User:Lieven Van Speybroeck/Reading/Discussion Group/Bourdieu The Field of Cultural Production

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Notes on the text

Notes on Pierre Bourdieu's The Field of Cultural Production – chapt I The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed

  • to study literature/art from a certain period/society is the task of constructing the space of positions and the space of position-takings in which they are expressed
    -> always in relation to other positions
  • The literary or artistic field is a field of forces, but it is also a field of struggles tending to transform or conserve this field of forces -> MARXISM
    -> network/relations between positions defines the strategies which the occupants of the different positions use in their struggle to maintain/strengthen their positions, strategies which depend for their force and form on the position each agent occupies in the power relations
  • Due to relativity to the space of possibles, position-takings (for ex. of literature/art) can change even when position remains identical, whenever there's a shift in the field within which they are situated for the spectator/reader
    -> most immediate for classic works: ex. repetition of a work form the past ~ parody
    -> rhetoric!
  • Impossible to take all these relational aspects (institutions, media, people,...) into account while defining a social history of art/literature/philosophy
    importance of words/debates/...(~mood of the age) of a certain time (certainly in the case of philosophy). Losing this context would result in derealization of works
  • change in space of literary or artistic possibles is the result of change in the power relation which constitutes the space of positions.
    transformation of the field of production whenever there's a 'new' addition to the field in the form of a a group that carries out new ideas,... -> dominant productions get démodé, ...
  • Foucault: field of strategic possibilities: regulated system of differences and dispersions within each individual work itself
    -> refusal to relate works in any way to their social conditions of production (~ positions occupied within the field of cultural production)
  • It is not possible to make the cultural order a sort of autonomous, transcendent sphere, capable of developing in accordance with its own laws
  • Russian formalists: existence, form and direction depend only on the state of the system: hereby they ignore the balance of forces between social agents who have entirely real interests in the different possibilities available to them as stakes, and deploy every sort of strategy to make one set or the other prevail.
  • work of art is an object that only exists by virtue of the belief which knows and acknowledges it as a work of art
  • Science of social representations of art and of the appropriate relation to works of art is needed to constitute a rigorous science of art, because the belief in the value of the work is part of the full reality of it.
    -> institutionalization of the aesthetic gaze as a pure gaze, capable of considering the work of art in and for itself
    -> institutionalization of art as an object of contemplation
    -> institutionalization of galeries and museums to conserve the work of art (materially & symbolically)
  • Works of art -> symbolic objects only if known and recognized by spectators as such -> production of a work of art involves material production and symbolical production -> production of the value of the work -> production of belief in the value of the work
    -> necessity of taking into account both social conditions of the production of artists (social origin, education, qualifications,...) as well as the social conditions of production of the field of social agents which help to define and produce the value of works of art (institutions such as museums/galeries/...)
    -> understanding works of art as a manifestation of the field as a whole
  • In the field of cultural production, the economy of practices is based on a systematic inversion of the fundamental principles of all ordinary economies:
    - business
    - power
    - institutionalized cultural authority
  • Art/literary field -> struggle between 2 principles: heteronomous principle, those who dominate the field economically/politically vs. autonomous, those who create art for art's sake
  • The field of cultural production is the site of struggles in which what is at stake is the power to impose dominant definition of the the writer/artist and therefore to delimit the population of those entitled to take part in the struggle to define the writer/artist.
  • There is no other criterion of membership of a field than the objective fact of producing effects within it
  • The boundary of the field is a stake of struggles, and the social scientist's task is not to draw a dividing line between the agents involved in it by imposing so-called operational definition, but to describe a state (long-lasting or temporary) of these struggles and therefore of the frontier delimiting the territory held by the competing agents
  • the most disputed frontier of all is the one which separates the field of cultural production and the field of power
    The field of cultural production produces its most important effects through the play of the homologies between the fundamental opposition which gives the field its structure and the oppositions structuring the field of power and the field of class relations
    The cultural producers who occupy the economically dominated and symbolically dominant position within the field of cultural production tend to feel solidarity with the occupants of the economically and culturally dominated positions within the field of class relations. -> homologies of position
  • By obeying the logic of the objective competition between mutually exclusive positions within the field, producers adjust their products to the expectations of the various positions in the field of power, without any conscious striving for such adjustment
  • The relation between the field of cultural production and the field of power is an almost perfect homology between 2 chiastic structures:
    in the field of cultural production economic profits increase as one moves from the autonomous to the heteronomous pole (whereas specific profits increase in the opposite direction), so does economic capital when one moves from the dominated to the dominant fractions.

-- p45

Discussion notes


  • Theory?
    ~ discourse
    point of view, idea, perspective (art, humanities) versus proof (science, mathematics)
  • Theory vs Practice
    can these 2 be separated from each other?
    has every practice a theory embedded into it?
    ~ Platonic relation
  • Bourdieu: institutionalization, everything (~ cultural production) is defined by the field in which it operates


  • Bourdieu's conceptualisation of culture is focused on visual arts and literature
    -> distinction between 'low' and 'high' art (Western point of view) <-> Eastern (authentic) art (no clear distinction between arts & crafts)
  • Iconography/iconography -> reading art history through motives in works (not categorizing by artist but by certain 'themes')
    -> Ernst Cassirer: philosophy of symbolic forms (the link between works, rather than the work itself)
    ~ Lev Manovich: Database as a symbolic form
    -> Symbolic form as a relational phenomenon > Michel Foucault - The Notion of Discourse
  • Field of cultural production as a field of power relations
    -> form of structuralism with ties to the phonological model (~ sound, as in 'spoken language') > De Saussure: notion of sign as the 'constructed' relation between the signifier (the word, sound-image purely as a jumble of letters, the word an sich) and the signified (the concept, meaning, -> one's own interpretation of what he hears, indicated by the signifier)
  • Jack Burnham, 1969: Software, conceptual art show + The House That Jack Built, essay -> Software as a metaphorical design
  • About the context of powers/struggles:
    • Chantal Mouffe (leftwing, ~ Marxism): struggles are inherent to society and necessary to maintain it -> hegemony
    • Carl Schmitt (extreme rightwing): a common external enemy is needed to create a strong society
    -> a common idea of strife
  • Reproduction/reenactment of classic works in another context than their original one: parody?
    -> position-takings (for example art/literature) are relational to the space/time/context in which they appear
    ~ Sherrie Levine: re-photography, reproduction of 'classical' works in another context/period
    ~ Rickrolling -> ~ parody