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Reinstating Pierre Bourdieu's contribution to cultural economy theorizing
The terrain of cultural economy
Social scientists increasingly acknowledge that research based on economic
or cultural concepts alone is not sufficient to account for social processes.
In the space of 15 years or so, at least five books and numerous chapters
and articles have been devoted to cultural economy (e.g. Amin and Thrift,
2004; Appadurai, 1990; Callon, 1998; Dixon, 1999; du Gay and Pryke,
2002; Gibson and Kong, 2005; Halperin, 1994; Hinde and Dixon, 2005;
Lash, 1993; Ray and Sayer, 1997; Scott, 2000). These accounts of what
Halperin (1994) claims to be a new epistemic approach to the study of
Journal of Sociology © 2007 The Australian Sociological Association, Volume 43(4): 401–420
DOI:10.1177/1440783307083233 www.sagepublications.com
Abstract
Systematic ‘cultural economy’ analysis is a recent development in a long history
of sociological thought about the relationship between economy and culture.
Two recent benchmark texts demonstrate various innovative ways of doing cultural
economy. However, we believe these books betray ambiguity about the
historical roots of cultural economy theory, and overlook the multiple disciplinary
perspectives that engage with these ideas. Surprisingly, Pierre Bourdieu is
rarely acknowledged as an important progenitor of cultural economy theory,
despite the fact his large and influential body of work was primarily concerned
with the interpenetration of cultural and economic power, processes and practices.
An application of Bourdieu’s ideas – in particular fields, habitus and capital
– enriches cultural economy perspectives in three areas: the distinctive yet
interdependent nature of cultural and economic spheres of action; attending to
the role of power, class and economic relations in shaping culture; and understanding
the daily lives of socially situated individuals.
Keywords: Bourdieu, consumption, cultural economy, field, habitus
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social relations augment a growing literature which lies at the heart of the
approach: observations on the simultaneous mobilization, and entwining,
of cultural and economic processes.
The two most recent edited collections on cultural economy enlisted a
number of distinguished researchers to explicate the field. The shared scope
and contributors-in-common of Cultural Economy: Cultural Analysis and
Commercial Life (CECACL) edited by du Gay and Pryke (2002) and The
Blackwell Cultural Economy Reader (BCER) edited by Amin and Thrift
(2004) demonstrate the dominant way in which cultural economy is being
cast. For this reason, we use them as a starting point for our account of
approaches in this new trans-discipline called cultural economy.
The introductions to each of the two collections set out a broadly similar
perspective on what constitutes ‘cultural economy’ research, although
their editors formulate the problem differently. Amin and Thrift (2004: xv)
argue for a movement beyond an additive definition, offering a perspective
of a ‘cultural economic ensemble with no clear hierarchy of significance’.
To them, the particular strength of cultural economy research is to maintain
that the ‘economy’ and ‘culture’ cannot be understood properly without
the other, because: ‘trying to break the two apart produces epistemic
monsters which try to repress their own mixed origins in a way which is
already all too familiar in other fields’ (Amin and Thrift, 2004: xiv). This
contrasts with du Gay and Pryke’s (2002: 12) view that ‘one can continue
to use the terms “economy” and “culture” in doing “cultural economy”
without one’s practice falling apart’.
The two anthologies, nevertheless, are united by a desire to provide a more
critical account of homo economicus than is present in much of the social
sciences (Mingione, 1991). The elaboration of the cultural, particularly the
symbolic, bases of economic knowledge that constitutes contemporary
organizational and economic life, is the dominant thrust of both books.
Contributors to both collections explore cultural processes and actors in
the economy. They include: cultural intermediaries, such as advertising
agencies, who imbue goods and services with meaning (see CECACL:
McFall; Negus; Nixon); the strategies by which the value-adding of quality
and meaning takes place (see CECACL: Allen; Slater; and see BCER: Callon
et al.; Hughes; Lury; Murdoch and Miele); the pivotal role of non-human
actors, in the guise of formulae and computer-based technologies, in financial
transactions; and how understandings of money are manipulated (see
CECACL: Law; Thrift; and see BCER: P. Miller).
As well as highlighting the role of cultural processes in constructing the
economy, du Gay and Pryke (2002) assess claims that this era is characterized
by the increasing culturalization of the economy: the flowering of what
are known as culture industries or creative industries. Amin and Thrift
(2004) also focus on the culturalization of the economy thesis; however it
is unclear where they sit in this regard. They appear to agree simultaneously
402 Journal of Sociology 43(4)
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with the following propositions: (1) economies have always been culturally
inspired; (2) economies are more culturally embedded than in the past; (3)
it is not sufficient to argue that the economy is culturally embedded because
cultural and economic performances are inevitably partnered.
The two texts illustrate the ways that cultural economy can engage critically
with concepts previously presumed to be the domain of economics.
The area is revealed as having potential to improve upon ‘black box’
assumptions within the discipline of economics, for example externalities,
utility and the definition of the economy itself.
