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Media, Symbolic Power and the Limits of Bourdieu's Field Theory

  • Nick Couldry


Social theory (even when most concerned with media: ideological analysis, postmodern theory, systems theory) has failed to clarify how media affect its key concepts. The best starting-point is a modified version of Pierre Bourdieu's field theory. While analysing media production as a particular field (or sub-fields) is not new, field theory as normally practised is less comfortable with the idea that media representations impact on all social space simultaneously - precisely the issue in understanding media power. The solution is to draw on Bourdieu's less well known work on symbolic power and the state's prescriptive authority, drawing an analogy between contemporary media's social centrality and Bourdieu's account of the French state's 'meta-capital' across and between all fields. The resulting empirical research agenda is outlined and (in conclusion) a related theoretical issue (how do media affect Bourdieu's notion of habitus?) is anticipated, which the author intends to treat in a separate article.

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