American Journal of Sociology
This article uses a new database of subscribers to the New York Philharmonic to explore how high culture became a form of socially valuable capital in late-19th-century America. The authors find support for the classic account of high culture’s purification and exclusiveness, showing how over the long Gilded Age the social elite of New York attended the Philharmonic both increasingly and in more socially patterned ways. Yet they also find that the orchestra opened up to a new group of subscribers hailing from an emerging professional, managerial, and intellectual middle class. Importantly, the inclusion of this new audience was segregated: they did not mingle with elites in the concert hall. This segregated inclusion paved a specific way for the constitution of cultural capital. It meant that greater purity and greater inclusiveness happened together, enabling elite cultural participation to remain distinctive while elite tastes acquired broader social currency.