Rinsing off the soap: Cultural hierarchy and the search for legitimacy in daytime drama production

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Robert C. Bogdan


Cultural hierarchy, Legitimacy, Daytime drama, Television

Subject Categories

American Studies | Arts and Humanities | Communication | Mass Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences


How notions of "high" and "low" culture, "good" and "bad" drama are defined, perpetuated and reified in American society continues to be a struggle for those who find themselves and their work positioned at the low end of cultural hierarchy. This ethnographic study of the production of a daytime soap opera, examines the perspectives of cultural producers and the ways they experience, (deal with and participate in) cultural judgment and distinction. Specifically, I explore how the creators of a daytime soap opera confront issues of cultural hierarchy in their professional lives and attempt to make their work meaningful despite mainstream distinctions that often define their work as "low" or inferior.

Utilizing qualitative research methods, including participant observation and in-depth and informal interviewing, I studied the production process and the cast and crew of a daytime soap opera over a one-month period. I gathered data from daytime magazine articles and interviewed the editors from four different daytime publications as well. My subjects make visible a variety of strategies soap creators implement in order to cast their work as legitimate and valuable. Ironically, the strategies employed often work to endorse and uphold dominant, individualistic, exclusionary definitions of "good" and "bad" work, "high" and "low" culture and serve to perpetuate soaps' subordination and "low" status. Unable to envision alternative models of "good" and "bad" work, "high" and "low" culture, that might allow them to embrace and celebrate the collective, accessible aspects of their work, many soap creators are left feeling dissatisfied with their jobs, searching for cultural transcendence and longing for change. This study attempts to demystify the soap opera production process and in so doing complicates pervasive, rather simplistic depictions of cultural producers as members of an all-powerful, manipulative "culture industry."


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