Bourdieu and & Social Media Experts: There is no Right or Wrong

Editors Warning: This post is a little heavy on the academia. Casual readers might want to give it a pass. But if you're like us and think that French philosphy can be mindbending-fun and enjoy dissecting mass culture, then by all means give it a read.

Pierre Bourdieu's seminal 'Distinction' is one of the works I centre my thesis around. In it, he describes how cultural distinctions function as social distinctions with aversions to different lifestyles becoming one of the strongest barriers between the classes: High-cultural snobs looking down on the mass-culture consuming lower orders.

Surely it can be argued that mass-cultural forms enjoy more acceptance among socially dominant classes than they used to. Just look at your parents' record collection. However, there's still a crucial difference in the way it is dealt with amongst different social divisions. You will have to talk about it in the 'right' way, you have to be in the know. You can't just watch Tarantino movies because you enjoy the blood and action but because you consider them to be operas of violence which function as a postmodern metaphor for whatever.

Only when you 'get it' does mass-culture guarantee cultural capital (the knowledge, experience and or connections one has had through the course of their life that enables them to succeed more so than someone from a less experienced background), which then can be converted into different kinds of capital: social capital (= connections), symbolic capital (= the capacity to impose the means for comprehending and adapting to the social world by representing economic and political power in disguised, taken-for-granted forms) and economic capital (= money).

This reminds me of how self-proclaimed social media experts claim how they 'get' something like twitter and you, the ordinary user, don't. They turn democratic means of expression into something restricted.

'I claim to get twitter, have the authority – due to my expertise – to impose this legitimate vision on other people which secures me more followers and influence.'

To paraphrase Bourdieu: It's about a small elite, homogenous in its possession of 'legitimate' educational credentials; the control of these instruments allow the decoding of 'restricted' art, guaranteeing access to higher and highest ranks. The result of this was a feudalist society, dominated by a 'cultural nobility' whose political economy of symbolic power relied on the perpetuation of aesthetic not everyone has access to; they became the means of self-reproduction and self-legitimation of the dominant social classes and placed individuals and groups with different cultural socialisations within competitive status hierarchies. As specialists, the elites transformed relations of power into forms of disinterested honourability, giving them the power to render things sacred. 'Holy men of culture', set apart from ordinary mortals by inimitable nuances of manners, used their symbolic capital to impose the means for comprehending and adapting to the social world. Their 'worldmaking' power had the capacity to impose the 'legitimate' vision of the social world – respectively the 'right' use of Twitter etc.

That said: Most 'social media experts' have been doing this for ages and have tons of experience; so adhering to their vision of the world can certainly be beneficial. Also, most of them genuinely believe in what they preach, there's no cynical calculation behind it. Akin to the 'false consciousness' of the Marxist tradition, the 'social media nobility' derives its legitimation precisely from this genuine belief that it represents higher and more worthy forms in the inventory of human endeavour than material pursuits.

However, ultimately there's no 'right' or 'wrong' way of using social media tools. We all have different goals and often it's rather about common sense than 'legitimate visions.'