China and Inner Asia
The concept of cultural capital, popularized by Pierre Bourdieu, has won an enthusiastic reception in the field of Asian Studies; it has proved useful in the study of literary style, artistic schools, and May Fourth intellectuals’ negotiations with European traditions, among other areas of scholarly inquiry. Indeed, in important ways cultural capital seems to be that rare theoretical construct that actually works more “naturally” in the sinological fields where it has been subsequently adopted than it did on its original grounds, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe. If we are to take cultural capital seriously as capital, however, a number of questions remain to be asked. Given that economic capital is by definition invested, with the ultimate aim of producing more economic capital, can we identify a similar productive process that is characteristic of cultural capital? Or does cultural capital function merely as object of display, accumulation, generational transfer, or consumption? How do we understand the relationship between cultural capital and the labor it presumably exploits – the actual work that goes into cultural products? What might we miss by thinking of the production and consumption of literary and artistic works in terms of cultural capital rather than in terms of “resources,” “cultivation,” or “discipline”? S. E. Kile brings Bourdieu into conversation with the seventeenth-century playwright and cultural entrepreneur Li Yu, with particular attention to the arbitrariness of connoisseurship. With an eye to the centrality of the civil service examination system, Alex Des Forges asks what it means for a social class to be determined as much by literary production as it is by the consumption of cultural products. Michele Matteini addresses a puzzling understanding of the cultural capital of literati painting revealed in several paintings by the Qianlong emperor. Hu Ying examines women’s uneasy access to cultural capital, specifically during times of significant flux in its value such as the late Qing to early Republican era. Drawing on fields ranging from cultural entrepreneurship to examination aesthetics, from art history to gender studies, we invite audiences to join in an interdisciplinary critical discussion of cultural capital.