Pierre Bourdieu

A Critical Introduction to Media and Communication Theory

by David W. Park (Author)
©2014 Monographs XII, 172 Pages


Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas have had a major impact on a number of fields of inquiry. As scholars of media and communication begin to think more frequently and more carefully with Bourdieu’s ideas, this book offers a wealth of points of contact between Bourdieu’s ideas and research topics concerning media and communication. This book addresses how Bourdieu’s ideas can be used to raise questions concerning: media production, media audiences, symbolic authority, and the history of communication study. The result is a compact but comprehensive volume that gives the reader a sense of the scope and relevance of Bourdieu’s ideas to a wide range of domains of study in communication research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Pierre Bourdieu
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One: Pierre Bourdieu’s Legacy and the Study of Communication
  • Habitus
  • The Field
  • Capital
  • On Theoreticism
  • Points of Contact: Bourdieu and the Media
  • Chapter Two: The Field of Media Production
  • Habitus and Political Economy
  • The Field and Media Production
  • Interfield Relations
  • Intrafield Relations
  • Autonomy and Heteronomy
  • Capital: Production and Prestige
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Three: The Media Audience: Fluency, Strategy, and Le Sens Practique
  • Tacit Knowledge and the Audience
  • Communication Competence: Beauty Is a Rarefied Thing
  • The Circuit of Culture
  • Technical Competence, Practice, and New Media
  • Relationality and the Field of the Audience
  • Audience Practice as Ritual
  • Conclusion: Audience Theory and Methodology
  • Chapter Four: Symbolic Power and Authority: The Power/Communication Nexus
  • Language and Social Structure
  • The Social Magic of Authority
  • Symbolic Power and Specialization
  • Authority as Strategy
  • The Break and the Double-Break in the Media
  • Media and Authority
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Five: Reflexivity and the History of the Field of Communication
  • To Exoticize the Domestic: Studying Our Own World
  • On the Reputation and Autonomy of the Field
  • Conflicts and Divides Within the Field
  • Beyond the Kuhnian Model
  • Biographies and the History of the Field
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Six: Conclusion: Communication as Practical, Relational, Historical, and Reflexive
  • Habitus and Practical Reason
  • The Relational
  • The Historical Dimension of All Communication
  • Reflexivity and the Field of Communication
  • Notes
  • Chapter One: Pierre Bourdieu’s Legacy and the Study of Communication
  • Chapter Two: The Field of Media Production
  • Chapter Three: The Media Audience: Fluency, Strategy, and Le Sens Practique
  • Chapter Four: Symbolic Power and Authority: The Power/Communication Nexus
  • Chapter Five: Reflexivity and the History of the Field of Communication
  • Chapter Six: Conclusion: Communication as Practical, Relational, Historical, and Reflexive
  • References
  • Index

| vii →




The question of what compels a communication scholar such as myself to become interested in Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas is the kind of question that would have interested Bourdieu. My preparation for Bourdieusian thought derived in no small part from my experiences in college radio. When I was a college radio dj, I was immersed in a subculture dedicated to a feverish exploration of all kinds of music. Rarely could one find a more intense demonstration of how taste in music operated as a code. To be known to enjoy certain music was to become encamped with others who were like you, and by extension, to become opposed to some other camps. It quickly dawned on all of us that there was a kind of game being played. ‘Pure’ musical enjoyment may have been what we were all after, but through this, we djs became insinuated into a process of becoming aware of all this new music, and of having to choose sides in a conflict between different musical factions (ork pop, grindcore, grunge, and no depression were amongst the positions available) that were varyingly overlapping and opposed to each other. At the same time, the music we enjoyed (or hated) was created, distributed, promoted, sold, and criticized by record labels, small circulation magazines, and free weekly newspapers. It became apparent that organizations and institutions played no small role in holding this whole mess of music together, and that these organizations and institutions were linked up with the same games we were playing. It became very clear that ‘culture’ was not just something that dropped down on people like rain. ← vii | viii → College radio showed me that this whole set of activities we call culture—even the seemingly minor developments in culture—depended on the interlocking activities of actual people, each of them in their own way a patriot of their own musical cause. I also learned that ‘texts’—the actual content of songs, for instance—were not to be mistaken for the sum total of what constitutes a culture. By the time I graduated from college, I had an inchoate appreciation of the importance of issues I would only later find represented in the Bourdieusian master terms: field, habitus, and capital.

Shortly after I started graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, I read Bourdieu’s Distinction not because it was assigned to me in a class but because it was the book that started the bitterest disputes amongst my friends. I was a graduate student in the 1990s, when cultural studies was enjoying its heyday. Of course this heyday was rather muted at Annenberg, where cultural studies was (sometimes reasonably, sometimes less reasonably) dismissed as being insufficiently empirical, non-falsifiable, and/or ‘a fad’. It occurred to me that to read Distinction as an entry in cultural studies per se would be to miss the point. In contradistinction to much that was associated with cultural studies in the 1990s, the book is solidly empirical, with its reliance upon (oft-critiqued) statistical analyses, field research, and content analysis. Beyond this, Bourdieu’s ideas seemed to have relatively little to do with the 1990s concern for texts and their varying potential for oppositional reads. Here was a sociologically trained French academic whose work was quite explicitly connected both to the American social science tradition and critical theory. Bourdieu’s writing may not have been elegant, but I found in his long paragraphs a kind of unpretentiousness, a frustration with the expectation that research ought to be either deterministic or belle lettrist. I was hooked.

