On Bourdieu’s Economy of symbolic goods
Pierre Bourdieu constituted the sociology of culture as a specialty of the sociological discipline at a time when “Cultural Studies” were just emerging and when culture was becoming a site of public intervention. As a specific research domain, the sociology of culture encompasses the sociology of art, that is to say, the conditions of production and circulation of cultural works, and the sociology of cultural practices. While the concept of “field” implies the relative autonomy of cultural universes, endowed with their particular rules and specific stakes, the concept of “habitus” aims to account for differences that one may observe between the cultural practices of different social groups and their harmony within each one of these groups. However, far from being confined to this domain, culture occupies a central place in Bourdieu’s reflection upon the economy of symbolic exchanges and on the social structure, which he rethinks and reconfigures in introducing the concept of “cultural capital.” If his theory belongs to “Cultural Sociology” in a general sense, Bourdieu never subscribed to culturalist theses that tend to essentialize culture. His approach is relational and dynamic, and aims, following Durkheim, to explain “the social by the social”. His reflection on the symbolic dimension of exchanges drove him to rethink the theory of domination.
Gisèle Sapiro, professor of sociology at EHESS, led this workshop in the department of Sociology of Hong Kong University on 31st of May 2016.