Allington, D. (2011) ‘Distinction, intentions, and the consumption of fiction: negotiating cultural legitimacy in a gay reading group’. European Journal of Cultural Studies 14 (3): 129-145.
The relationship between the ‘legitimate’ (or highbrow) and the ‘popular’ (or lowbrow) in cultural consumption has been extensively researched and debated in relation to Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of ‘distinction’ and ‘cultural capital’ and Richard Peterson’s concept of ‘omnivorousness’. This paper contributes to that sociological tradition by carrying out qualitative discourse analysis of a gay reading group’s verbal responses to Joe Keenan’s comic novel, My Lucky Star (2006) – a strategy that is acknowledged to be controversial, given the discourse analytic critique of sociology. It is found that members of the reading group studied here exhibit aspects of distinction and omnivorous openness in their arguments over the novel’s merits (or lack thereof), and that perceptions of authorial intention – in particular, Keenan’s non-intention to write a ‘serious’ book – are deeply implicated in this evaluative discourse. Evidence is found not only for a high degree of alignment between the group’s discourse on the novel and written discourse on the same novel in the mass media, but also for the importance of a specifically gay variety of ‘subcultural capital’, to which some group members appeal in order to contest other members’ dismissal of the book as insufficiently ‘serious’ to be worthy of discussion.
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