In describing the nature of this ‘emergent’ or ‘re-emergent’ field (both
terms are used), Amin and Thrift (2004) make three attempts to establish
its lineage: they claim that it is 10 years old at one point; that it extends
back to Daniel Bell’s work on consumer society in the 1960s; and that perhaps
it began with Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments in the 18th
century. Altogether, they name numerous sociological luminaries as contributors
to the theoretical hybrid: Marx, Engels, Veblen, Weber, Foucault,
Simmel, Benjamin and Bataille. While the editors refer to the venerable
grand masters of sociology, it is as if to dispense with them; few contributors
glimpse in their direction.
We notice there is a wider array of disciplines than is acknowledged in
the collections that has generated material exploring the mutually constitutive
nature of cultural and economic actions. Within social and cultural theory,
there is a rich and diverse legacy of theorizing about culture and
economy extending over the 20th century, summarized in Table 1.
In general terms, economic anthropology and economic sociology are well
represented in the two anthologies. However, the extensive sociological legacy
of theorizing about power appears to be dismissed in favour of the poststructural
idiom. When it does appear, power is identified in terms of discipline,
measurement/audit and corporate narratives (Amin and Thrift, 2004: xix, see
Table 1). An Actor Network Theory approach to power is popular in both
texts: power is decentred, highly context dependent and social relations arise in
the process of enactment rather than being an a priori condition. It is experienced
horizontally rather than being imposed vertically, is reflexive rather than
determinate and network actors’ subject positions are fluid.
Pierre Bourdieu and the cultural economy
The most significant theorist to be overlooked is, in our opinion, Pierre
Bourdieu. This important sociologist does not appear in the lengthy index
of the Amin and Thrift (2004) collection, and apart from an occasional
brief reference, explicit applications of his theory in du Gay and Pryke’s
(2002) book are largely confined to his notion of cultural intermediaries.
The main purpose of this article is to outline the value of Bourdieu’s theory
for enriching cultural economy research.
Hinde & Dixon: Bourdieu’s contribution to cultural economy theorizing 403
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404 Journal of Sociology 43(4)
Disciplines
Major theorists
Major concepts
Table 1: Theorizing culture and economy
Economic
anthropology
• Douglas and
Isherwood
• Appadurai
• D. Miller
• Goods as an
information
system
• Regimes of value
(‘a broad set of
agreements
concerning what
is desirable, what
a reasonable
“exchange of
sacrifices”
comprises, and
who is permitted
to exercise what
kind of effective
demand in what
circumstances’)
(Appadurai, 1986:
57)
Economic sociology
• Simmel
• Granovetter (1985)
• Lash and Urry
• Callon
• The ‘tragedy of
culture’
• Embeddeness of
social relations
• Reflexive
accumulation
• Socio-technical
systems
Cultural theory
• Frankfurt School
of Social Research
• Centre for
Contemporary
Cultural Studies
• Williams
• Featherstone
• Campbell
• Culture and social
order
• Culture as
ideology, or site
of resistance?
• Cultural
materialism
• Consumer culture
Political economy
• Marx
• Gramsci
• Harvey (1989)
• Friedland
• Culture as reflex
of economy, as
substructure
• Culture as a field
of struggle
• Circuits of capital
and culture
• Extended
Commodity
Systems
Approach,
encompassing
production
relations and
commodity
culture (Friedland,
2001)
Political sociology
• Weber
• Parsons
• Bell
• Bourdieu
• All social action
can be categorized
as economic
activity,
economically
relevant activity
(e.g. religion) and
economically
determined
activity
• Culture as critical
to social order,
and thus to
capitalism
• The cultural
contradiction of
capitalism
(continued)
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Hinde & Dixon: Bourdieu’s contribution to cultural economy theorizing 405
Disciplines
Major arguments
Table 1: (continued)
Economic
anthropology
• Social imperatives
to consume
• Goods are a
non-verbal
medium used to
stabilize culture
• Globalization
results from the
transmission of
regimes of value
via five cultural
economy flows:
ethnoscapes,
ideoscapes,
financscapes,
technoscapes,
mediascapes
• ‘Consumption has
become the
vanguard of
history’ (Miller,
1995: 1)
Economic sociology
• Culture is
rationalized, via
the money
economy, where
all value is
reduced to money.
