What is High Culture or Elite Culture?

Generally, high culture is understood to refer to the culture of an upper class or educated people. Mathew Arnold in ‘Culture and Anarchy’ argued that high culture is a force for moral and political good which is generally a widely held view. On the other hand, T. S. Eliot in ‘Notes towards the Definition of Culture’ said that both components of culture are essential parts of a complete culture. Gramscians saw it as an “instrument of social control”.

Ernest Gellner saw high culture as something beyond the arts. In his work ‘Nations and Nationalism’ he defined it as “a literate codified culture which permits context-free communication”. Whereas Pierre Bourdieu in ‘Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste’ wrote that high culture refers to “taste” which includes etiquette, appreciation of fine food, and wine, and even military service, but also refers to different social codes supposedly observed in the dominant class, and that are not accessible to the lower classes.

High culture is generally associated with the appreciation of what is sometimes referred to ‘Classical or High Art’. It includes visual arts, especially, paintings, classical music and performing arts. For instance, English cinema, opera, classical theatre, poetry are seen in the realm of high culture. Thus, high culture is often seen as the representative of highest form of artistic and literary accomplishments of a society. But it does not go uncontested as what is great art or low art is a subjective element.

Some markers of high culture can be watching classical dances or visiting art galleries for various exhibitions etc.

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