How Do Cultural Classes Emerge from Assimilation and Distinction? An Extension of the Cucker-Smale Flocking Model

Jeong Han Kang, Seung Yeal Ha, Kyungkeun Kang, Eunhee Jeong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


When cultural tastes are not neutral but hierarchically matched to social status, people assimilate themselves to higher status by consuming cultural goods while distinguishing themselves from lower status by developing new tastes. Extending the Cucker-Smale model for mutual influence among agents, we examine when and how many cultural classes emerge from continuous distributions of tastes and what conditions those classes satisfy, through the assimilation-distinction mechanism. We simulate the models with different initial distributions of tastes (uniform, normal, and chi-square), given various ranges of 2 parameters: (a) the strength and (b) the range of distinction relative to assimilation. Tastes are flocking and cultural classes emerge when the range of assimilation is much larger than that of distinction. The number of classes increases with the strength of distinction, whereas the distance between classes equals the range of distinction. Some properties of emergent classes are mathematically proved. First, in a two-class system, the stronger distinction, the larger the upper class. Second, in a three-class system, the middle class is necessarily larger than the lower class and likely larger than the upper class. Third, a 3-class system cannot emerge if distinction is weaker than assimilation. These properties are universal and do not depend on the initial distribution of cultural tastes. This independence predicts homogeneous cultural classes emerging across different social conditions. Also, the cultural middle class as the largest group may explain why subjective class consciousness is often higher than objective position. Unless assimilating efforts can reach an infinite range, there emerges a cultural outcast at the lowest end of the cultural hierarchy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-71
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Mathematical Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Algebra and Number Theory
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science

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