The distinction theory of Pierre Bourdieu applied analysis of film festival – Shanghai International Film Festival as example

Pierre Bourdieu as a French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher and public intellectual raised three fundamental concepts surrounding the social distinction theory which are field, capital and habitus. In these three concepts, field and capital are surrounding habitus. Film festival as a social cultural practice effectively proves the distinction theory of Pierre Bourdieu in terms of field, capital and habitus.


In the first part, Bourdieu defined field as a structure or network of objective relationships among positions and the positions are limited objectively. Field is established together by social members following specific logic, which is an important position for social members participating in and holding social activity. For film festival, field means the cultural field including films, filmmakers, organizers and other sponsors of film festival, additionally, the cultural field is related with other fields such as the fashion field and political field through market. For instance, in the 21st Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF), BVLGARI as one of the official sponsors cooperate with SIFF setting up BVLGARI Gala Presentation including five classical Italian films to present Italian life style that BVLGARI respects. In other words, field is not only defined as a position but also covers relations between positions.


Secondly, in the field exist power and competition, thus, capital is defined by Bourdieu as accumulation of labor and the logic of competition in the field is decided by capital logic. Additionally, Bourdieu divided capital into four types including economic capital, social capital, cultural capital and symbolic capital. Economic capital refers to economic resources such as money and property. Moreover, social capital is related to resources of a person’s relationships and integrity with others. For cultural capital, Bourdieu defined it as individual personality including social status, taste and education. Furthermore, symbolic is about reputation and honor of a person. In film festival, that films join in competition and eventually win the rewards means capital as the purpose of competition of films. For example, Golden Goblet Awards is the core of SIFF. Many famous film masters such as Luc Besson, Ang Lee and Xiaogang Feng compose juries of Golden Goblet Awards. The filmmaker who win the Golden Goblet Awards accepts recognition from these film masters and receives symbolic capital even cultural capital.


The third section is habitus. Bourdieu noted that habitus refers to a system of persistence and translatability, which combines past experiences and points to the behavior of practice, cognition and reproduction. Habitus is the product of specific social conditions. In film festival, habitus means tastemaker and gatekeeper for the filmmakers and audiences. For instance, the Golden Goblet Awards of SIFF is a gatekeeper for films and filmmakers. the filmmaker and film that win the awards means recognition from authority for the taste. Simultaneously, they are tastemakers and majority of audiences would like to follow the taste of authority.


Film festival as a social activity creates taste, value and cultural legitimation. In cultural field and film industry, film festival has its important and special meaning. Similarly, its social meaning cannot be ignored.


Bourdieu, P. “Outline of a Theory of Practice”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, P “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste”. Harvard University Press

SIFF, retrieved from

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