and the Journalistic Field
by Rodney Benson and Erik Neveu, Editors
Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2005
435 pp. Paper, $ 24.90
Reviewed by Fred Andersson
Department of Art History and Musicology
When it comes to Pierre Bourdieu and Marxism,
two misunderstandings are common. The
first takes as a premise that Bourdieu
was a reductionist thinker who didnt
consider art and culture to have any autonomous
value at all. Out of this premise, Bourdieu-style
sociology is accused of trivializing culture
and leveling the debate. The other misunderstanding
is completely opposed to the first. Its
premise is that Bourdieu, just like the
Marxists of the Frankfurt school, adheres
to an elitist interpretation of political
It would be quite hard to hold on to such
misunderstandings after reading the present
volume: Bourdieu and the Journalistic
Field. It is the result of a project
that started in 1999 with the aim of bringing
together French and American scholars
studying recent changes in the relations
between news media and politics. The two
editors, Rodney Benson and Erik Neveu,
begin by introducing some of Bourdieus
key conceptssuch as "field"
and "habitus"as well as
describing the academic and historical
conditions for the reception of his theories
in the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-American
world. In doing so, they also describe
some of the competing alternatives, such
as "differentiation theory".
In his posthumous contribution, Bourdieu
expresses his view on the degree of "autonomy"
(or independence) and "heteronomy"
(or dependence) of the journalistic field.
He also puts forward the two general hypotheses
that are discussed and tested throughout
the book, namely: 1) that the journalistic
field is "immersed" in the political
field, and 2) that the journalistic field
is becoming increasingly heteronomous
(that is, dependent on economical and
political interests), at the same time
as the autonomy of other fields (such
as the social science field) is weakened
by the heavy dominance and influence exerted
by the journalistic field.
Of the other contributions, I would like
to focus on Julian Duvals report
on a project in which the field of economical
journalism in France was mapped in accordance
with statistical methods. The report shows
that in this field and in this national
context, there is a clear divide between
three main groups of mediums. The first
belongs to the intellectual and specialized
pole of the field, the second belongs
to the commercial and specialized pole,
and the third belongs to the commercial
and popular pole.
Duvals report also demonstrates,
in detail and with utmost clarity, how
an analysis of this kind is carefully
built up from a number of empirical variables.
Because of the solid empirical ground,
Duval can safely conclude that the development
of economical journalism in France confirms
Bourdieus hypothesesthe economical
sections of the dominant media adhere
to the dominant political ideology (namely
that of market liberalism), and taken
as a whole the autonomy of economical
journalism in relation to the financial
world has weakened. The immersion of the
journalistic field in the political field
could not be shown more clearly.
The book ends with three "Critical
Perspectives" in which the previous
topics and contributions are discussed.
Erik Neveu describes and refutes some
common misunderstandings regarding Bourdieu
(for example the "Frankfurt"
one). Michael Schudson represents a more
skeptical orientation in his critique
of the concept of "autonomy".
Referring to some striking American examples,
he asks to what extent "autonomy"
is just another word for not having to
admit ones own faults.
Daniel C. Hallin, finally, contrasts field
theory with the "differentiation
theory" of Jeffrey Alexander (see
above). He concludes that the deterministic
character of differentiation theory (media
always moving towards greater differentiation)
is one of its weakest points, and that
it has to be contrasted or supplemented
by field theory. On the other hand, he
also concludes that while the analysis
of power-relations remains a great opportunity
with field theory, the nature of journalists
own power and the relations between the
journalistic field and the political field
still needs to be clarified.
This is a useful book that really shows
how Bourdieu-style sociology can be put
to work in the analysis of new fields
(i.e. "new" in the context of
field analysis). From the perspective
of humanities and cultural studies, we
should hope that an analysis similar to
the one that Duval performs on economical
journalism could be applied also to cultural
journalism. There is also reason to hope
for an intensified debate on the issue
that remains the least explicit point
in this book, namely to what extent sociology
in the spirit of Bourdieu could and should
be a weapon for political change.