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Distinction on the box: Cultural capital and the social space of broadcasting

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The literature on cultural capital has had relatively little to say about television viewing, except insofar as television has served as a negative point of reference in relation to which other cultural practices register their distinctiveness. This article, by contrast, examines the respects in which practices of distinction are operative within the space of broadcast television. Looking first at the ‘internal economy' of television as expressed in the relations between genre, programme and channel preferences, it then examines how these preferences are related to occupational class, gender, level of education and ethnicity. While showing that divisions within the space of broadcasting are most powerfully articulated in terms of age and gender, the article also shows that occupational class and level of education play important roles in stratifying television audiences along traditional ‘high'/‘low' lines. A closer analysis of the relations between these variables reveals more complex patterns of distinction, particularly in the place occupied by ‘new drama' and ‘new comedy' in the preferences of younger, well-educated viewers.

Keywords: Audience; Broadcast television; Cultural capital; Genre; Media field; Social distinction

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09548960600713080

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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