High culture and its relation to mass culture have been, in different ways, a central concern of much theoretical work in cultural studies, critical theory, media studies and sociology, as well as in postmodernism and in many strands of Marxist thought. It was especially central to the concerns of Walter Benjamin, whose 1935/36 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction has been highly influential, as has the work of Theodor Adorno. Gramscianism can see ruling class culture as "an instrument of social control".
High culture also became an important concept in political theory on nationalism for writers such as Ernest Renan and Ernest Gellner, who saw it as a necessary component of a healthy national identity. Gellner's concept of a high culture extended beyond the arts; he defined it in Nations and Nationalism (1983) as: "...a literate codified culture which permits context-free communication". This is a distinction between different cultures, rather than within a culture, contrasting high with simpler, agrarian low cultures.
Pierre Bourdieu's book: La Distinction (English translation: Distinction - A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste) (1979) is a study influential in sociology of another much broader, class-based, definition of high culture, or "taste", which includes etiquette, appreciation of fine food and wine, and even military service, but also references different social codes supposedly observed in the dominant class, and that are not accessible to the lower classes. This partly reflects a French conception of the term which is different from the more serious-minded Anglo-German concept of Arnold, Benjamin, Leavis or Bloom. Bourdieu introduced the concept of cultural capital, knowledge and habits acquired by a dominant class upbringing that his surveys in post-war France found led to increased relative social and economic success despite a supposedly egalitarian educational system.