Cultural capital and the literary field

Wright, David (2006). Cultural capital and the literary field. Cultural Trends, 15(2/3) pp. 123–139.




The literary field has been conceptualised in social scientific work as patterned in particular ways. Historically, popular reading has been linked with contested processes of social change. Tastes for reading have, following Bourdieu, been seen as embedded in continuing processes of distinction and the making of hierarchies. Research has demonstrated the ways in which these hierarchies might be reflective of gender as well as class relationships. This paper examines the findings of the Cultural Capital and Social Exclusion study in the light of these debates. The survey gathered data about the types of reading material used by a representative sample of the UK population, including their preferences for newspapers, magazines and books. The paper reports on a number of possible relationships identified in the study about the location of reading as a social practice, drawing on the survey data and explanatory accounts of respondents’ reading preferences drawn from focus groups and interviews. The regularity of participation in reading and ownership of books are outlined in relation to occupational class. Evidence relating to the reading of magazines and newspapers is then examined in the light of contemporary policy concerns. Patterns of taste in books are explored, examining preferences for ‘literary’ genres, gender, education and ethnicity. The paper concludes by addressing the position of taste for, and knowledge of, specific works representing a range of positions within the literary field to complete the picture of cultural capital and the literary field in the contemporary UK.

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