Cultural Hierarchies.

A hierarchy is a ‘system’ in which members of an organisation or society are ranked according to the their relative status of authority. Such systems may rely on binary notions, such as ‘better’ or ‘worse’, or possibly a graduation scale of identification. The idea of progress within a hierarchy is a key element, demonstrated visually in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for example. Reaching self-actualisation can only occur once all other needs are fulfilled, therefore emphasising the need or desire to reach the top of the hierarchy. Although Maslow’s system is concerned with psychological and physiological attributes, his concept of hierarchy can be applied to other instances.

Within the realm of religion a certain hierarchy exists, in regard to both religion itself and also the associated buildings. A hierarchy is therefore used as a tool to position people and places according to their determination of value. For example, an Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool took over two hundred years to fully complete, and is situated in the centre of low-rise modern buildings. The church therefore appears to have an elevated importance in comparison to the surrounding residential buildings. Furthermore, due to the monstrous completion time, the historical value system seems to play a part in the elevated importance.

In contrast to this British religious monument, a Mormon temple in America seems to also possess hierarchical importance. Although constructed in the last century, Oquirrh Mountain temple has been carefully crafted to publicly illustrate its importance, and therefore its significance within the built environment. Design and presentation, as well as location are key factors and encourage a reaction by members of the public, religiously inclined or not. The Temple is a cultural and religious signifier, and is of clear importance to some members of society.

Within the sphere of education, cultural hierarchy exists and is apparent in the architecture of different institutions. Bristol University has the majority of its lecture halls and research labs in red brick buildings, which insinuates an air of importance and thus cultural significance. When compared with another university such as the University of the West of England (UWE), there is a clear contrast between cultural values. UWE consists mainly of modern buildings, with an emphasis on contemporary and current study. The differences between courses offered at each university also contributes to their cultural value, as Bristol University mostly specialises in academic and research led courses, whereas UWE (Bower Ashton Campus in particular) is concerned mainly with creative and making based courses. This divide does not make either establishment more correct or valuable, but it does raise the point of Cultural Capital and therefore cultural value.

Pierre Bourdieu proposed that Cultural Capital is associated with “culturally authorised tastes, consumption patterns, attributes, skills and awards.” (J. Webb & T. Schirato, ‘Understanding Bourdieu’, 2002.) To give an example within the field of eduction, an academic degree constitutes as Cultural Capital. To illustrate what is meant by culturally authorised tastes, it is important to understand the idea of class. Carl Marx believed that the signifiers of class are occupation, wealth and education. It follows that in a capitalist society, social hierarchy generally obvious: proletarians (lower class), bourgeoisie (middle class) and aristocracy (upper class). Lower classes work, but do not own the means of production, middle classes live off the surplus generated by the proletarians and upper classes own land as a means of production.

Taste is also an indicator of class, and members of different classes are likely to possess different tastes due to social groups and interactions. Taste is acquired from birth. Family, friends and religion are extraneous factors that develop taste, and this therefore demonstrates a persons Cultural Capital.

In relation to photography and other creative industries, a legitimate language is developed within a ‘territorial limit’. According to Bourdieu, this is a form of control within a certain field of discipline, and acts as a mediator of social and artistic hierarchy. Within the field of photography for example, once committed students have habituated the correct language and terminology, the rules of the field can become consciously changeable and malleable. This means that the field can be evolved, developed and enforced by its members. Rejection or conformity therefore becomes a conscious decision, and results in cultural legitimacy (of a particular field).

Interestingly, the concept of ownership and authorship is something that concerned Bourdieu. If practitioners have learnt the correct terminology, language and rules and are actively producing work, do they automatically possess authorship of their work? A point to consider is that all practitioners are field players. They look to other creative sources for inspiration; they study under and learn from other creative practitioners; they collaborate with other creative people to produce work. Members of the same field, or even different fields produce work in the same or different societies, in the same or different time periods and by using the same or different mediums. The continuous creation and reviewing of work constantly evolves cultures, and is the driving force for the creativity of humanity.




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