Cultural Capital and Critical Space

Cultural Capital and Critical Space May 12, 2009

This started off as a comment on TT’s thread, the Cultural Critic as Apologist; but as it grew in length I figured I should probably start a new post altogether. In TT’s thread he raises the issue of creating space for the cultural critic. This critic is “faithful” in the sense that s/he desires to remain within the community of saints and make it a better place where “the ideals of Zion can be realized”. In this post I want to employ an alternative mode of analysis to look at a kind of space that may potentially serve as a space for the cultural critic.

Cultural capital is one of the terms made famous by Bourdieu in his essay “The Forms of Capital” (originally published in the 80’s).  In this post I’m going to use it in a slightly different sense. For the sake of this post cultural capital is the ability to mobilize LDSs toward a common goal by utilizing various kinds of accumulated knowledge that LDS find relevant (this may include intellectual expertise in a particular topic, experiential knowledge in a certain field, an athletic ability, blood-relations to a particular individual, etc.). This is significantly different from “economic capital,” where one could mobilize LDSs by paying them to perform certain services (e.g., a business that happens to be primarily run by Mormons), or “institutional capital,” where an institution such as the Church (or a Church owned institution such as BYU) mobilizes LDSs. 

IMO there are a number of LDSs who have accumulated large amounts of cultural capital. Many of these people have appeal beyond Mormondom (which may add even more cultural capital within Mormondom); and tend to have an even more special place within LDSs circles. While some of them may have stronger forms of economic or institutional capital at their disposal, I’m going to pay more attention to their cultural capital (although this naturally raises the question of whether cultural capital is predicated on one of these others).

On this list I would include people such as:

LaVell EdwardsJon Huntsman, Sr.Richard BushmanOrson Scott CardStephen R. CoveyHarry Reid, and Mitt Romney. This list could certainly go on. For potentially longer list see here.

What I think most of these people have in common (among other things) are high levels of cultural capital (although I’m sure there are pockets of LDSs who would perhaps find many of these individuals less appealing). Can any of these individuals be considered cultural critics?

IMO, one way to enable the voice of the cultural critic is to leverage cultural capital. How many Mormons, for instance, would show up with pen and paper in hand to hear Covey speak on an LDS-related topic, even if the lecture was not held at a church building?

Now, I’m not sure this is the best space available for the cultural critic. As a matter of fact, for many which may see themselves as a cultural critic it is most likely not the most appealing way of creating space. In essence one would have to establish him or herself as a leading figure in a field perhaps not directly related to the kind of criticisms he or she would like to make. Indeed, one could not be a full time cultural critic (then again, who would want to be?). The reality of LDS culture, and this isn’t unique to it, is that any kind of criticism has to be treated as medicine that needs some sugar to help it go down. One’s cultural capital, in this sense, works as that sugar. Mitt Romney, of course, wouldn’t lead us astray, but try suggesting to members in your ward that you are subject to no one religion–only the common cause of the people you represent, and see what kind of reaction occurs.

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