Culture class and participation

New insights into how social inequality influences policy, market research and public debate.

Rooftops of various houses in the UK
Our research has challenged orthodox models of social stratification and inequality.

Our challenge to orthodox views of class and social inequality drives the BBC’s major ‘Great British Class Survey’. We have also developed new models for understanding cultural participation stratification that influence market research, policy debate and public engagement.

Research on cultural change and the dynamics of class in the UK has driven a cooperative partnership with the BBC, and supported a reworking of approaches to social segmentation within mainstream market research. It has inspired new public engagement with sociology, and informed policy debate on stratification and inequality.

Work by the Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC) at The University of Manchester, which challenged the received wisdom on perceptions of class and cultural participation in the UK, led to a major research and public engagement partnership with the BBC.

The Great British Class Survey (GBCS) resulted in unprecedented interest in issues of class and inequality, and generated unusually large samples of data on social behaviour, cultural participation and perceptions of class.

  • The results of the survey were publicised through a BBC news campaign
  • 6.9 million visitors visited the BBC Online web pages
  • It became the BBC's most popular news story of 2013

The high level of media coverage has led to further engagement with the survey, which now has over 350,000 respondents, and plans to link the GBCS with other BBC Lab UK online surveys will transform the BBC into a major participant in social science research.

Our research, and the ongoing development of cultural class analysis, has been applied to support a reworking of class measurement within mainstream market research.

Kantar Media – which runs the Target Group Index (TGI), the largest market research survey in the UK – has used our output to corroborate new measures and classifications for social groups.

The work of Prof Savage, and colleagues at CRESC, has also influenced a range of policy discussions:

  • helping to shape the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) flagship ‘Culture and Sports Evidence’ (CASE) programme;
  • advising the DCMS on the design of the first integrated national government survey of cultural participation;
  • providing recommendations on methodologies for the Arts Council England’s £37 million ‘Creative People and Places’ programme;
  • supporting regional level engagement to develop evidence-based policy on cultural participation, by creating a knowledge transfer network of 54 organisations;
  • designing the evaluation framework for the Cultural Olympiad in the North West (2009-2012).

Our research

Our research has challenged orthodox models of social stratification and inequality. We have demonstrated that cultural processes are not simply the products of social class divisions.

Our research methodologies:

  • are influenced by Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology;
  • underpin the pioneering ‘Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion’ Survey (CCSE), the most detailed national survey of cultural taste and participation to date;
  • supported the formulation of the Great British Class Survey (GBCS), the world’s largest survey of social class (with 160,000 participants in the first wave); 
  • utilise descriptive clustering techniques to provide a unique visual perspective on different taste and participation communities;
  • rethink processes of cultural ‘disengagement’, generating new insights into the ‘non-users’ of traditional cultural venues (such as museums, etc.);
  • reveal extensive hidden forms of everyday engagement and cultural value.

Key people

Further information