The Possibilities and Limitations of Lifestyle instruments in (Non-) Visitor Research

In (non-)visitor research for cultural institutions, target populations are often differentiated by a few socio-demographic variables such as age, education or place of residence. Although this standard approach has proven to be reasonable and economical, its ability to distinguish it from ‘real’ social groups and audiences has declined significantly in recent decades due to the persistent societal trends such as changing values, pluralization and individualization within the population of Western countries. One way to better reflect the heterogeneity of society is to include additional sociological class/lifestyle approaches in (non-)visitor studies. Until recently, such approaches were used only to a rather limited extent due to their often highly complex nature and their need for many (expensive) variables for audience development. However, these questions were at least partially taken up by the lifestyle instrument of the German sociologist Gunnar Otte. He developed a conceptual typology of nine lifestyle groups that are differentiated by two dimensions (material level and modernity/biography perspective) and operationalized by only ten (twelve) items. His typology has been used in several representative population surveys in the German-speaking world from the new millennium onwards.

In 2018, a visitor study pilot project involving 10 cultural institutions in northern Germany demonstrated for the first time the applicability of visitor studies. As a consequence, Otte’s instrument has been implemented recently in ‘Cultural Monitoring’ (German: KulMon), a large scale German project for visitor research that has been running for about 10 years. Since then, the typology has been an integral part of the questionnaires of already about 50 cultural institutions participating in KulMon. This contribution shall give an insight into the findings of both studies: possibilities and limitations of a lifestyle typology for (non-)visitor research as well as implications and perspectives for lifestyle research in general.