian Culture, Inequalities and Social Divisions and Inequalities (2020), ‘Transforming Cultures? From Creative Nation to Creative Australia’, a themed section of Media International Australia (2016), and The Politics and Aesthetics of Refusal (2007). Dr Kelly has published in Sydney Review of Books, Australian Literary Studies, Continuum, Rhizomes, M/C Journal and several edited collections.

Liam Magee is Principal Research Fellow in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. His research concentrates on cities, the environment and digital technologies, with particular interests in the role of statistics, machine learning and games in the study of society. Associate Professor Magee has authored or co-authored two books, Towards a Semantic Web (2011) and Interwoven Cities (2016), and has contributed articles to many and various journals, including Geoforum, Information, Communication & Society, Big Data & Society, Journal of Urban Affairs, Environment and Planning C and Nature Climate Change.

Greg Noble is Professor at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University. He has been involved in research in multiculturalism for over 30 years, with a special interest in the relations between youth, ethnicity and gender; migration and intercultural relations; cultural pedagogies; Bourdieusian theory; multicultural education and cultural complexity. He is the author or editor of 10 books, including: Fields, Capitals, Habitus (2020), Convivialities (2018), Cultural Pedagogies and Human Conduct (2015), Disposed to Learn (2013), On Being Lebanese in Australia (2010) and Bin Laden in the Suburbs (2004).

David Rowe, FAHA, FASSA is Emeritus Professor of Cultural Research, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University; Honorary Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Bath; and Research Associate, Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London. His main research interests are in the sociology of culture and media, especially sport, leisure, and journalism. His books include Global Media Sport: Flows, Forms and Futures (2011); Sport Beyond Television (co-authored, 2012); Sport, Public Broadcasting, and Cultural Citizenship: Signal Lost? (co-edited, 2014), and Making Culture: Commercialisation, Transnationalism, and the State of ‘Nationing’ in Contemporary Australia (co-edited, 2018). A frequent media commentator on socio-cultural issues, in 2018 Professor Rowe received the Australian Sociological Association Distinguished Service to Sociology Award and was named Top Researcher in the Field of Communication in The Australian’s 2019 Research Magazine. In 2020 he received the Sport Communication Interest Group, International Communication Association Legacy Award for lifetime scholarly achievement.

Deborah Stevenson is Professor of Sociology and Urban Cultural Research in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. Her research is focused on arts and cultural policy, cities and urban life, and the role of gender in shaping creative practice and cultural consumption. Professor Stevenson’s research program has been supported by external funding from a range of sources, with her most recent Australian Research Council (ARC) project being ‘UNESCO and the Making of Global Cultural Policy’. Her many publications include the books Cities and Urban Cultures (2003), Cities of Culture: A Global Perspective (2017), and The City (2013). Professor Stevenson’s latest monograph Cultural Policy Beyond the Economy: Work, Value and the Social is due for publication in 2021, while the co-edited Routledge Companion to Urban Media and Communication and The Australian Art Field: Practices, Policies, Institutions were both published in 2020.