American Sociological Association

Encultured Biases: The Role of Products in Pathways to Inequality

Recent sociological work shows that culture is an important causal variable in labor market outcomes. Does the same hold for product markets? To answer this question, we study a product market in which selection decisions occur absent face-to-face interaction between intermediaries and short-term contract workers. We find evidence of “product-based” cultural matching operating as a pathway to inequality. Relying on quantitative and qualitative observational data and semi-structured interviews with intermediaries in trade fiction publishing, we show intermediaries culturally match themselves to manuscripts as a normal feature of doing “good work.” We propose three organizational conditions under which “encultured biases” come to the fore in product selection, and a fourth resulting in inequalities along demographic lines and other markers of perceived cultural proximity and distance. We close with a discussion of other settings in which product-based cultural matching is likely to occur, call for the investigation of cultural matching beyond previously theorized conditions, and argue for the inclusion of cultural products in the broader movement toward reconsidering culture as a causal factor.


Clayton Childress and Jean-François Nault





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