Inner life is
reduced to
commodity
fetishism:
subjective and
objective life
separate
• Economic
behaviour and
institutions are
constrained by
ongoing social
relations
Cultural theory
• Culture industry
and effects of
mass culture on
class
consciousness
• The symbolic field
of ideology is
discontinuous
with, but mutually
articulated with,
the social field of
class relations
(Hall, 1977: 29
on Bourdieu)
Political economy
• Commodity
fetishism: the
appearance and
valuation of
commodities mask
the essence of
their production,
and in this way
commodities come
to dominate the
lives of those who
produce them
• Power relations
are a struggle over
what is thinkable;
cultural revolution
will prefigure
economic
revolution
Political sociology
• Different forms of
capital: finance,
symbolic, cultural
and social
• Cultural
intermediaries
• Calvinism’s role in
the formation of
rational capitalism
(Weber, 1947)
• Culture is
internalized in the
personalities of
individual actors
and patterns the
social system
(Parsons, 1951)
(continued)
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406 Journal of Sociology 43(4)
Disciplines
Table 1: (continued)
Economic
anthropology
• ‘Consumption
has become the
vanguard of
history’ (Miller,
1995: 1)
Economic sociology
• Capital
accumulation is
less dependent on
the sale of goods
than the trade in
services,
communications
and information
(Lash & Urry,
1994: 64)
• Science and
technology play
major role in
power relations
Cultural theory
• The task is to
analyse ‘the specific
relationships
through which
works are made
and move’
(Williams, 1989:
173)
• The transition
from a production
to a consumption
society involves
cultural transition:
decline in
Protestant work
ethic, rise in
‘expressive’,
‘hedonistic’ and
‘romantic’ ethos
(Campbell, 1987)
• ‘Everyday life
cannot be
understood merely
by conceptions of
… instrumental
rational calculation’
(Featherstone,
1987: 59)
Political economy
• Critical moments
in the ‘social
process’ include
material practices,
social relations,
power, discourse/
language, beliefs/
values/desires,
institutions/rituals
(Harvey, 1996: 78)
• Commodity
chains have values
embedded in them
Political sociology
• Capitalism
operates on the
basis of a
disjunction
between a
disciplined
workforce serving
the technoeconomic
system
versus pleasureseeking
citizens`
• Battles for
hegemony operate
as ‘classifactory
struggles’ (Lash,
1990 on
Bourdieu)
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We are not the only sociologists to identify Bourdieu as a cultural
economist. In one of the earliest treatments of what constitutes the cultural
economy, Scott Lash (1990: 240) acknowledged a paper from
Bourdieu written in 1971 as constituting ‘the benchmark statement on the
cultural economy’. Elsewhere Lash (1993: 193) noted that Bourdieu’s
‘general sociology of culture is a general theory of the economics of symbolic
practice’.
The oversight is curious given that Bourdieu’s widely read book
Distinction (1984) gave a detailed and sophisticated theorization of concepts
used extensively in the anthologies, namely: ‘struggles over classification’
(1984: 223); ‘the cultural game’ (1984: 251); ‘culture-intensive craftsmanship
and commerce’ (1984: 141); the conversion and reconversion of various
forms of capital, including finance and cultural capital (1984: 114–41);
‘cultural intermediaries’ and ‘new professionals’ (1984: 323); and ‘symbolic
integration’ (1984: 154). Our article does not provide a complete account of
Bourdieu’s cultural economy but instead elaborates on the value of three
concepts in particular – fields, habitus and capital – for cultural economy
research.
Without attending to the accumulated wisdom across the social sciences,
and in particular the works of Bourdieu, current research that coalesces
under the banner of ‘cultural economy’ tends to suffer four problems:
1 There is a lack of in-depth examination of politics, power and class.
2 The frequent application of Actor Network Theory does not tread a
clear path between dichotomous versus hybrid definitions of culture/
economy.
3 The focus on understanding ‘economics as culture’, of exploring ‘culturally
encoded economies’ (Allen, 2002: 40), offers a restrictive and one-way interpretation
of the scope of the relationship between culture and economy.
4 Accounts of the everyday life of citizens – or, the experiences of people
beyond culture industry workers – are largely missing.
This article elaborates each of these problems in turn, with reference to how
an application of Bourdieu’s concepts may improve the rigour and usefulness
of cultural economy research.
Power, politics and class in the cultural economy
Amin and Thrift (2004) position cultural economy not alongside political
economy but as a successor to what they call ‘heterodox economics’, socioeconomics
and political economy. They criticize political economists for continuing
‘to accept such strong assumptions of systemic rationality and order
that they too often oust non-rational, performative impulses (from desire to
radical uncertainty) from being given their due consideration’ (Amin and
Thrift, 2004: x). At the same time, they claim that ‘power is one of the key
Hinde & Dixon: Bourdieu’s contribution to cultural economy theorizing 407
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aspects of the cultural economy approach’ (2004: xxi), and proceed to
describe power in terms reflecting post-structural currents. There are ample
references to ‘measurement tools’ and ‘corporate narratives’, brands are
positioned not as economic tools but as the ‘passion to represent’ and economic
subjects are not defined by their place in the labour process but are
created from discourses (e.g. Lury, 2004; P. Miller, 2004; Thrift, 2002).
Contrary to Lawrence Grossberg’s testimonial on the cover of the du
Gay and Pryke book that it heralds ‘the beginning of the end of the strife
between cultural studies and political economy’, we find that the culturalist
approach to corporate capital contained in both books eclipses the accumulated
insight of political economy. Weber’s (1947) point that all activity
is at some stage relevant to economic activity is downplayed. Building on
the efforts of political economy, Dixon (2002) and Goodman and DuPuis
(2002) have argued that cultural economy ought also to concern itself with
the cultural impacts of economic power, economic structures, commodity
and labour markets and consumption practices. The economic sphere’s
influence over modern culture is missing from much that is being written
under the cultural economy umbrella.
