Sounds of disadvantage: Musical taste and the origins of ethnic difference


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

According to Weber, shared cultural differences are fundamental to the formation and identification of ethnic groups. Yet, the origins and trajectory of these differences are rarely interrogated by sociologists of culture. Where do ethnic differences in culture come from and why do some persist while others fade? To address these questions, I bring into focus an ethnic group whose cultural distinctiveness is hotly debated in the U.S. but rarely examined by sociologists of culture: Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants. Using data from the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts and the Mexican American Study Project II, I measure differences in musical preference between Mexican-origin and non-Hispanic black and white Americans, and I test four key mechanisms to account for the ethnic differences I observe: nativity, socioeconomic status, ethnic concentration, and ethnic discrimination. I find that Mexican Americans exhibit a wide array of differences in taste that diminish but still persist after the first generation. While some of these differences are tied to experiences of ethnic isolation and discrimination, the majority are attributable to differences in socioeconomic status. This distinguishes the case of Mexican Americans from that of U.S. blacks, for whom racial disadvantage far outweighs socioeconomic difference in accounting for differences in taste. Genre status also plays a key role in determining where ethnic differences in taste persist and where they fade.

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