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How Useful is Bourdieu’s Notion of Cultural Capital for Describing Literary Markets?

Nicola Glaubitz


Bourdieu’s concepts of cultural capital and field, developed in the 1970s and 1980s, still provide systematic reference points for studies interested in literary cultures under market conditions. These concepts have found resonance in studies observing the changing organisation, structure, and social positions involved in the writing, reading, and circulation of literature. While both the conceptual clarity and the historical results Bourdieu achieved (in particular in his study The Rules of Art, originally published in 1992) have come under attack, both his key concepts and his multi-method approach function as a theoretical toolbox for present studies. The article discusses three studies (Childress 2017; English 2005; Guillory 1993) which make use of Bourdieu’s concept of capital in order to describe contemporary US publishing, the role of literary canons in higher education, and the status of literary awards. I argue that Bourdieu’s framework is productive in these cases when it is used in a heuristic way, when the idea of cultural and social capital is considered as processes and practices of valuation, and when it points to the political aspects of economies.

Corresponding author: Prof. Dr. Nicola Glaubitz, English Department, Kiel University, Leibnizstr. 10, 24118Kiel, Germany, E-mail:


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Published Online: 2021-03-17
Published in Print: 2021-03-26

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