American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 499–531 | Cite as

Pure taste in popular music: The social construction of indie-folk as a performance of “poly-purism”

  • Niels van PoeckeEmail author
Original Article


This article examines the social construction of indie-folk as a genre, defined not primarily as an aesthetic category but as a tool and resource of social differentiation. Drawing from 48 in-depth interviews with musicians, gatekeepers, and audience members, the discourse of indie-folk is analyzed, focusing on how Dutch community members draw social and symbolic boundaries. Analysis shows that they are “poly-purists,” a type of cultural omnivores who consume a broad variety of musical genres yet by staying within the confines of the indie music stream rather than adopting a politics of ‘anything goes.’ By transposing the aesthetic disposition to the historically lowbrow phenomenon of folk music, community members distinguish ‘authentic’ folk from mainstream pop and dance, lowbrow country, and highbrow jazz and classical music. Simultaneously, they choose within these and other genres those items that match their ‘quality’ taste. Therefore, this study classifies indie-folk as a rising genre and contributes to existing research on cultural hierarchy and diversity, arguing that the emergence and institutionalization of indie-folk is part of the ongoing historical narrative of a Kantian aesthetics emphasizing the disinterested nature of artistic evaluation.


indie genre distinction authenticity cultural omnivores symbolic boundaries 



I would like to thank my colleagues at Erasmus University Rotterdam for their feedback. Most of all, I would like to thank Prof. Dr. Koen van Eijck, Prof. Dr. Jos de Mul, Prof. Dr. Ruud Welten, members of the Philosophy Ph.D. club, and the anonymous reviewers of the American Journal of Cultural Sociology for their insightful comments, which have considerably improved this article. Last but surely not least, I would like to thank all the interviewees who took time to speak about their practices, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and memories related to their much-treasured indie-folk music; without their help and candor this research would not have been possible.

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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Arts and Culture studies, Erasmus School of History, Culture and CommunicationErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

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