Transnational Popular Cultural Consumption, Culture Capital, and Cultural Process of Inequality: The Case of Breakdance in Hong Kong

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Matthew M CHEW, Department of Sociology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
This study examines transnational popular cultural consumption by theoretically borrowing from theories of cultural capital and ‘cultural process of inequality’ (Lamont et al. 2014). It analyzes qualitative data (from interviews and participant observation) on the field of breakdance consumption and consumer groups in Hong Kong. Current studies on global hip hop find that as transnational diffusion of hip hop progresses, innovative localized hip hop music styles emerge, local meanings of authenticity are defined, and activism of marginalized local groups are encouraged. The first part of this study maps out Hong Kong’s field of breakdance consumption and demonstrates its divergence from current findings. Five types of consumers are identified in the order of their knowledgeability of hip hop: 1) dedicated b-boys and b-girls, 2) dancers, choreographers, and producers who specialize in commercialized hip hop dance, 3) youths who join college street dance crews or the social welfare based breakdance community, 4) clubbers who love hip hop music and dance, and 5) fans of Korean-pop and global hip pop. None of these groups takes breakdance as a platform for progressive sociopolitical pursuits. Claims to authenticity are highly contested (eg. both group 1 and 4 strongly dismiss other groups as inauthentic). The more knowledgeable groups are not recognized as having higher cultural capital than the less knowledgeable ones. The second part of this study construct an explanation for this field’s characteristics. It focuses on identifying an (unintended) cultural process of inequality that often occur when transnational popular culture diffuses from the center to periphery. Even if a popular culture is counter-mainstream, minority cultural, subversive, and/or grassroots, it can acquire mainstream and/or middle-class characteristics through such diffusion because elite local groups (eg. cosmopolitan and educated Hong Kongers composing groups 3, 4, and 5) are more well-positioned to consume transnational culture than marginalized local groups.