Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bourdieu and Film/Media Conference

It's been a couple of days since the New Uses of Bourdieu in Film and Media Studies conference, but I'm finally catching up from travel to write up my impressions and summary. Having taken to Bourdieu's scholarship during my graduate school years and having immersed myself in his work, I was excited to see a conference devoted to his thought, and I commend the organizers in pulling together a valuable and well-run event. It was a pleasure to hear both theoretical reflections on Bourdieu's concepts (habitus, field, capital) and applications to areas I had not considered before.

That said, the more I think about it, I do think there are a couple of areas where the conference did not go as far as I would like. For an event framed as an intervention into two disciplines, there seemed to be relatively reflection on the state of the disciplines. I know that speaks as much to my sensibility as anything, but as I saw more papers I noticed that few were humanities-oriented film studies - the majority were much more aligned with a sociologically-inflected cultural studies. In fact, I don't think I've fully appreciated before now how cultural studies functions as a discipline in the UK in a way that it just doesn't in the US.

Now, there's nothing wrong with this per se - I value cultural studies and moreover it's healthy for me to hear how other academic areas study cinema and media. However, many of the papers were ultimately reception studies - in itself not a "new use" of Bourdieu. I would have liked to hear more how Bourdieu or Bourdieu's concepts challenge or shift the field of cultural studies. As an outsider, I would guess that it's less of a stretch to do media sociology with Bourdieu than humanities film or media studies. But it's the latter challenge I'm most invested in.

Additionally, it was striking to me how "new media studies" means something rather different in the UK cultural studies context. I'm not expert enough on new media to fully articulate the difference, but what seemed to be lacking (or purposefully ignored) was any theory about what we might call the "cultural logic" or new media - its aesthetic form, its medium specificity, etc. I'm curious whether there is a more humanities inflected UK version of new media studies.

Finally, I'll note that the greatest discussion seemed to emerge over the taste categories of art cinema. I don't know if this tapped into some particularly British and Irish taste formation. I do think this discussion would productively be in dialogue with recent film theoretical and historical work challenging the art cinema/commercial cinema divide: Betz, Wilinsky, Schoonover, etc.

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