There are exceptions. In an economic anthropology account of the cultural
economy trans-discipline, Rhoda Halperin (1994) acknowledges the
contribution of Karl Polanyi. Polanyi (1944) in The Great Transformation
attributed the disengagement of economics from both moral considerations
and government deliberations to the eclipse of the international gold standard
by the self-regulating market from the 1920s. Polanyi’s work entwined
economics, culture and power in a fashion akin to the neo-Marxists
represented by Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School of Social Research,
but without their insistence on the role of ideological apparatuses and hegemonic
processes in forging social consciousness. Polanyi’s concerns for the
alienation of labour from other life activities, with the market’s displacement
and erosion of cultural institutions is not represented in the two collections
under discussion. As Mingione (1991: 22) has noted, Polanyi’s
contribution was to highlight how ‘the full independence of a market-regulated
economy means the subordination of society to market laws and that
such subordination is incompatible with the very survival of society’.
The absence of an explicit politics regarding the social consequences of
blurring economic and cultural activity has led to some disappointment with
du Gay and Pryke’s collection of cultural economy research (Jack, 2002). A
concern with power relations would have entailed greater attention to how
cultural-economic actors are influencing the management of national
economies and organizational cultures based on the strategic ‘unleashing’ of
creativity and enterprise; the changing balance of power between producers
and consumers and between cultural producers and mass audiences/consumer
markets; and the geo-political impacts of cultural-economy activity. A
political re-orientation involves asking authors to address questions such as:
408 Journal of Sociology 43(4)
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how are class relations being reconfigured as the professions increasingly
provide services to market operators (what Sassen (1991) calls the ‘producer
services sector’)? And, what are the social impacts of aesthetic or creative
economies? It would also be pertinent to track the ‘social life’ of representations:
‘including how such representations enter their journeys from field or
factory to final consumption, or shape the calculations of capital (with
respect to exchange value) and the choices of consumers (with respect to use
value)’ and who benefits along the way (Bernstein and Campling, 2006: 426).
In spite of many examples in their book to the contrary, du Gay and Pryke
(2002: 6) observe that ‘doing cultural economy’ should not be confused with
undertaking discursive analyses of economic objects. A little later they say
that cultural economic analysis is concerned ‘with the practical materialcultural
ways in which “economic” objects and persons are put together from
disparate parts’ (2002: 8). But how economic relations are generated and
performed, as we have suggested, is only one aspect of the cultural economy
process; the other is how cultural systems are being assembled by economic
actors and processes whether to aid the economic performance or, as Miller
(2002) suggests, as an unintended by-product of it.
At no point in his 30 years of contributing to the cultural economy lexicon
did Bourdieu shy away from scrutinizing power. His influence over the
establishment of critical theory, cultural sociology and in political sociology
is widely acknowledged to be profound (see Garnham and Williams, 1980;
Hall, 1977; Swingewood, 1998: ch. 6). His early work on symbolic power,
in particular, resonates with Marxist and Weberian arguments about the
symbolic forms of domination required to produce dispositions suited to the
pre-capitalist and capitalist systems; of the ideological and practical effects
of mechanisms to assure the reproduction of the relations of domination; of
the legitimation functions of the law and social policy (Bourdieu, 1977a).
In particular, Bourdieu repeatedly described the enormous effort that
goes into producing an ‘elective affinity’ between goods and consumers,
and he charted how symbolic production accompanies material production.
He argued that ‘the power to impose the legitimate mode of thought and
expression ... is increasingly waged in the field of the production of symbolic
goods’ (Bourdieu, 1977b: 170). He also pointed out that this twin
effort was not trouble-free, but that it was infused with struggles between
producers, consumers and cultural intermediaries, such as those employed
in the education system. While producers were trying to influence consumer
receptivity to goods and their dispositions to act, in order to accumulate
finance capital, consumers were using the goods to distinguish themselves
in social space and to accumulate a variety of forms of capital.
Bourdieu’s more recent work offers a framework for pursuing his agenda of
revealing the social reproduction of power. The Social Structures of the
Economy (2005) applies many of Bourdieu’s concepts, especially fields, in
demonstrating how the housing market reproduces disadvantage. This research
Hinde & Dixon: Bourdieu’s contribution to cultural economy theorizing 409
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provided statistical descriptions of the distribution of capital between the classes,
ethnographic accounts of the operation of enterprises and markets and a historical
analysis of housing policy. Qualitative methodologies revealed how such
structures intersected with groups’ tastes, values and aspirations about family,
domesticity and lifestyle, and consumers’ experiences of buying a home. This
cultural economy analysis showed that a house costs more than just a sum of
money, but also requires ‘an entire life-plan and style of life … [with] implicit
commitments [which] will have to be seen through to the end, that is to say, far
beyond the last due date for the last payment’ (Bourdieu, 2005: 186–7).
