Workshop: Celebrity, Prestige and the Cultural Field

Posted on Mar 22, 2016

Workshop: Celebrity, Prestige and the Cultural Field

10am-4pm, 8th June 2016

Venue: University of Portsmouth

Room 2.14, Dennis Sciama Building

Free admission. Please register at:

This workshop will focus on relational aspects of celebrity culture with reference to debates about field analysis, cultural value (and valuelessness), DIY celebrity and spoiled identity, shame and disgust, autonomy and heteronomy, classed and gendered representations, good and bad taste, privilege in an era of austerity, boundary crossings and successful/unsuccessful attempts to carry prestige from one cultural field to another.


Chris Rojek (City University)

‘Spoiled celebrity identity and social media: the Belle Gibson case’

The paper will examine the rise of DIY celebrity.  It will focus on the case of Belle Gibson.  Gibson is an Australian life style guru whose web site detailing her struggle with cancer, gained worldwide interest.  Gibson’s advice on holistic treatment and self help directly rejected medical authority.  She claimed to use natural methods to cope with her cancer.  The success of her self medicated treatment was applauded by the media as an outstanding case of courage and common sense.  Gibson was voted Australian business woman of the year and Penguin books published her self help recipes, which became a best seller. However, upon critical investigation it turned out that Gibson was lying.  She never had cancer.  Her web site, she argued, is something that we have to ‘learn to live with’, because her reality is different to our reality.  The paper uses the Gibson scandal to consider wider issues of DIY celebrity and spoiled identity.

David Giles (University of Winchester)

Cultural fields, media and celebrities: Boundary crossings and legitimation

We are all familiar with the attempt of celebrities to ‘dabble’ in other cultural fields (actors making musical recordings, TV personalities authoring books). Much of the time these individuals encounter derision or even hostility, and abandon any further attempts to excel in a different sphere of activity. Here I consider this kind of activity as boundary crossing between cultural fields. These boundaries take on particular significance when an individual with high capital in one field attempts to enter a different field. Sometimes this is negotiated with little difficulty, because the fields are close neighbours with (many) similar rules of exchange (e.g. theatre and cinema). At other times the boundary crossing is fraught with difficulty, either because the fields are incompatible, or because the individual’s own capital does not convert successfully. Celebrity capital is said to be a valuable resource that enables, for example, individuals from the entertainment world to enter politics. Driessens (2013) defines celebrity capital as ‘recognition by other agents in a social field’ that arises from the ‘recognizability’ earned through media presence. However, the rules of exchange do not always allow that capital to be easily converted, especially where ‘media meta-capital’ (Couldry, 2003) influences the ‘exchange rate’. One area where we can see this happening is in the broad fields of classical and popular music (Giles, 2015), where critical media reviews can offset the commercial success of a boundary crossing. In this talk I will explore recent developments in the culture of celebrity, notably the rise of online celebrities such as YouTubers, many of whom have published books in the last year or two. To what extent does their sphere of activity constitute a cultural field, and what kind of celebrity capital do they accumulate through this activity? How convertible is it? I will argue that the notion of cultural field is closely bound up with the notion of medium: both are equally difficult to define, particularly in the digital era. Finally, how does celebrity fit into this picture?

Kim Allen (University of Leeds)

‘Ordinary Royals’: authenticating celebrity and justifying privilege in an age of austerity

Concentrating on the mediation of the Kate (Duchess of Cambridge) and Prince Harry, this paper will examine how Royal celebrity functions within the current moment of austerity Britain. Understanding austerity as having a distinct discursive, aesthetic and moral register (Bramall 2013; Jensen and Tyler 2012; Allen et al. 2015), the paper will identify how themes and tropes of ordinariness, thrift, hard work, social mobility and nostalgia play out in the mediation of Harry and Kate. It will explore how these two Royals come to figure in ways that serve to legitimate and justify the immense wealth and privilege of the institution of the Royal Family in the context of growing inequality and declining social mobility (Dorling 2014). To do this, the paper will draw on data collected as part of an ESRC-funded qualitative study of celebrity culture and young people’s classed and gendered aspirations. Specifically it will use textual analysis of the media representation of Harry and Kate along with data from interviews with 148 young people (aged 14-17) to illuminate both celebrity and austerity as spaces of contestation and struggle. By unpicking what symbolic work these figures do in neoliberal austerity Britain, the paper seeks to extend and update earlier analysis of the Royal Family (Billig 1992; Couldry 2001).

Hannah Yelin (Oxford Brookes University)

‘White Trash’ Celebrity: Shame and Display

This paper interrogates the construction of the figure of the ‘white trash’ celebrity through the star images of American reality TV star Paris Hilton and British reality star Jade Goody, as constructed in their memoirs (as ‘official’, highly controlled media) and their wider reception (discourses which lie beyond their control). This paper argues that the nature of contemporary celebrity media exposure, with its subjects’ lives on display, provides a basis for the gendered classing of its female stars as ‘white trash,’ regardless of their socioeconomic background. I will show how these women transgress (and in so doing highlight the existence of) celebrity’s codes of idealised white femininity: a whiteness which retains the privilege of an unmarked category until such celebrities fall short of its ideals of purity and restraint and are thus deemed to be, and denigrated as, ‘White Trash’.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Simon Stewart

Dr Rachel Smillie

This workshop is part of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science funded project: ‘Celebrities, Fans and Muses’.


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