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Taste is Within: Decorative Material Culture at Home in Los Angeles and Lima, Peru


Influential scholars such as Pierre Bourdieu theorize that, because people practice unyielding habitus, members of the same class strata have similar taste and consume art objects reflective of this. In this dissertation, I address the relationships between art that is on display in the homes of 48 families (representing their taste preferences) and a range of economic and social variables. The sample consists of contemporary middle-class households - 32 in Los Angeles, California, and 16 in Lima, Peru. Methodologically, I employ quantitative and qualitative techniques inspired by sociocultural and ethnoarchaeological anthropology. I test several subsets of hypotheses involving such factors as quantity and placement of objects in the homes, socioeconomic status, marital satisfaction, gendered and age-based preference, and socialization of children toward that preference. I also explore the meanings family members ascribe to these artifacts. Photographic and videographic data-gathering methods allow me to examine all of the decorative objects displayed in the houses' most publicly visible spaces. I use cultural consensus modeling, including semantic analyses of open-ended interviews and a new visual preference-ranking technique, to determine congruence between people's tastes. Among the patterns emerging from the analyses, even non-utilitarian household objects reflect homeowners' cultural capital, but class, and the cultural capital upon which it partially depends, is but one variable contributing to people's relationship with their household aesthetic. Some people who self-identify as middle-class consume art that some would consider "fine;" others do not. I posit that taste does not correlate with class as class is traditionally construed. Self-identified middle-class Angelenos and Limeños are not fixed in a habituated aesthetic based on such factors as income or power. Rather, they select from options that are increasing in availability with the rapid global flow of objects and ideas.

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