Bourdieu shows how the ‘home’ is a major cultural and economic mechanism
for maintaining inequality between social groups.
We demonstrate Bourdieu’s usefulness to cultural economy research in
the remainder of this article, by elaborating on the remaining three problems
we identified in current accounts of the area: the conceptual blurring
of culture and economy; the over-emphasis on the role of culture in shaping
economy and neglect of the counterpoint; and a lack of insight into
people’s everyday life.
Thinking about fields to avoid hybridizing culture
and economy
A tension for cultural economy researchers is how to delineate culture and
economy. In particular, cultural economists seek to resist casting the two as
dichotomous or mutually exclusive; or economic knowledge as rational and
cultural knowledge as irrational or ‘soft’. The section on the Economy of
Passions in Amin and Thrift’s BCER reflects this ambition, as do chapters
in the CECACL collection by Heelas, and McRobbie.
For example, Amin and Thrift (2004) argue that it does not make sense to
divorce the economy from culture because so much contemporary social
action contains symbiotic elements of aggregation (or accumulation of
resources) and ordering (or the passing of judgements on standards or qualities),
whether by corporations or consumers. In the same chapter, they also
explain that it is insufficient to say that cultural action is the same as economic
action, or that cultural perspectives may simply add to understanding the
economy. A compromise position is sought that defines the two processes as
always intertwined, with neither more important nor fundamental. However,
because it is not possible to identify the codification process behind much aesthetic
or expressive activity, some argue that it is even not possible to assume
a ‘rapprochement between culture and the economy’ (Allen, 2002: 54).
Both Amin and Thrift (2004) and du Gay and Pryke (2002) endorse
Actor Network Theory (ANT) for examining cultural economy and
explaining the interdependency of the labours of cultural and economic
actors. Many of the authors in those collections demonstrate the worthwhile
insights that can be gained from such a perspective (e.g. Allen, 2002;
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Callon et al., 2004; Murdoch and Miele, 2004). Still, we suggest that viewing
the cultural economy as a single network harbours a potential to overlook
the multiple contestations, contradictions and synergies between and
within the efforts of social actors. This blindness constitutes a loss of the
conceptual rigour offered by considering the distinct properties of economic
and cultural activity.
The ANT approach, which inevitably leads to hybrid actors and processes,
is well exemplified in John Law’s chapter in du Gay and Pryke
(2002). Law uses Weber’s category of ‘economically relevant’ activity (albeit
without reference to Weber) to describe the science of accountancy and its
role in spawning an audit society. Unlike Weber, Law refuses to identify any
one logic at work: instead he argues that ‘[p]ractice is larger, more complex,
more messy, than can be grasped within any particular logic’ (Law, 2002:
34). The Weberian logic of rationalization imposed by markets and bureaucracy
is anathema to Law’s view of late 20th-century public sectors.
However, it is equally clear that in refusing to distinguish between economic
and what are called ‘non-economic strategies’, cultural economists can end
up theorizing the cultural and economic spheres as having no autonomy at
all, nor with their own unique modes of logic or specific qualities.
We propose that Bourdieu offers another perspective for resolving these
tensions. His theory conceptualizes culture and economy as separate but not
opposing, as interdependent but not the same. Bourdieu’s notion of fields
helps to explain the ‘macro’-level operation of culture and economy in society.
Fields employs the analogy of space to describe how groups of individuals,
namely classes, occupy different relative positions in society (Bourdieu,
1998). The location of a class, or individual, in social space is the product
of their relative success in competing for the particular type of capital at
stake in a given field. Put most simply, in the economic field agents struggle
to acquire money, to ensure the value of their assets and to maintain
their capacity to continue to own and acquire such things. In the cultural
field, people compete for cultural capital, or the ability to appreciate, produce
and understand ‘legitimate’ forms of knowledge. A capacity to possess
such capital is acquired through formal institutions – education, museums,
galleries, etc. – as well as informally through the family (Bourdieu, 1998).
In a given field, agents struggle to maintain their position by following the
‘rules of the game’ in that field – for example, within the structures of capitalism
in the market, or according to the definitions of academic success in
educational institutions. Success in a field is the result of effortlessly and effectively
following the rules and/or strategically using the rules to one’s own
advantage. Moreover, the powerful class factions are continually modifying
the rules or establishing new ones – thus staying ahead of the other classes
and ensuring the rules always work in their favour. Bourdieu (1984) explains
how the dominant classes in the cultural and economic fields each set the
rules of the field to their own advantage, thereby maintaining their power.
Hinde & Dixon: Bourdieu’s contribution to cultural economy theorizing 411
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According to Bourdieu (1984), there is much to be learnt about the
reproduction of power by studying not only competition for capital within
a field, but also the transformation or exchange of capital between fields.
