Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck

[Cross-posted from]

This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 [1980]) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.

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Cultural capital, social capital, symbolic capital: what do we gain from an economic metaphor?

In an essay written in response to Colin Mills’s (2013) critique of Bourdieu’s use of the terms ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’, I discussed the use of the word ‘capital’ as a metaphor for forms of resource other than capital in its literal sense (Allington, 2013a). As I argue in that piece, such usage is by no means as unorthodox as some of Bourdieu’s critics have implied, since it dates back to the early 19th century and has entered common parlance. But it should be admitted that there is a difference between loosely figurative senses of ‘capital’, such as are to be found within the 19th century examples I drew from the Oxford English Dictionary, and the more tightly defined (but still metaphorical) sense of the word as used by some social scientists in recent decades.

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Capital as metaphor: a few notes on usage and history

There’s a new piece on Colin Mills’s Oxford Sociology blog on the terms ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’ (Mills, 2013a). These terms and others like them – such as ‘linguistic capital’ – were influentially used by Pierre Bourdieu (1984 [1979]) to describe intangible resources conferring social and often economic advantage upon those who possess them in greater measure. It seems that Prof. Mills has been attacking these terms, apparently with such devastating ferocity that those who still cling to their use have been reduced to a state of desperation. ‘One desperate last move that their defenders try to deploy,’ he writes, ‘is the old “its only a metaphor” ploy, as though that was some kind of answer.’ (Mills 2013a, parag. 1) Mills is very good at picking questionable interpretations of data apart – his open letter (Mills, 2012) to the authors of The spirit level was a thing of beauty, for example – so perhaps those of us who persist in muttering the term ‘cultural capital’ from time to time ought to be scared. But I’m not sure he’s on such strong ground here – and by an interesting coincidence, the ‘ploy’ he decries bears a distant resemblance to something I said a couple of weeks ago, in a discussion occasioned by an essay I had written on the topic of ‘cultural value’ (Allington, 2013):
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