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Access to museums by Socrates Kabouropoulos

Sub-title: Museum Audiences (Elite or Mass?), Literacy & The Need for Cultural Studies

Socrates Kabouropoulos with Magda Dimaki in Tsalapatas – the former brick factory

Being most knowledgeable about cultural statistics Socrates Kabouropoulos’ remarks about visitor statistics with regards to attendance in museums is most important for future museum policy. In his paper he talks about ‘mass and elite’ as two different kinds of groups which can be served by museums. Empirical visitor statistics suggest a certain profile of those coming to museums e.g. Internet users. The interesting question is but what policy follows out of that especially if one does not wish to cater to an elite culture but rather promote literacy amongst all people. Since museums are involved as well in education, even if in an informal way, they are of great importance to the community and life long learning processes. In that sense museums serve an educational purpose with the prime aim to raise and to maintain literacy.
Hf August 2006

Museum Audiences (Elite or Mass?), Literacy & The Need for Cultural Studies

Socrates Kabouropoulos, Senior Officer
The National Book Centre of Greece (E.KE.BI.)

1. Theoretical assumptions & empirical findings

Inspired by the early works of Thornstein Veblen (The Theory of The Leisure Class, 1899) and Max Weber (“Class, Status, Party”, in Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds.), Max Weber, Essays in Sociology, 1946), sociologists developed a view of status groups ranked in terms of their appreciation of the arts and letters, their styles of clothes and language, and their use of leisure time. They also noted that there seems to be a close association between such status rankings and ranking by stratification variables including income, occupation and years of schooling (Goffman 1951, Warner 1953, Form and Stone 1957, Gans 1974, 1985). Eventually, the concept of ‘cultural capital’ developed by Pierre Bourdieu has given further theoretical importance to the place of symbolic forms in class socialization by showing how arts appreciation and other cultural indicators get used in crystallizing and in maintaining the status hierarchy (Bourdieu 1984, 1985, Bourdieu and Passeron 1977, DiMaggio and Mohr 1985, Lamont and Lareau 1988, Lahire 2004).

The hallmark of those at the top of the hierarchy according to this ‘elite-to-mass’ theory, is patronizing the fine arts, displaying good manners, wearing the correct cut of clothes, using proper speech, maintaining membership in the ‘better’ churches, philanthropic organizations and social clubs, and especially for the women of the class, cultivating all of the attendant social graces. The term ‘snob’ applied to such people, is, sometimes, a fair characterization of the attitude of those at the upper end of status hierarchy because of their moralistic contempt for and distancing from all cultural manifestations that do not exactly fit with what is taken to be proper.

Finally, it is argued, competence in the high arts operates to preserve and reproduce the class structure in two main ways (Bourdieu 1984). First, familiarity with high culture is used as a criterion for access to the dominant class. Thus, those wishing to enter the dominant classes are well advised to acquire, especially through higher education, competence in the high arts, for this is the cultural capital that will be so crucial for their mobility. Second, familiarity with and participation in high culture builds solidarity among the dominant classes. For example, attendance at common cultural events and discussion of common cultural phenomena (like, i.e., the collection of precious artefacts) creates class solidarity.

According to the above-mentioned theory, those in the middle of the status hierarchy, the ‘middle-brows’, tend to imitate -or rather emulate- those above them but without the required knowledge of taste standards or the resources of time and money needed to fully participate. The resulting middle-brow taste culture is characterized by light classical music, romantic painting and literature, the ready-made versions of the high fashion clothes, and a simplified, if prudish, etiquette (Gans 1974). Within the ‘elite-to-mass’ theory several characterizations are given of the lower end of the status hierarchy. The early authors characterize it in terms of folk, peasant or ethnic culture (Veblen 1899), while more recent authors tend to characterize the bottom as an undiscriminating mass, which seeks out easily understood elements that stimulate the emotions (Brooks 1958, Wilensky 1964).

