Author: Sam Friedman
Title: Legitimating A Discredited Art Form: The Changing Field Of British Comedy
Bourdieu’s field theory offers a useful theoretical platform for sociologists interrogating areas of culture. However, his rigid separation of the sub-fields of mass and restricted cultural production ignores the potential for transformative change in cultural fields. This article uses field theory to chart the history of British comedy, explaining first its historical denigration within the ‘academy’, and second its dramatic transformation and expansion since the 1980s ‘Alternative Comedy’ movement. It describes how this movement introduced new and more autonomous genres of critical, intellectual, political and surreal comedy that were slowly appropriated by middle class audiences and helped legitimise comedy in the wider cultural field. It is also argued that in order to fully understand this ‘moment’ of change in the field one must look beyond Bourdieu to Social Network Analysis (SNA). Only by examining how the network of alternative comedians pooled their artistic resources and worked together, can we understand how they had such a profound influence on the future trajectory of British comedy.