Elite Culture

Elite culture may be illustrated as those "high" cultural institutions and forms reserved for and used to identify members of the contemporary social elite.
Elite Culture Sociology Definition


Elite culture may be illustrated as those “high” cultural institutions and forms reserved for and used to identify members of the contemporary social elite. The word explicitly indicates the cultural preferences of the entrenched aristocracy, the commercial bourgeoisie, trained bureaucrats, political power brokers, and professions throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

Over most of this time, these groups dominated those who patronized and supported live theatre, ballet and dance companies, opera, symphony orchestras,  the decorative and fine arts, museums, and galleries. The differentiation between popular and elite culture is no longer as apparent as it once was, even though all of these genres continue to flourish in the modern day.


Elite culture has a restricted structure and relatively few scales. Despite sometimes being disempowered by popular culture, it has always impacted it.

Elite culture refers to the rich, educated ruling classes’ literary and cultural traditions. Universities, academies, coffee shops, libraries, and Masonic lodges are places where elite culture is institutionally reflected. These are a few methods for identifying elite culture. They also become emblems of the aristocratic culture and status.

Sociologists continue to recognize the importance and power of social elites and their comparatively small cultural spheres, but their exclusive hold on elite culture has loosened. At the same time, they have developed more omnivorous tastes and now freely and widely imbibe works from all genres, from the lowbrow to the highbrow.

The Beatles, for example, consolidated African American rhythm and blues with British working class “brass band,” with western elite orchestral and strings, and, in some cases, with traditional Indian music. New styles that blur elite and popular cultural forms emerged across the 1960s. Their followers, in turn, cut across all socioeconomic strata. Modern art is attributed to popularising itself courtesy of artists like Damian Hurst and Andy Warhol, who made other similar blurrings or fusions.

Cultural drawbridge

It was often said that elites were more potent than classes in response to socialist arguments on class-based norms and class political strife. Therefore, it is no coincidence that this elitism and the elite culture it spawned quickly erected a cultural drawbridge to set themselves apart from and exclude the “others.”

Rank-based social distinction

The term “elite” did not appear until the middle of the eighteenth century, although Raymond Williams claims that it was more often used in the early nineteenth century. Williams contends that its development might be linked to a crisis over leadership. It served as a means of expressing social distinction by status.

Immanuel Kant 

Kant’s “principle of pure taste” valued refinement, virtuosity, and informed contemplation above the mainstream, informal, quick, straightforward, conventional, and recognized absolute aesthetic worth.

Pierre Bourdieu

However, according to Bourdieu, pure taste and aesthetics were founded on rejecting the vulgar, simple, primitive, or famous, representing a social device or differentiation method.

Low and high cultures

The growth of “high” cultural institutions received much attention, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Those low cultural forms that had previously been a part of popular culture were also weakened and devalued as superficial and vulgar.

Peterson and Kern’s musical taste research

When Peterson and Kern examined American musical tastes, they discovered that highbrow audiences were increasingly acquiring middlebrow and “lowbrow” genres.


Due to widespread education and the growth of universities in the second half of the 20th century, the acquisition of education, or what Bourdieu refers to as “cultural capital,” which characterized the social elite, grew increasingly widespread. Previously, the social elite was a somewhat limited and constrained social group, sharing not just background, education, social networks, and experience but also a shared culture.

Emergence of non-elites

But starting in the 1960s, many people from less privileged backgrounds were hired for elite jobs and succeeded in the arts and entertainment fields. This generation brought popular culture back to parity with elite culture by reclaiming its cultural significance and aesthetic richness.

Media’s Function

Radio, television, and other media, coupled with new electronic technologies, increased the accessibility of elite culture to a larger audience and the popularity of elite culture among the general public.


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