Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 333–348 | Cite as

Conceptions of Art Ownership as a Form of Wealth Accumulation Among the Black Middle-Class

  • Patricia A. BanksEmail author


While there is a rich sociological tradition of analyzing the consumption of middle-class blacks, theory and research have overwhelmingly conceptualized middle-class blacks as conspicuous consumers. This paper develops an alternative theoretical approach to black middle-class consumption. Using the case of art ownership, I elaborate how middle-class blacks understand consumption as a practice that maintains and reinforces their class position by building wealth. Drawing on 103 in-depth interviews with black middle-class consumers of visual art, I illustrate how middle-class blacks view art as an economic asset and consider investment potential when they purchase art. I also document how middle-class blacks view art as a source of wealth that can be transferred across generations. Theory which accounts for black middle-class consumption from the perspective of wealth building is critical given long-standing arguments that middle-class blacks are a group whose frivolous and status-driven consumption jeopardizes their accumulation of wealth. The theoretical approach outlined in this paper illustrates how middle-class blacks approach consumption with an eye to solidifying their economic position.


Black middle-class Consumption of culture Art Social class Wealth 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyMount Holyoke CollegeSouth HadleyUSA

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