An Ethnography of Distinction: Dynamics of Collective Taste-Making

  • Elizabeth Mamali

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The purpose of this thesis is to explore how taste is constructed at the micro-social level of a community of practice and to investigate the dynamics that underlie the process of taste-making. An ethnographic research was conducted in the context of an arts cooperative focusing on how members maintain status boundaries from dissimilar others (inter-group dynamics) and how they negotiate intra-group taste heterogeneity (internal dynamics). The findings indicate that the community symbolically demarcates itself from outgroups in an “us versus them” fashion by continuously juxtaposing its practices to those of competitive actors through “sayings” as well as “doings”. They also begin to mark out the appropriation processes through which members employ distaste to resignify and internalise meaning to their practices (a) by exhibiting tastes of outsiders if they can successfully negotiate their intent (recontextualising exo-cultural elements), (b) by negating tastes that are prevalent in the field in order to criticise subtly outgroup practices (appropriating practice through conspicuous absence) and (c) by negotiating the ‘tastefulness’ of objects that are not valued for their aesthetics by outsiders in order to provoke (resignifying prevailing aesthetics). Finally, the study conceptualises taste-making within the community as an ongoing dialogical process amongst members with heterogeneous views about “tastefulness”. Depending on their status, members employ strategies that help them either to actualise tastes that they favour in the context of the community or to deal with the exhibition of tastes that they are not in accordance with. The thesis makes a theoretical contribution to three areas; First, to literature on taste formation by accounting for the holistic outlook of community-based taste-making practices; Second, to our understanding of negative symbolic consumption by exhibiting the appropriation processes through which distaste endows meaning to practices; Third, to the stream of works on marketplace cultures by proposing a new conceptualisation of intra-group heterogeneity.
Date of Award10 Jun 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRichard Elliott (Supervisor) & Peter Nuttall (Supervisor)


  • taste
  • communities of practice
  • distaste
  • community
  • arts

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