No. 5

Bourdieu’s capitals 2.o

Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002), the famous French sociologist, and me (1991*), the unknown Swiss university student, have always had a one-way love-hate relationship. On the one hand I instantly admired his work, on the other hand I instantly hated it. But I try to be constructive so I’ll start with the admiring part:

Especially fascinating for me were and still are his four varieties of capitals. I believe his categorisation is logical, structured and well-researched. Therefore I try to apply Bourdieu’s framework of the “four capital varieties” onto my experience as a Structuristic Art workshop leader in New York (Bourdieu 1992). In a previous post I noted that I spent eight weeks in the Big Apple. When I started to paint in my little shared room, I had no intentions to give art lessons. My Bourdieu-esque capitals looked something like this:

Fig. 1. Rageth 2017. Graph of the initial distribution of my capital varieties (estimated percentages)

Clearly, I had some money to buy myself food (thank the parents!) and my social and cultural capitals were balanced. Only my symbolic capital was non-existent. Why shouldn’t it have been? I haven’t done anything prestigious – yet…

After I “infected” my roommate Yuna with the so-called virus Structuristicum Artisticii she started to paint as well and finished three masterpieces in less than six weeks.

Yuna’s pictures show a massive artistic talent and reflective practice since she wanted to use the structuristic technique to basically scrape out her inner feelings by putting them down in drawing and painting – so “is it its intrinsic value or its instrumental benefits” which make art such a vital part of human life (Craik 2007: 25)?

cultural capital

Her enthusiasm motivated five other students and even one of my teachers from language school and suddenly my Bourdieu-esque capitals were allocated as follows:

Fig. 5. Rageth. 2017. Money, money, money, must be funny… (estimated percentages)

I didn’t even had to think of eating (I certainly could have tried to eat paint but I believe that might would have ended badly…). So money was nonexistent and therefore my economic capital was too. But my social capital has risen and my symbolic as well – I had something special to offer, I could make my art students feel extraordinary by showing them how to paint a Structuristic Art work.

“(…) positive links between arts participation and social inclusion, resulting in an improved capacity for cultural citizenship, boosting confidence and developing social skills which lead to more effective engagement with the community at large.” (Taylor 2015: 9)

And by the way: No, I did not suddenly turn stupid (because my cultural capital has lost 15% compared to the previous graph), the pie chart simply didn’t manage to show more than a 100%. Or I didn’t – so maybe my cultural capital decreased after all…

To make a long story short: Those Structuristic Art lessons in New York fell into my lap, I didn’t force it, I just loved what I did and the affection literally spread. But were all those painting lessons a whole event or rather several connected activities? In terms of distinction between activities and events – “the boundaries between those terms are not really absolute” (Getz and Page 2016: 65) and I also believe “the action is infinitely variable and the outcome always unpredictable, making it an ‘authentic’ experience when compared with other forms of entertainment like TV and the movies” (Getz and Page 2016: 65).

“Art is lasting but not immediate; it is valuable but priceless; it is based in the past but reaches for the future… It is diverse and not homogenised; it resists categories and makes connections across them.” (Egan 1999: 13)

I had the tremendous luck that my parents supported me financially so I was able to give not only the lessons but the whole art supply for free. This ongoing event (or several activities…) over six weeks marked my personal enlightenment: I knew that satisfying young and old through art lessons would be a huge part of my future life. Not least because it made me realise that there is not only the pecuniary or economic aspect of a job, there are also the cultural, social and symbolic ones (to speak in Bourdieu’s terms). And in my case the latter three can only be achieved through working in the cultural sector. Even though one can really not live on (eating) paint only…

Didn’t I forget something…? And by this I suddenly realise that I don’t hate Bourdieu’s work anymore. Wonders never cease!


B i b l i o g r a p h y 

BOURDIEU, Pierre. 1992. Die verborgenen Mechanismen der Macht. In Schriften zu Politik & Kultur. Hrsg. Margareta Steinrücke. Hamburg: VSA Verlag.

COMEDIA CONSULTANTS. 2003. Releasing the Cultural Potential of our Core Cities. Core Cities Group.

GETZ, Donald and Stephen J. PAGE. 2016. Event Studies. Theory, research and policy for planned events. Third Edition. London and New York: Routledge.

PACIONE, Michael. 2015. ‘The role of events in urban regeneration’. In Stephen J. Page and Joanne Connell (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Events. London: Routledge, 385-400.

F u l l   l i s t   o f   f i g u r e s

Figure 1: RAGETH, Onna. 2017. Graph of the initial distribution of my capital varieties (estimated percentages). Self-made Graph: Onna Rageth.

Figure 2: OH, Yuna. 2013. Yuna’s Korean dragon (Artwork No. 1). Private Collection: Onna Rageth.

Figure 3: OH, Yuna. 2013. Processing of violence and war through art (Artwork No. 2). Private Collection: Onna Rageth.

Figure 4: OH, Yuna. 2013. A bunny and the universe (Artwork No. 3). Private Collection: Onna Rageth.

Figure 5: RAGETH, Onna. 2017. Money, money, money, must be funny… (estimated percentages). Self-made Graph: Onna Rageth.

F u l l   l i s t   o f   w e b s i t e s

CRAIK, Jennifer. 2007. Re-Visioning Arts and Culture Policy. Current Impasses and Future Directions. Available at: [accessed on 30 March 2017].

EGAN, Penny. 1999. An Eye on the Environment. In: RSA Journal 147/5490, pp. 10-13. Available at: [accessed on 30 March 2017].

TAYLOR, Peter March 2015. ‘A review of the Social Impacts of Culture and Sport’   CASE: The culture and sport evidence programme [online]. Available at: [accessed on 30 March 2017].

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