Poetry and the Conditions of Practice: A Field Study

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This chapter constructs a fresh map of what Bourdieu famously titled the ‘field of cultural production’ (1993), focusing on the sub-field of poetry, and setting out the institutions, agents, practices, and forms of capital that operate within it. The modes of practice, the conditions for entry to the field, the forms of capital and consecration, publishing practices and audience engagement have all changed significantly in the past half century, not least due to the emergence of digital technology and the globalisation of the economy and communication channels. Bourdieu’s account of how the literary field operates is predicated largely on 19th century French literary culture, laced through with practices of creative production in mid-20th century France. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, many elements of the sub-field have changed: formal writing practices are been radically interrogated, but perhaps more importantly, the social location of poetry, the modes of production and dissemination, and the forms of capital available to its practitioners, have shifted. In this chapter I draw on my current research into contemporary poetry, which included interviews in nine countries with a range of both very senior poets and lesser-known practitioners, to investigate the conditions and contexts that organise practice and distribute capital. In addition, I explored the local poetry ‘scene’ in each country to provide a context for the poets’ sense of the shape of the field and positions available within it. This allowed me to develop an evidence-based consideration of changes in the field, and to highlight the role of relations within the field, the ‘game’ of position-taking, and contemporary ways of translating symbolic capital to economic capital. The chapter therefore offers a reconsideration of Bourdieu’s famous account of the field of cultural production, and of the ways in which contemporary agents navigate the sub-field of poetry production.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBourdieu’s Field Theory and the Social Sciences
EditorsJames Albright, Deborah Hartman, Jacqueline Widin
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages66
ISBN (Electronic)9789811053856
ISBN (Print)9789811053849
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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