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De-institutionalization of highbrow culture? The case of secondary education in Flanders

By Stijn Daenekindt and Henk Roose


Institutions play a central role in the creation and preservation of the boundary between highbrow and lowbrow culture. The (fine) arts are well-embedded in dominant institutions and organizations—especially in the educational system and the state. This institutional embeddedness provides the structural basis for the legitimacy of certain cultural products/practices to function as status markers and to be associated—in a very natural and self-evident way—with prestige and social status. Recently, some authors claim that from the sixties onward the educational system has contributed to the erosion of the institutionalized character of fine arts. It is argued that—in line with a worldwide trend towards more student-centred curricula—the exclusive focus on highbrow arts in school curricula has dwindled. However, empirical research to substantiate these claims is scarce. We empirically study whether the centrality of highbrow arts is indeed challenged in the educational system. We focus on secondary education in Flanders and investigate changes in the presence of highbrow and lowbrow cultural practices at school. That is, are there differences between generations in the cultural practices pupils have been confronted with in the school context? Our analyses indicate that—in the period 1930-2000—both highbrow and lowbrow practices are increasingly enacted in the school context. However, we find that the increment in highbrow practices is especially situated in the academic track—the most prestigious track, which prepares for higher education—suggesting a persisting institutional embeddedness of highbrow culture in dominant institutions

Topics: Social Sciences, Cultural practices, curriculum, secondary education., (de-)institutionalization
Year: 2014
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