As far as art museum attendance is concerned, the results of the empirical Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census in 1982 (as presented by Peterson and Simkus, 1993) seem to be in line with the above mentioned theory, as shown in the following table:

Occupation by arts activities (as % of the population interviewed)

  Artmuseum Classical Music Opera Theatre Plays Ballet/Modern Dance Novel/ poetry
Hi-cultural 59.4 39.4 12.0 37.8 10.8 84.3
Low-cultural 48.3 38.1 8.3 32.3 13.7 89.5
Hi-technical 45.0   8.7 26.3    
Artist 57.4 34.6 14.0 28.4 12.5 82.5
Hi-sales 41.2          
Semi- skilled manual 9.6 4.6 0.9 3.9 1.3  
Transport 9.8 4.3 1.0 5.0 1.0 39.9
Laborer   4.8 1.0 5.8 1.4 33.2
Farm laborer 4.8 6.3 0.0   0.0 42.8
Average 24.3 14.0 3.3 13.1 4.8 60.4


Note: Representative occupations in each of the occupational status groups
Hi-cultural: Architects, lawyers, clergymen, academics
Low-cultural: Social workers, teachers below college, religious workers, public relations
Hi-technical: Chemical engineers, actuaries, chemists, geologists, physicians, dentists
Artists: Actors, authors, dancers, editors, musicians, painters
Hi-sales: Insurance agents, real estate agents, manufacturing sales, stock brokers
Semi-skilled manual: Factory operatives, gas station attendants, laundry workers
Transport: Truck, taxi drivers, deliverymen, forklift operators
Laborer: Craft helpers, warehousemen, fishermen, construction laborers, garabge collectors
Farm laborer: Farm workers, farm foremen, farm service laborers

According to the findings shown at the table, the two groups at the top of the hierarchy, ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ cultural professions, do in fact rank high on all the cultural activities, including classical music concerts, opera, theatre plays, ballet & modern dance performances, and reading of novels and poetry. In addition, the occupations in the top group have all of the high rates and, with one minor exception, all of the occupations with low rates are in the bottom group of occupations.

One has to note, however, that other empirical studies, based on the analysis of musical preferences/tastes (Peterson 1993, Van Eijck 2001), put the above mentioned theory into question: while those in the upper occupational groups are more apt to engage in elite arts activities, they are also more apt to like a number of kinds of music (like rock, gospel, blues/soul, country & western, etc.) and engage in a wide range of non-elite activities. At the same time, those in the lowest occupational groups tend to engage in few activities and to strongly like one single non-elite form of music. These results have been interpreted as showing a shift from an ‘elite-to-mass’ to an ‘omnivore-to-univore’ status hierarchy model (Peterson 1993).

2. Museum visiting in Greece and in the EU

According to a Eurobarometer survey which took place in 2001, Greece ranks, together with Portugal, in the two lowests places among the EU-15 countries, concerning museum & gallery attendance -both at home and in other countries-, and the visiting of historical monuments -castles, monasteries, churches, palaces, public gardens, etc.

How many times in the last 12 months did you visit…

  Museums/ Galleries in your country
Museums/ Galleries
in your country
Museums/ Galleries
Museums/ Galleries
Historical monuments
Historical monuments
Never 86.4 70.1 94.3 84.3 73.9 56.8
1-3 times 10.5 21.6 4.1 10.8 19.0 27.3
4-6 times 1.9 4.9 - 2.3 4.5 9.9
7-12 times - - - - 1.6 2.6
More than 12 times - - - - - 2.2
Do not know - - - - - -
Average 1.18 1.40 1.07 1.20 1.37 1.65


3. Book reading in Greece

According to the Eurobarometer 2001 survey and to the two national surveys conducted by the National Book Centre of Greece in 1999 & 2004, the empirical findings for book reading in Greece are as follows:

Have you read any books during the past 12 months?