For example, economic capital can be transformed into cultural capital: an
individual spends economic capital to acquire cultural capital through formal
education; and companies may gain power in the cultural field by
establishing or influencing cultural institutions. Conversely, cultural capital
can be transformed into economic capital through the use of cultural works
and specialist knowledge in the economy.
In Distinction, Bourdieu (1984) described how the factions within
the dominant class struggle to increase the overall reach of their power by
creating and exploiting connections between the cultural and economic
fields. These groups continually transform their capital, maximizing the
yield of such transformations by contesting the terms of exchange, via the
rules of the game in the two fields. Bourdieu states that the struggles within
and between the cultural and economic fields are among the most salient in
understanding social power. Thus, at the heart of Bourdieu’s theory was an
account of the functioning and significance of the ‘cultural economy’.
A major advantage of this theory is that it is grounded in a concern to
reveal the social fundamentals of class and power relations in accounting
for social action. Culture and economy are manifestations of these struggles,
albeit complex ones which take on a life of their own. A cultural economy
approach that is influenced more by Bourdieu than by those working
with hybrids (including Actor Network theorists, reflexive accumulation
theorists, convention theorists) is therefore more alert to:
• The needs of capitalists and capitalist enterprises for cultural capital,
symbolic power and the capacity to dominate discourse, to continue to
exploit labour and the environment.
• The class position of the new cultural intermediaries.
• People’s relationships with both production and consumption activities.
• An individual’s scope for social practice is delimited by their position in
social space; there is less fluidity in socio-economic status than hybridists
contend.
Building on this last point especially, we next turn to Bourdieu’s idea of
habitus, which helps to explain how economic structures generate cultural
practices – offering another perspective within the cultural economy
research endeavour.
Habitus – how the cultural economy structures
culture
While the two most recent edited collections offer a firm rhetorical
emphasis on culture and economy as equally important counterparts in an
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intertwined system, there is a curious privileging of one feature: namely,
the increased/increasing ‘culturalization’ of the economy. The one-sided
thrust is captured by du Gay and Pryke’s (2002: 6) assertion that ‘doing
cultural economy’ means attention to ‘economics as culture’ (Warde’s
chapter in the CECACL collection is a notable exception). Too little resonates
with Weber’s interest in the economic determination of cultural life
such as trade unionism, or the insights about ideologies and capitalist
hegemony from the Frankfurt School of Social Research and Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies. In our terms, the collections devote
plenty of attention to the potency of cultural processes, works and practices
and scant analysis of the structuring nature of economics: especially
upon culture, understood as the socially inspired rhythms of life, in postindustrial
society.
Another of Bourdieu’s concepts assists here. Habitus is the embodied disposition
shared by members of a class. The concept refers to a person’s way
of being: their manner, what they do, how they feel about things, what they
buy, how they eat, their leisure pursuits, etc. One’s practices and commodities
reflect a set of unconscious underlying principles, concerns and
strategies: namely, their habitus (Bourdieu, 1998). This idea draws directly
on the notion of culture, as in the shared norms and practices of a group of
people (a class) whereby, ‘the rules and structures of perception that pertain
to a particular habitus are inscribed on, and in, individuals as if they were
“human nature”’ (Webb et al., 2002: 39).
The habitus enables people to compete for capital by acting in ways
that provide advantage within the field while also distinguishing them
from other classes located elsewhere in the field (Bourdieu, 1998). In particular,
the habitus of the dominant class enables its members to abide
superbly by – and where appropriate, find ways to modify – the rules
of the game, thereby always distinguishing their identity as elite and
reproducing their power.
People acquire their habitus – their tastes, preferences and manner – through
exposures and experiences from family, school and elsewhere during childhood.
The scope of formative, and adult, experience is circumscribed by the
opportunities and constraints that come with occupying a particular location
in the fields. Accordingly, Bourdieu defines a class as a group of people who
experience social structure from a similar point of reference: ‘the objective class,
[is] the set of agents who are placed in homogeneous conditions of existence’
(Bourdieu, 1984: 101, emphasis in original). As Bourdieu (1998: 8) explains,
‘the habitus is this generative and unifying principle which retranslates …
position into a unitary lifestyle, that is, a unitary set of choices of persons,
goods and practices’.
The ‘homogeneous conditions’ that Bourdieu says matter especially for
generating the habitus, and defining class, are those associated with one’s
location within the economic and cultural fields. He states that there are
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three important dimensions that define social space, delimit the classes and
therefore shape habitus (Bourdieu, 1984: 114–16):
1 Overall volume of economic and cultural (and also social) capital.
2 Composition of that capital (ratio of economic to cultural capital).
3 Changes in the above two over time, i.e. social trajectory (this accounts for
the continual struggle to acquire capital and maximize its ‘exchange’ value).
Bourdieu thought class to be an outcome of a group’s success within, and
across, the cultural and economic fields. He therefore used a theory of cultural
economy to articulate the mechanisms through which social, cultural
and economic processes and structures shape people’s cultural dispositions.
