Whether they come from movie studios or artists’ workshops, the publishing industry or academic journals, symbolic goods are the subject of an ever-increasing number of social science studies. And yet this body of work has lacked a space for institutionalization, confrontation, and international exposure in the French-speaking world which would facilitate both measurement of progress made, and the proposal of original ideas of cross-pollination and new avenues of research. This is where our new peer-reviewed, bilingual, interdisciplinary, and international journal, Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods, comes in.
From the most legitimate to the most ordinary, symbolic goods are produced, exchanged, and assessed in ways that partly elude traditional economic categories—they constitute a specificity that justifies the creation of a distinct field of research in social science. More generally, symbolic goods are also involved in the symbolic construction of the social world. The study of symbolic goods is in this sense far from a mere sub-field; it is a vantage point from which to reconsider the past and present workings of the social and political orders, the foundations of their legitimacy and the ways in which they can be challenged.
Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods thus intends to promote social sciences of intellectual and cultural spaces which emphasize their specialization and relative autonomy. Contributions will not be limited to the most recognized artistic and cultural forms; they will also examine symbolic goods in the broader sense, including political ideas, amateur practices, working-class cultural output, digital productions, media discourse, and lifestyle markers (clothing, housing, food, etc.). The journal will pay attention to the materiality of symbolic goods and to the underlying rationales of their (re)definitions and their (unequal) diffusion. It will address cultural activity as a collective production involving multiple interests. This will mean refraining from limiting analysis to the traditional figures of the “artist,” “author,” or “scholar,” and expanding our scope to include all persons and institutions that contribute in some form to the production, circulation, and appropriation of symbolic goods.
Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods will welcome input from a variety of disciplines in human and social science: sociology, history, anthropology, political science, information and communication science, art history, literature, economics, and so on. Emphasis will be placed on consistency of approaches and points of view on the arts, literature, cultural practices, and ideas, rather than on disciplinary affiliations per se. Without excluding theoretical reflection, the journal will seek primarily to give exposure to empirical research, regardless of the methods of investigation used (archival research, ethnography, statistics, discourse analysis, image analysis, etc.).
Another defining feature of Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods is the association between three areas of research: the arts, culture, and ideas. Paradoxically, the social science of culture, conceived as analysis of cultural practices, tastes, and audience reception, still holds an often-insignificant place in French-language journals dedicated to artistic expression. The two fields are even less often associated with the study of intellectuals and ideas. Yet, studies on these subjects in human and social science are often based on similar, if not shared premises. The objective of Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods is thus to promote cross-disciplinary approaches in these fields regarding fundamental questions such as the production of (artistic, intellectual, etc.) value, the distinct workings of these spheres of activity, and the forms of domination at work in them, or the production of taste and ideologies.
Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods is a digital-only half-yearly journal, offering readers open access to all papers. This choice supports the free circulation of research that is for the most part publicly funded at a time when subscription packages sold to universities and research institutes are reducing readership to those who study and work within them, while “embargoes” slow down access to studies that deserve to be publicized and discussed sooner. Our blog, published on the Hypotheses platform [https://bssg.hypotheses.org/] alongside the journal, will be used to enhance this circulation, by offering pre-publications and complementary material to the papers published in our issues, and to put our editorial and scientific boards, authors, and our readers in touch with each other. Our target audience is not only made up of academics: we hope the journal will be relevant to professionals in the cultural sector, teachers, artists, and any other interested persons.
French-language social science research on symbolic goods also tends to suffer from a lack of international exposure, in part due to the domination of English. Publishing solely in French would mean drastically limiting the scope of the exchanges in which we wish to take part; publishing in English would mean lazily circumventing the question of the influence of linguistic domination on the formation of concepts, and simply signing off on the rule of English without resistance, as well as excluding those among our readership who do not have a good command of the language. At Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods, we have decided to publish articles in French and in their English translations (or the other way around), both in the thematic dossiers and in varia issues. However, publishing full versions of all our papers in several languages (French and English, but also Spanish, to encourage a genuinely international circulation of research and avoid the hegemony of English) remains our goal. The journal will also devote particular attention to research conducted outside of English- and French-speaking areas.
