Sociology of culture
Within our research, we adopt a broad conception of culture, which encompasses both culture in its restrictive sense as the 'popular' or 'cultured' arts, and in its broader sense as a way of life, in which the values and beliefs of particular groups of people are expressed in symbols, rituals, beliefs, practices, representations, objects and artefacts.
By researching culture, we're exploring the symbolic boundaries, identities, conflicts, and modes of being and belonging among dominant and dominated groups – from cosmopolitan global elites, to those experiencing deteriorating living conditions, and those who are on the move as part of the disjunctive global order.
Culture is inextricably linked to power and power relations and culture is a form of capital. We find that those in possession of this cultural capital are more likely to have a say in defining which culture or cultures are prestigious or otherwise – but through our work, we raise the possibility that things do not necessarily have to be as they are and our sociological thinking challenges the seeming fixity of existing social relations.
We're also probing the link between culture and power and confronting issues such as the inequalities between the dominant and the dominated, and considering the ideological function of culture in naturalising them.
We draw on cultural sociological traditions that consider culture to be an independent variable. This focuses on the role played by culture in providing a sense of meaning. This kind of sociology looks at the stories, songs, narratives and myths prevalent in various forms of 'high' and popular culture. Through these, we confront the difficult truths and challenges that we face as human beings. We have a strong tradition of innovative, theoretically-driven and empirical research in the sociology of culture, and our work does not shy away from questions of value, whether ethical, moral or aesthetic.
We also analyse the political economy of culture and cultural industries. We're attentive to the globalisation of culture, asymmetric power relations, the persistence of institutional, gendered and racialised inequalities and forms of violence. We're also attentive to the rise of consumer culture and its environmental consequences, and the ways in which culture is translated and reconfigured, adopted and reimagined, within and across borders.
Our research covers the following topics
- Taste and aesthetics
- Class and culture
- Classical music
- Sexual harassment and abuse
- Higher Education
- Food and society
- Sociology of the middle classes
- Cultural globalisation
- Celebrity culture
- Happiness and wellbeing
- Sensory and embodied practices of war
- Militarism and physical culture
- Craft, DIY and career
- Consumer culture and its environmental consequences
- The cultural economy of sport
- Independent publishing
- Drinking practices
- Femininity and the Night Time Economy
- Craft and career
- Embodiment and identity
- Evaluative judgements
A variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods are deployed in research on the sociology of culture – from ethnography and semi-structured interviews to critical discourse analysis and the secondary analysis of quantitative and qualitative data.
Funders of our research include the British Academy, The Higher Education Funding Council, The Royal Navy and the Economic and Social Research Council.
Our work is regularly published in leading academic journals within the field, including Cultural Sociology; Theory, Culture and Society; Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change; Gender, Place and Culture; Journal of Sociology; Journal of Consumer Culture; and The Sociological Review. Dr Simon Stewart is also Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change.
We've also presented our work at conferences held by the International Sociological Association, the European Sociological Association, and the British Sociological Association, and published research monographs with publishers such as Sage, Routledge, Blackwell, Cambridge University Press, the Open University Press, Palgrave Macmillan, and Ashgate.
Dr Simon Stewart. Research monographs: A Sociology of Culture, Taste and Value (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Culture and the Middle Classes (Ashgate, 2010)
Dr Emily Nicholls. Research monograph: Negotiating Femininities in the Neoliberal Night-Time Economy: Too Much of a Girl? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)
Professor Barry Smart. Research monograph: Consumer Society: Critical Issues and Environmental Consequences (Sage 2010); The Sport Star: Modern Sport and the Cultural Economy of Sporting Celebrity (Sage 2005)
Dr Laura Hyman. Research monograph: Happiness: Understandings, Narratives and Discourses (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
Dr Kevin McSorley. Major edited collection: War and the Body: Militarisation, Practice and Experience (Routledge 2015)
Dr Anna Bull. The first book-length study of contemporary associations between social class and classical music in the UK (to be published Aug 2019, Oxford University Press)
Dr Anna Bull also conducted high-profile research with the National Union of Students (NUS), which involved a national quantitative survey of students’ experience of staff sexual misconduct in Higher Education and focus groups with students about professional boundaries with staff. It was published as a report, Power in the Academy, in April 2018, and Anna was the main academic advisor to the research.
The second piece of research was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and carried out in 2017-18. This consisted of 16 qualitative interviews with students who had experienced sexual harassment from university staff and analysis of relevant policies from 25 UK HE institutions. This data fed into a public report, that was published September 2018, entitled Silencing Students.
Discover our areas of expertise
We're asking questions around who we are, who is different from us, and who we want to be, to challenge structural violence and reduce inequality.
We're drawing on classical and contemporary social thought, philosophy, political economy, social anthropology and history to explain and analyse social processes, issues, and concerns.
Interested in a PhD in Sociology?
Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Sociology & Gender Studies postgraduate research degrees page.