Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Understanding Bourdieu (literally)

Understanding Bourdieu, WEBB, SCHIRATO & DANAHER

I enjoy reading, but I’m finding that the texts we have to read for Design Studies to be rather difficult to take in. Sometimes I can read a whole page (and sometimes even a whole chapter) and couldn’t even tell you what I had just read.

To solve this problem, I decided to read a small bit and write about it, read a bit and write, etc. This means that I can think about what I’ve just read and put it into my own words and if I really haven’t understood anything I can go back and re – read it, without realising this after ten pages.

The first time I read the Bourdieu passage I suffered from this same problem. The only time I seemed to understand bits was when there was a mention of football and when he only mentions this once, you can see my problem.

Bourdieu is interested in the culture of design asking questions like why do people buy certain products and how does the product they buy help them?

Describing culture as a game, Bourdieu encourages us to embrace this and our understanding on how to play it. He highlights the fact that the social and political context in which we are placed in changes the ‘rules’ slightly and designers have to consider this carefully when designing. Last semester, as part of one of my assignments, I looked at ‘The Power of Context’ where I learnt quite a lot about the context in which we are placed in and how that in turn affects things like our personalities and our reaction to design. As a designer it is important to take every aspect of the client you are designing for into consideration.

Something that Bourdieu mistakenly does, and that John Frow points out, is to treat people as though they ‘belonged to a single class’. He argues that Bourdieu forgets you cannot possibly place for example a football fan, a ballet dancer and Jazz specialist in the same field. Although are all part of the creative field, I doubt you would find a football fan interested in ballet and Jazz, and vice versa so depending our tastes and influences we are organised into social groups.

Evaluating the ideas behind our acceptance to art, Bourdieu asks why is it that some people are more comfortable to talk about art than others? Again referring back to context, he explains that people who are brought up around cultural things like art and fine music are more ‘natural’ when presented with them. What about the people that create this art in the first place, what sort of response do they want to provoke from their audience?

Dividing the field of cultural production into two parts, autonomous and heteronomous poles, we are educated in the difference between the two. I had to re – read this section so many times to understand it but I think I may have understood it, well I hope I have…

The heteronomous pole aims to achieve “commercial success”, where, to me, they are complying with demands from others and not really doing what they want to do or possibly don’t believe in.
The autonomous pole of the field demonstrates that people working in this part are resigned to the fact that there reward won’t always mean finance. They can do what interests them, not restricted with their outcome and can aim at a specific group of people rather than creating a generalised response to something to please a wider niche.
If you really want to make a living in this field it is more than likely that you will have to give into the demands of the general public and conform to what they want to see, which I think is a shame. Or your work will have to be recognised as excellent before everyone follows the herd over. Surely art should be something that the artist chooses?

1 comment:

  1. You've pretty much got it! The key things for me in this chapter are social and cultural capital - that's what someone working in the autonomous field "earns" which they can then trade in later for financial capital (i.e. build up a network, use that network to get your work noticed, earn a living from it), "illusio" - the rules of the game that are only important to the people playing the game (that ties in to the "canon" - you have to accept that certain people and certain practices are worthwhile to join in); the idea that we're the product of our environment - a person will be more likely to be a pianist or painter not because their parents are, but because the "idea" of playing the piano or painting is a natural one... (The same with access to museums - as you'll see in assignment 3, the "rules" that govern how we're supposed to behave in certain situations can put people off. That's why people may not visit a gallery that's free, not because they don't "like" art, but they don't feel like they belong. That's quite a powerful concept for interior design/exhibition design etc - thinking about the audience rather than the exhibit itself, the artist, or the person designing the whole show. Your DCA project last semester may have helped you see that?
    And I think Bourdieu also explains the difference between art (autonomous, based around the artist's need to communicate) and design (heteronomous, based around someone else's need to communicate). I don't think design is the poorer relation because of that...
    From an IED point of view, do you see yourself operating at one end of the pole or the other? Or would you use commercial work to pay for you to be able to do personal work?

    Clever guy, Bourdieu - worth sticking with (I wouldn't read the man's own writing, it's difficult to follow, but there are some good summaries of his ideas. Yes, you have to think hard and re-read stuff, but that's sort of the perverse pleasure of all this. Makes your head hurt, but you feel good afterwards. Almost like getting drunk in reverse...