Bourdieu, the Media and cultural production

Hesmondhalgh, David (2006). Bourdieu, the Media and cultural production. Media, Culture & Society, 28(2) pp. 211–231.



This article evaluates Bourdieu’s analysis of cultural production in terms of its effectiveness for understanding contemporary media production. I begin by outlining the main features of Bourdieu’s work on cultural production, with an emphasis on the potential advantages of his historical account over other, competing work. In particular, I stress the importance of his historical account of ‘autonomy’ and of the emphasis on the interconnectedness of the field of cultural production with other social fields. I then draw attention to two major problems in the work of Bourdieu and others who have adopted his ‘field theory’ for the media: first, that he offered only occasional and fragmented analyses of ‘large-scale’, ‘heteronomous’ (to use his terms) commercial media production, in spite of its enormous social and cultural importance in the contemporary world; second, that Bourdieu and his key associates provide only a very limited account of the relationships between cultural production and cultural consumption. In this latter context, I briefly discuss recent debates in cultural studies about cultural intermediaries. I refer to examples from recent media production to provide evidence for my arguments. The article argues that, as practised so far, Bourdieu’s field theory is only of limited value in analysing media production. However I close by discussing the potential fruitfulness of research based on a dialogue between, on the one hand, field theory’s analysis of cultural production and, on the other, Anglo-American media and cultural studies work on media production.

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