The way society perceives high class is undergoing a metamorphosis

By Janine White: Culture Editor

British media specialist, John Storey, termed popular culture as what was left over after taking out what high culture had. Is this still the case?

Culture is the thread that is woven into the memory blanket passed on to you from your grandparents. Holding the norms, beliefs, values and everything that makes up society, it can be likened to a pyramid. At the very top of society, sat the ‘cultured’. This word itself marked the meaning of the cultural elite. This elite group had a vast array of activities that were only suitable for the intellectuals. Strong polarisation; gaps between rich and poor, made the past times inaccessible to the rest of society.

At the bottom of the pyramid was the low culture; the derogatory term that was used to explain the interests of the masses, the ‘normal’ people, the faces you pass in the street each day. According to the aristocrats, this subculture could not possibly comprehend the sophisticated, abstract arts and literature of the higher societies. With values and concerns that could only be categorised as familial and individual problems, the working-class barbarians were driven by impulses and behaviour patterns, rather than non-fictional forms of contemporary social conflicts. With no desire, nor need to experience more than the immediate world, the lowest and popular culture was apparently satisfied with gossip magazines, reality television and escapist fiction.

During the 1920’s this began to change dramatically. With the advent of commercial book clubs, everyone was able to experience the depths, perceptions and possibilities of their world. As time continued, monthly reads began to incorporate serious stories, alongside the adventure and fictional novels that the poor had been accustomed to. This gave the working class an opportunity to show that they were not as lacking in knowledge as they were believed to be. Literature had become a hobby for everyone to enjoy. It was removed as a purely elite activity and adopted by everyone.

As the interest grew and a new realm was experienced, an explosion of scholarly interest leaked into society with force.

Time went on and initiatives were created to enable features of the elite to become accessible to all, taking away barriers formed by the ‘cultured’ and allowing dissemination on more equal terms.

With discounted tickets for young people being handed out, family tickets to the theatre; the ballet and pantomimes became an activity for everyone to enjoy. It was not even necessary to dress up for the event anymore.

Further to this, the creation of money saving apps, such as Groupon and Wowcher, allowed the masses to pick up wine tasting days and race Ferraris, once believed to be a lifestyle for the rich and elite.


Fashion outlets, like the Next Clearance, were rapidly on the increase. Tailored outfits worn by intellectuals were suddenly available in the high street shops. Blazers with patches on no longer saved for the professors. Everyone could now dress to impress.

Globalisation and affordable air travel meant that it was cheaper to holiday in countries where branded purses and handbags by Gucci and Armani could be picked up cheaply. Bespoke fashion was no longer only available by travel to Milan during catwalk season.

The once uneducated poor of the country were given access to student loans, maintenance grants and scholarships allowing them to build their educational ability and stand tall alongside the private schooled. Those not classed as elite, however, came with a life experience far superior to those shielded within a ‘cultured’ world. These people were living the culture of the real people in the country, not merely the social norms and rules of the faces of the country.

Accessibility for all

Pierre Bourdieu defined high cultures as a taste and etiquette, with social codes that were unacceptable to the lower class, this was no longer the case. Music lessons that were once out of financial reach for all, but the most privileged attending private schools or private tuition, are now given within state schools with reduced costs. Thus, allowing all children to reach their musical potential.

There are some researchers who state that there is no longer a clear distinction between the degraded and the elite. Popular culture; being made up of the masses, negotiated what was being imposed by the dominant exclusive and they resisted. They refused to allow the high classes to use culture as a tool to supress or take advantage of the common people anymore.

With literature, arts, architecture and education available to all, there is a clear blurring of lines between what makes it to the top of the pyramid. No longer able to say that the ‘cultured’ ones are the intellectuals, the elite. Equality between classes is breaking through culturally. Until the higher classes make something else unreachable to the masses, but what else is there without delving into the political and wealthy?

Meet Janine on the Team page, or see the Department pages.