  GR-2004 Survey EU-2001 Survey GR-1999 Survey
Average to systematic readers (read over 10 books) 8.6   8.5
‘Weak’ readers (read 1-9 books) 25.4   29.3
TOTAL READERS 1 34.0 35.6 37.8
Read only ‘practical’ books & books related to their profession or studies 22.2 10.1 31.8
TOTAL READERS 2 56.2 45.7 69.6
Didn’t read any books at all 43.8 54.3 30.4
TOTAL 100.0 100.0 100.0

Note: Sample sizes 3,800 (1999), 1,000 (2001), 2,500 (2004)

4. Museum attendance in relation to social, economic & cultural factors

According to the National Survey on Book Reading & Cultural Participation conducted by the National Book Centre of Greece in 2004, the empirical evidence seem to be, to a certain extent, in line with the ‘elite-to-mass’ theory.

How often do you visit a museum/gallery…

  Average Women Men Aged 18-24 Aged 65+ Higher education Lower education
Never 74.6 74.1 75.1 68.1 80.0 54.1 85.1
Rarely 19.3 19.5 19.0 23.6 17.0 30.9 12.9
Once in 3 months 4.4 4.5 4.1 5.6 1.9 11.2 1.4
Once a month 0.7 0.8 0.7 1.2 0.2 1.6 0.1
M.O./ Do not know - - - - - -  

How often do you visit a museum/gallery…

  Average Monthly Family Income less than 500 euro Monthly Family Income 500-1000 euro Monthly Family Income over 2000 euro Work over 51 hours a week Work 41-50 hours a week Work 30-39 hours a week
Never 74.6 89.9 78.3 52.0 78.9 75.6 62.8
Rarely 19.3 8.9 17.2 32.6 16.2 19.5 25.5
Once in 3 months 4.4 0.6 2.2 12.6 3.1 3.0 10.6
Once a month 0.7 - 0.7 0.6 0.2 1.4 -
M.O./ Do not know - - - - - - -
  Average Speak at least one foreign language Don’t speak any foreign languages Internet use at work & at home Internet use only at home Internet use only at work No Internet use
Never 74.6 65.3 83.6 47.5 52.6 64.7 78.9
Rarely 19.3 24.8 13.2 38.4 32.1 25.6 16.7
Once in 3 months 4.4 7.3 1.9 11.1 12.1 7.7 2.9
Once a month 0.7 1.0 0.4 2.0 1.9 0.6 0.6
M.O./ Do not know - - - - - - -
  Average Interested in politics Not Interested in politics Read over 10 books a year Read 1-9 books a year Read only practical books Don’t read any books
Never 74.6 65.9 79.4 46.3 56.8 79.4 89.9
Rarely 19.3 24.7 16.3 36.4 31.8 16.7 8.5
Once in 3 months 4.4 6.7 3.1 12.1 8.8 2.7 0.7
Once a month 0.7 1.1 0.5 4.2 0.8 0.2 0.2
M.O./ Do not know - - - - - - -

According to the above mentioned empirical data, respondents with higher education and income levels rank at the top of museum and gallery visiting, as well as those who work less than 40 hours a week, who are interested in politics, speak at least one foreign language, read over 10 books a year and have Internet access both at work and at home. Furthermore, interesting is the fostering influence on museum-and-gallery visiting of factors like the educational background of the parents, the ‘individualistic’ (compared to the ‘family’ or ‘social’) attitude-model and the ‘central-to-left’ political identification of the respondents (on the ‘left-to-right’ political scale; these factors can’t be observed in the above shown tables).

5. Conclusion

The ‘elite-to-mass’ cultural hierarchy model seems to provide a reasonable description, to a certain extent, of the empirical evidence found in Greece, concerning museum and gallery visiting. Despite the fact, the model shouldn’t be over-imposed to real ‘flesh & blood’ circumstances (like i.e. in Volos), without the implementation of the appropriate cultural studies, which will define the anticipated demand for the scheduled services by the local and international audience.

Furthermore, as the museums cultural industry belong to the so-called ‘declining-cost’ industries (which means that, over a certain limit, the operational cost is directly proportional to the opening hours and to the number of visitors), the cost-revenue model should be thoroughly examined, so that the fees imposed won’t be restrictive for the -economically- marginal parts of the audience.


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