ICS Seminar Series - Tony Bennett, Michelle Kelly and Emma Waterton

Date: Thursday 21 September 2017
Time: 11.30am–1pm
Venue: EE.G.02 Wing, Western Sydney University, Parramatta South campus

Tony Bennett, Modesto Gayo (in absentia), Michelle Kelly and Emma Waterton

(Institute for Culture and Society)

Culture and Inequality in Australia


In this presentation we consider the light that the findings of the Australian Cultural Fields survey of cultural tastes and practices throw on the patterns of cultural inequality in contemporary Australia. These chiefly concern occupational class inequalities considered in their relations to levels of education, type of education, age and gender. We look at these in relation to three of the cultural fields examined in the survey: the literary, heritage, and television fields as illustrative of different levels and types of inequality. In the case of literature, we assess the evidence for the existence of a 'reading class' in Australia, and whether such a formation provides evidence of cultural inequality insofar as it corresponds to a literary elite. We investigate reading (and non-reading) practices across the population – but also how the cultural capital held by those with tertiary/postgraduate education and managerial/professional occupations translates into reading and book culture activities associated with highbrow or avant-garde literary tastes. With regard to heritage, previous studies on cultural capital have revealed it to be a quintessential ingredient of highbrow behaviour. The recently published Australian Heritage Strategy (2015), however, suggests otherwise, marking it out as something that might now be defined by openness and far-ranging levels of cultural engagement. This section of the presentation addresses this implied shift in engagement practices. In the case of television we consider the relations between platforms and devices, genre and channel preferences, and the intersections of class and age. We then look at how these – and the inequalities registered across the other fields included in the survey (art, sport, and music) – contribute to the formation of more general patterns of inequality shaped by the distributions of cultural capital across the Australian 'space of lifestyles' and their transmission via mechanisms of inheritance.


Tony Bennett is Research Professor in Social and Cultural Theory in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University. He is a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and of the Academy of the Social Sciences in the UK. His main books include Formalism and Marxism (1979), Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero (1987, with Janet Woollacott), Outside Literature (1991), The Birth of the Museum (1995), Culture: A Reformer's Science (1998), Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism (2004), and Making Culture, Changing Society (2013). He is also a co-author of Accounting for Tastes: Australian Everyday Cultures (1999), Culture, Class, Distinction (2009) and Collecting, Organising, Governing: Anthropology, Museums and Liberal Government (2017).

Modesto Gayo (in absentia) is currently Associate Professor at Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile. He was a Research Fellow at CRESC and the Department of Sociology at the University of Manchester while working on the Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion project (2003-2006). His areas of interest are: cultural inequalities and social reproduction, middle class theories on social stratification and politics, and theories on nationalism. He has researched extensively about cultural capital in United Kingdom, South America, particularly in Chile, and recently in Australia. He is a joint author of Culture, Class, Distinction (Routledge, 2009) with T. Bennett, M. Savage, E. Silva, A. Warde and D. Wright.

Michelle Kelly is the Senior Research Officer and Project Manager of 'Australian Cultural Fields: National and Transnational Dynamics', a Discovery Project funded by the Australian Research Council (DP140101970). She is also a Research Officer at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University. Her research interests include reading practices, public libraries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature, contemporary fiction, Australian literature, and publishing. She is co-editor of 'Transforming cultures? From Creative Nation to Creative Australia', a special section of Media International Australia (2016), and the volume The Politics and Aesthetics of Refusal (2007). She has published in Australian Literary Studies, Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, M/C Journal, and several edited collections.

Emma Waterton is an Associate Professor in the Geographies of Heritage at Western Sydney University, and an Institute Fellow in the Institute for Culture and Society. Her research explores the interface between heritage, identity, memory and affect. Her most recent project, funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), examined all four concepts at a range of heritage tourism sites in Australia, including Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, Sovereign Hill, Port Arthur Historic Site and Kakadu National Park. She is author of over 90 articles, books and chapters, including the monographs Politics, Policy and the Discourses of Heritage in Britain (2010), Heritage, Communities and Archaeology (with Laurajane Smith, 2009) and The Semiotics of Heritage Tourism (with Steve Watson, 2014).