It was Bourdieu’s focus on the parts of culture that other social theorists seemed so rarely to discuss—the patterns of behavior that animated almost every conversation at the college radio station back in the day—that got me fired up about Bourdieu. Bourdieu’s understanding of cultural consumption’s strategic tendencies, the use of culture as capital, the anticipation of profits from certain kinds of consumption, and the focus on cultural difference—or distinction, if you will—made me feel like I had found a scholar who had cracked the code.

My first attempts to use Bourdieu’s ideas in research projects led me to experience certain difficulties. When trying to explain the cultural authority of popular psychology in the 20th century, I found Bourdieu’s ideas regarding symbolic power to be most useful. However, I wished that Bourdieu had put more work into analyzing the role played by the media. His ideas concerning symbolic power, for instance, deal at length with language use and social space, but only rarely address ← viii | ix → how different media forms operate. Of course, this problem derived more from my own attempts to jury-rig Bourdieu’s ideas than with Bourdieu’s ideas themselves.

My simultaneous fascination with Bourdieu’s ideas and frustration with how these ideas had yet to be mapped onto the domains germane to communication scholarship have led me to believe that we in the field of communication ought to invite him to our party. Bourdieusian perspectives on media production, media audiences, symbolic power, and the sociology of science could help us develop understandings of some of the most important issues facing the field. His avoidance of some familiar intellectual pitfalls in communication scholarship (such as: positivism, idealism, and materialism) leads me to believe that increased attention to Bourdieu’s ideas could at the very least lead us to find new questions. The fact that Bourdieu—one of the most widely cited scholars in history, and one who has had a great impact on the fields of sociology, anthropology, education, and philosophy—is only occasionally seen as a figure whose ideas should matter to the field of communication should lead us not to sandbag him out of the field, but to draw on what he has to offer. I am not the only one to feel this way. Rodney Benson, Nick Couldry, and David Hesmondhalgh (to name but three) have all made significant contributions in the grander project of bringing Bourdieu’s ideas into the field of communication. This book-length exploration of how Bourdieu could be incorporated into communication scholarship represents an effort more fully to draw on the promise of Bourdieusian thought in communication.

| xi →




Though this book is not long, the list of people to thank for their help is quite lengthy.

First I wish to thank Mary Savigar at Peter Lang Publishing. I met Mary when we were both new to Peter Lang, and we have now worked together on a large and still growing number of projects. I cannot count the number of occasions when I have benefited from her insight or from her patience. Bernadette Shade and Sophie Appel—also at Peter Lang—are no less forgiving of my foolishness, no less hard-working. I salute them all.

Portions of this manuscript have appeared elsewhere in print. Chapter 2 was developed out of my article for Democratic Communique, titled “Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘Habitus’ and the Political Economy of the Media.” Chapter 5, in a slightly altered version, was translated into German and included (“Pierre Bourdieu und die Geschichte des Feldes der Kommunikationswissenschaft: Auf dem Weg zu Einem Reflexiven, Verkörperten und Konfliktorientierten Verständnis des Feldes”) in a volume titled Pierre Bourdieu und die Kommunikationswissenschaft, edited by Thomas Wiedemann, Michael Meyen, and Alexis Mirbach. I am grateful to the editors of these publications for their willingness to allow me to develop these ideas in the form you find here.

Three of my friends helped me write this book. I owe a special thanks to Mark Brewin, who offered his commentary on three chapters, and whose ideas helped ← xi | xii → me to refocus, refine, revise, and reconsider what I was doing. Jennifer Horner offered valuable critical input regarding the introductory chapter of this book. Jeff Pooley offered editorial assistance and much-needed critical input for two chapters. One of the great things about my job is that I get to talk to Mark, Jen, and Jeff. I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to do this job without them.

Another hearty thanks is due to one anonymous reviewer, who offered sweeping, honest, careful, and ultimately correct input on the book proposal and on a completed manuscript. Rare is the manuscript reviewer who knows Bourdieu so well; equally rare is the manuscript reviewer who brings so much care to the unheralded cause of reviewing.

I owe a kind of blanket perma-thanks to Steve Jones. Working with Steve at New Media & Society has given me a special appreciation for how the scholarly world operates, how it should operate, and how I might be of some use in the daunting collective project of pushing things closer to how they should work.

My colleagues in the Department of Communication at Lake Forest College should be called out as well. Liz Benacka, Helene DeGross, Linda Horwitz, Randy Iden, Rachel Whidden, and Camille Yale have been co-conspirators in the effort to make one of the great Communication departments on the planet. I am fortunate to work with such outstanding colleagues.

Students at Lake Forest College have helped me along. In particular, Chris Barnes, Meghan Grosse, and Nick Rennis have assisted me in the ongoing effort of figuring out what the world of people is all about. They have also reminded me frequently why anyone would ever want to be a college professor.

My wife, Sarah, is the best. I thank her for everything. This is convenient, because I also owe her everything.

| 1 →


XII, 172
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2010 (October)
production history symbolic authority
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 172 pp.

Biographical notes

David W. Park (Author)

David W. Park is Associate Professor of Communication at Lake Forest College. He is co-editor of The Long History of New Media: Technology, Historiography, and Contextualizing Newness (2011) and The History of Media and Communication Research: Contested Memories (2008).


Title: Pierre Bourdieu
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
189 pages