Thus far we have explained how Bourdieu’s theory establishes inter-relationships
between cultural processes, economic processes and cultural practices,
all with reference to sociology’s bread-and-butter: struggles for
power, class relations and consideration of social reproduction. Next, we
will explain how his theory also offers a resolution about the nature of ‘economic’
or rational practice versus aesthetic or symbolic practice.
Understanding everyday practices as competition
for capital
Bourdieu (1998) explained that people’s social practices are driven by an
unconscious ambition to accumulate capital and move to better locations
within social space. Moreover, people enter competitions for capital with
different resources at their disposal. Thus, individuals have multiple objectives
and varying means, yielding a multiplicity of strategies for maximizing
capital across the fields, giving rise to complex, weird and wonderful social
practices. This spectrum of variation is characterized in Bourdieu et al.
(1999) The Weight of the World, which illustrated how the operation of
power across social space, and its manifestation in place, gives rise to
unpredictably diverse circumstances, biographies and ways of life.
Bourdieu’s (1998) conception of capital expands on simplistic notions of
‘rational action’. It explains how people can have multiple, sometimes contradictory,
motivations. Capital takes multiple forms, so when a person’s
behaviour seems ‘irrational’ it is probably better explained with reference
to multiple interests, rather than in terms of purely financial concerns.
Lebaron (2003: 558) summarizes how Bourdieu’s ‘capital’ has ‘a non-monetary
and non-quantitative meaning as if “social evaluation” was a general
phenomenon, whereas strictly monetary or quantitative evaluations are historically
specific constructs giving birth to the “economic field”’.
A person’s orientation towards maximizing multiple kinds of capital at
once is mostly unconscious, and is experienced as tastes, emotions, preferences,
habits. Bourdieu suggests a way in which economic or calculative
knowledge may exist in harmony with aesthetic and symbolic knowledge –
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both are embodied in habitus. Indeed, calculative knowledge most frequently
plays out in habitus as aesthetic or emotional instincts: a ‘feel for
the game’. A theoretical dichotomy between economic versus cultural
knowledge is not required because habitus allows for both.
Importantly, however, Bourdieu did not equate calculative and strategic
knowledge with aesthetic, intellectual or creative knowledge; nor did he
mean that all knowledge is relative, boiling down to self-interest (Bennett,
2005). Rather, Bourdieu’s philosophy supports the idea that some forms of
aesthetic knowledge represent a pursuit of truth grounded in a history of
human intellectual achievement. He is troubled by a scenario where the
dominant classes seize and maintain exclusive access to such forms of
higher-order, ‘pure’ or ‘universal’, knowledge in order to maintain their
position in the cultural field and their overall power (Bennett, 2005).
Amin and Thrift (2004: xiv) seem to agree with the idea that people’s
practices have multiple intentions, suggesting that a cultural economy theory
of social action accommodates people’s ‘pursuit of many goals at once:
from meeting material needs and accumulating riches to seeking symbolic
satisfaction and satisfying fleeting pleasures’. However, consumers, citizens
and service users make only brief appearances in the collection: possibly
because they are so tightly implicated in actor networks that it is not necessary
to identify their distinctive interests.
Despite du Gay and Pryke’s (2002) assertion about cultural economic
forces operating at different levels, one has to go beyond the research
represented in these books to appreciate how macro-cultural economies
have a bearing on micro-cultural economies. There is too little regard, for
instance, for how commercial pressures can limit the circulation of
unorthodox or oppositional ideas (an exception being the chapter by
Negus in the CECACL collection); or whether different modes of production
(mass, flexible) are encouraging a ‘“fluidity” of socio-economic
life’ with implications for everyday practices like diet (discussed briefly
by Murdoch and Miele, 2004: 244).
While considerable evidence is provided that the demand of goods, services
and experiences is not innocent or freely chosen, we learn too little of
the consumer perspective of the conscious and unconscious acceptance of,
and resistance to, ideas associated with the good life, a healthy life, a moral
life and a disciplined life. There is plenty of attention to the role of the cultural
intermediary, those actors who make up, define, drive the economy
using their specialist knowledge, but few accounts of the citizen, the father
or mother, the neighbour.
The market is but one site where transactions take place, where strategies
are employed and struggles for power occur. We believe an emphasis
on capitalist firms and networks neglects the multi-faceted nature of social
existence. These problems arise from the scale at which much cultural economy
analysis is conducted. There is a heavy focus on the level of the pro-
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ducer and manager within the organization, market, commodity chain, governing
institution, the network or global system.
Daniel Miller, who contributed to both books, has elsewhere elaborated
the type of research approach required to study social changes under capitalism.
Ethnography of society, rather than ethnography of business, is necessary,
he argues, to understand consumption: commodity value is a
process of accretion from kinship, household, ethnicity and firm (Miller,
1997: 310). He stresses the need for a long-term and multi-pronged
engagement in the field. Interviews and participant observation are conducted
among material and symbolic producers, traders, consumers/citizens
and citizen representatives. His approach makes it possible to practise in a
less mechanistic way the twin circuits of culture-capital approach that was
criticized by Amin and Thrift (2004) for its merely additive perspective.
