Creating cultural consumers: The dynamics of cultural capital acquisition

Kisida, B., Greene, J. P., & Bowen, D. H. (2014). Creating cultural consumers: The dynamics of cultural capital acquisition. Sociology of Education, 87(4), 281–295.

Abstract:

The theories of cultural reproduction and cultural mobility have largely shaped the study of the effects of cultural capital on academic outcomes. Missing in this debate has been a rigorous examination of how children acquire cultural capital when it is not provided by their families. Drawing on data from a largescale experimental study of schools participating in an art museum’s educational program, researchers show that students’ exposure to a cultural institution has the effect of creating ‘‘cultural consumers’’ motivated to acquire new cultural capital. Researchers found that the experience has the strongest impact on students from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Key Findings:

Results show that participating in a school tour increased students’ desire to engage with an art museum particularly for female and non-white students.

Students in the treatment group who had preexisting cultural capital, regardless of art discipline, were more interested in engagement with an art museum than those without.

Students from high-poverty schools (90 percent of students on free or reduced-price lunch (FRL)) and/or small schools experienced larger gains in desire to engage with an art museum than students from more affluent and/or larger schools.

The families of students who were in the treatment group were 18 percent more likely to return to the museum than if they had not attended the museum previously.

Significance of the Findings:

Cultural capital has been identified in previous research as a valuable resource that acts as a gateway to children’s future academic, social, and economic success. As such, inequalities in cultural capital produce and reproduce inequalities in social class. This study focused on the issue of access to resources to grow cultural capital. Students without exposure to cultural capital through their family must find it elsewhere. This research demonstrates that schools can play a part in in providing disadvantaged students with cultural experiences. In rural schools or smaller schools with fewer resources to provide engagement in the arts, policymakers and educators can use this study to encourage support for arts experiences in these school settings.

Methodology:

The researchers used a random assignment approach to assign students to either the treatment or control groups. To ensure that the treatment and control groups had equal representation of important pretreatment characteristics, researchers first paired applicants with similar demographics (e.g., grade, region, and FRL status) and performed separate randomizations within these pairings. Applicant groups that won a lottery to receive a tour with Crystal Bridges constitute the treatment group; the corresponding matched applicants who did not win the lottery make up the control group. Researchers measured how the museum experience affected students’ interest in cultural capital acquisition in two ways—with survey items and a behavioral measure (coupons to return to the museum with their family for free). The surveys administered to the treatment and control groups contained items intended to capture students’ attitudes toward future cultural capital acquisition through visiting an art museum or similar cultural institution. The coupons were a measure of desired engagement with the museum.

Limitations of the Research:

The data did not contain detailed individual-level information to examine the full range of characteristics of the students who came back to the museum. The researchers were limited to analyzing their treatment status and school- and community-level characteristics. Due to tour cancellations or erroneous application information, researchers excluded 12 matched pairs that were originally part of the lottery.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What are the longer-term effects of cultural exposure on disadvantaged students’ dispositions?

What aspects of cultural experiences such as this lead to an increased desire for cultural consumption among students?