Both in the varia issues and in the thematic dossiers, papers are subjected to two double-blind peer reviews. For this first issue, Géraldine Bois and Marc Perrenoud have put together a dossier entitled “Ordinary Artists,” which examines the situation of artists on the lower rungs of the professional pyramid. Ordinary Artists are neither rich nor famous; they produce symbolic goods that are attributed little value, and their careers are often built far removed from what are considered to be legitimate figures of inspired exceptionalism. Be they little-known writers, studio musicians, or actors working under the radar, those who “do the job” without achieving the recognition they desire make up the vast majority of individuals active in the spaces of artistic labour.
In addition to these dossiers built around a single theme, the journal will also maintain several original sections.
Our “Library” section will include reviews which cross-reference books recently published on the same theme to promote discussion across disciplines and the scientific confrontation of research from (or on) various countries. It will also offer contributions on the history and reception of major books in our disciplines and research areas. In some cases, this will mean providing a space for researchers whose work has been crucial to the study of the production or reception of symbolic goods, and reassessing their trajectories to allow them to examine their intellectual filiations, the conditions of possibility, and the practical circumstances involved in the production of their body of work. In this issue, a dozen scholars from different generations and disciplines discuss Claude Grignon and Jean-Claude Passeron’s book Le Savant et le Populaire, recontextualizing the book's production and reception, and presenting possible readings and appropriations of a milestone in French social science that has had little exposure abroad.
Producing a bilingual journal raises a number of issues regarding translation in the humanities and social science that are rarely put on the table. In our “Research in translation” section, translators, as well as cultural professionals, teachers, and researchers who routinely work with several languages will be invited to discuss their methods and choices, and adopt a reflexive outlook on their practice. This section will thus contribute to our broader examination of the transnational circulation of texts and concepts. In the current issue, Marie-Pierre Pouly looks back at the linguistic and epistemological challenges of translating the research of British sociologist Beverley Skeggs, who herself specialized in the study of the working class and gender.
“In the classroom and beyond” will be another original space for reflecting on the circulation of human and social science research, featuring articles and documents on teaching, the dissemination of research beyond the confines of academia, and public debate surrounding findings in culture and ideas through social science. Concerned in particular with presenting reports and analysis on practical pedagogical experiments, this section will strive to help identify didactic approaches that suit this body of work and the dispositions of various potential audiences (students, the wider public, cultural producers, etc.). In the forthcoming issue, an article by Marc Perrenoud and Pierre-Emmanuel Sorignet will present a research workshop on artistic labour conducted with students in the social science master's programme at the University of Lausanne, which resulted in the creation of a dance/music show.
The dialogue that Biens symboliques / Symbolic Goods seeks to foster with artists, intellectuals, and cultural professionals will not be one-sided: our “On the job” section will host articles, interviews, and roundtables on professional practices in the fields of the arts, science, and cultural mediation. In our forthcoming issue, a head librarian at the Bibliothèque nationale de France will discuss issues surrounding the process of archiving internet literature.
Lastly, the “Perspectives” section, which will also be launched in the next issue, will feature two types of article. First, in order to make the journal a genuine crossroads for international exchange, it will include examples of approaches in human and social science on the arts, culture, and ideas that have been developed abroad but are little known in France. Second, the section will present the early findings of ongoing studies by scholars working across several disciplines.
Analysing the production, distribution, and reception of symbolic goods, offering sections that no other journal offers and using bilingual publishing to act on the international circulation of works grants Biens Symboliques / Symbolic Goods a unique position in the scientific journals landscape, enabling the journal to possibly open new research paths on arts, culture, and ideas.