Bourdieu’s theoretical approach and methods delve to a finer level of
‘magnification’: his cultural economy is made up of groups of socially situated
people, conceived as citizens, families, consumers, employees and producers,
whose concerns extend across multiple fields of action. His
extensive sociology, spanning three decades, used multiple methodologies
to examine embodied dispositions, values, beliefs and emotions and how
people interact with each other and with organizations such as firms, governing
bodies and marketplaces.
Bourdieu investigated the socially variegated sources of gratification
and esteem that surround a social practice, as well as its material costs and
benefits. The following passage encapsulates how Bourdieu (1984: 101)
theorized the cultural economy:
one only has to ask the question which economists strangely ignore, of the economic
conditions of the production of dispositions demanded by the economy,
ie in this case, the question of the economic and social determinants of tastes, to
see the necessity of including in the complete definition of the product, the differential
experiences, which the consumers have of it as a function of the dispositions
they derive from their position in economic space.
Conclusion
For more than half a century, many significant theorists (e.g. Bell, 1976;
Lash and Urry, 1994; Polanyi, 1944) have highlighted how modernity is
accompanied by the decoupling of culture, economy and politics. More
recently a range of disciplines has been asserting that culture and economics
are well and truly enjoined, some believing in unprecedented ways. Cultural
economists study the points where economy and culture influence, juxtapose,
fuse, feedback or transform each other, where each process is better
understood with conceptual and empirical reference to the other.
The importance of a cultural economy trans-discipline that draws on older
as well as more recent theorizing is that it has the potential to re-couple
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culture, economy and politics. Bourdieu can be seen as a key exponent of
older theorizing, whose work is capable of elucidating the interdependent,
mutually constructed and sustaining nature of economy and culture.
Instead of positing a new hybrid of seamless appropriation of cultural
processes by economic actors, Bourdieu considered the cultural field to be
autonomous from the economics field. At the same time, however, his fieldnegotiated
processes of taste-making and the commodification of taste
entailed the economics field exerting sway over the cultural field. He
explained that economic capital had come to dominate because it is easier
to transmit and objectify: and is therefore easier to protect, manage, calculate,
predict and – ultimately – control.
A cultural economy perspective that is inspired by Bourdieu alerts us to
the following:
• The field is a space of struggle and competition for capital, and economic
capitalists need to dominate discursive formations across multiple fields
to continue to exploit labour and nature.
• Many professions and technologies have been enrolled to perform these
symbolic activities, and to aid the capital conversion process.
• Embodied history (habitus) reveals the importance of people’s relationships
with both production and consumption activities for generating
social consciousness.
• How, in Simmel’s terms, the society-level ‘external culture’ impacts on
the embodied ‘internal culture’.
• How cultural hegemony is ‘refused, diffused, absorbed, reproduced, and
reconfigured, given the particularities of its interpolation into multiple
contexts and under different pretexts by various agents’ (Palumbo-Liu,
1992: 4).
Taken together, an application of fields, habitus and capital rejuvenates our
understanding of late modernity’s capacity for social reproduction. Like
Weber, who pointed out the importance of a homology between capitalist
ideas and capitalist activities and the ‘inner compulsion’, or psychological
aspect of ideologies, Bourdieu draws our attention to what it takes to reproduce
dynamically the class system, via the cultural economy.
Bourdieu’s cultural economy is an elegant theory of how cultural, economic
and symbolic relations are variously structured, embodied and practised.
In this article we have demonstrated how Bourdieu’s contribution
enriches cultural economy theorizing and offers solutions to some of the
traps and tensions that exist for this trans-discipline. The theory facilitates
a conceptual rigour in thinking about culture and economy as different but
not independent, or opposing, spheres of action. It enables a broadening
beyond the dominant research momentum that highlights ‘economics as
culture’ and the culturalization of the economy. If cultural economy is to be
a major advance on previous sociological perspectives, its concepts should
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build on and augment those from political economy, especially class relations,
social reproduction and the exercise of power. Bourdieu’s framework
enables sociology to examine the subtle and sophisticated ways that culture
and economy are manipulated by, and for, powerful groups instead of
being put to the service of humanity.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the editors of this Special Issue, three anonymous
reviewers and those who participated in the TASA Economic Sociology
Group session in December 2006, for their constructive and encouraging
comments.
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Biographical notes
Sarah Hinde is completing her PhD at the National Centre for Epidemiology
and Population Health at the Australian National University. Her thesis
applies Bourdieu’s theory in an examination of the cultural and economic
aspects of transport practices in Australia, and the role of car reliance in the
reproduction of health inequalities.
Jane Dixon is a Fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and
Population Health, Australian National University. Jane uses a cultural
economy approach to examine the social trends that have an impact on
public health. [email: jane.dixon@anu.edu.au
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