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Upper class joins masses, says Vanderbilt sociologist

(March 25, 2005)--Are the fine arts losing their niche group to more populist interests? Will the revamped, refocused marketing strategy of the San Antonio Symphony succeed?

Richard A. Peterson, Vanderbilt University sociology professor, says there is a growing disconnect between the fine arts and upper-class Americans who typically patronize them. Peterson will give the keynote address, "Roll Over Beethoven: Whatever Happened to the Highbrows?" at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 29 at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio.

The address, free and open to all, is part of an International Sociological Association convention March 29-31, coordinated by UTSA sociologist Jeff Halley.

The three-day convention is open to the public and features an international lineup of sociologists. Discussions cover a wide range of topics such as art, culture, media and politics. The convention opens with a panel discussion on museums and exhibtions, followed by a panel discussion on rationalization and resistance.

The late afternoon Tuesday panel will look at media influences, while Wednesday and Thursday run the gamut from nationalism to music. The convention closes with a look at gender, class and power.

According to Peterson, support of the fine arts was a status symbol during much of the 20th century. However, the past few decades have seen the elite crowd diversify, participating more and more in a wide range of popular entertainments. Now there is evidence that fewer high-status people participate in the fine arts at all, says Peterson.

The sociologist's address will examine the reasons for the changing culture of the country's upper class -- something increasingly grounded in what he says has been called "bourgeois Bohemianism."

Peterson's work centers on the sociology of culture, organization, social class and the music industry. He is the founding chair of the Culture Section of the American Sociological Association.

For more information on the conference, contact Jeff Halley at (210) 458-4670.

--Leigh Anne Gullett

University Communications
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