Mi / 10:00 – 11:30

What is Art Good for?

Multiple Justifications in Boundary Work for the Arts

Paul Buckermann, Thyssen@KWI Fellow

Online (Zoom) & Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI), Gartensaal, Goethestr. 31, 45128 Essen

In sociology, cultural organizations and professionals are researched as both authorities of autonomous artistic consecration and as targets of heteronomous political instrumentalization and economic commodification. So far, professionals’ practices in regard to these ‘hostile worlds’ (Velthuis) have been described as a ‚Faustian bargain‘ (Alexander) leading to concessions, penetration or even surrender.

Drawing from my studies in the fields of literature, theatre, and visual art, I challenge verdicts on incompatible values and hostile takeovers, and develop a novel perspective on cultural professionals’ role in complex social ecologies. Empirically, I present findings that systematically demonstrate how cultural professionals navigate contradicting interests in the arts without relinquishing autonomous logics. Conceptually, I consider these multiple justifications (Boltanski & Thévenot) as an essential part of broader ‘boundary work’ (Gieryn) for artistic fields, aiming to mobilize various resources while simultaneously protecting the autonomous logics of the arts. Theoretically, I argue that ‘intermediaries’ (Sapiro) in complex ‘trading zones’ (Galison) are key to explaining the autonomy of art in particular, and social differentiation in general.