Take a 'Shelfie': Books and Cultural Capital

I stumbled across this news article and one of the comments (by Sabrina) sums up my thoughts: “Just because you have a lot of books, does not mean you’re more intelligent than someone who takes selfies”. But lets take a look at the dynamics of cultural taste and shelfies.

Shelfies have taken social media platforms by storm, trending on those such as Twitter and Instagram within the past year or so. The aim of the game is to take a picture of your shelf complete with books and decorative paraphernalia, as an alternative to a selfie, to upload and show others. Various ‘top tips’ have emerged (see here), suggesting that there is a right way and a wrong way of going about it.
The combination of book collection and penchant for interior design becomes under surveillance, both of which may be deemed markers of social status. Bourdieu’s (1986) notion of “cultural capital” incorporates cultural goods and dispositions, along with two other forms of capital, to avoid the over-deterministic view of a purely economic based class system. So in the case of the shelfie, it makes visible a moral boundary attributing positive value to an individual’s engagement with knowledge, appreciation for reading and ‘looking after’ books.

Following the etiquette for an artful arrangement avoids ‘bad taste’ such as by displaying a tatty book or one which content is frivolous. This is a similar state of play to what Wood and Skeggs (2004) describe as the “grammar of conduct” when referring to polarised cultural tastes in dress. An aesthetic disposition represents certain standards, supposedly symbolic of morality so gains respect in its association with a particular social group.Valuing books is seen as a pursuit of the ‘educated’ so showcasing this suggests the higher social gravitas geek-chic affords.
What should this cluttered shelfie say about me?
Would it be different if I showed my academic reads?
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Bourdieu, P. (1986) The Forms of Capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood. pp 241-258.

Skeggs, B. (2005) The Making of Class and Gender through Visualizing Moral Subject Formation, Sociology, 39 (5), pp. 965 – 982.

Woods, H. and Skeggs, B. (2004) ‘Notes on Ethical Scenarios of Self on British Reality TV’, Feminist Media Studies, 4(1): 205-208.

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