Black Hole Suns: Binarism and Gravity in Cultural Fields


  • Alison Gerber Department of Sociology, Lund University, Sweden



Sociology of the arts, artistic practice, social theory, Bourdieu, binarism and duality, diagrammatic theorizing


Sociologicial analyses of artistic practice have long drawn on theoretical traditions grounded in binaries and dualisms. Such analytical strategies, exemplified here by field theoretical approaches, center art objects and their movements in and across markets, where binaristic visions of art worlds do offer significant leverage. But when the analyst moves away from markets for art objects and looks to artistic practices the binaristic lens provides, at best, a blurred image with meaningful blind spots. This article suggests an alternative vision of artistic practice —one based on gravity rather than polarity—that captures the ways individuals and their actions make sense in a specific universe of meaning without forcing them into fundamentally competitive and economistic relationships. It leverages findings enabled by a unique sampling strategy in a four year study of visual artists in the United States to illuminate some limitations of binary theoretical frameworks, and outlines a generative alternative to dualism that promotes new analytical and theoretical directions for sociological analyses of artists and artistic practice. This alternative model provides new leverage on four persistent issues in analyses of artistic work: cultural change in occupational fields; actors’ attempts to manage overlapping but incommensurate forms of recognition, reputation, attention, and success; the persistent hegemony of markets for objects in both vernacular and sociological understandings of artistic practice; and questions of visibility and legitimacy central to understanding boundary formation and boundary work in creative fields. The gravitational metaphor promotes a distict set of strategies for the study of artistic work as well as other nontraditional occupations.


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How to Cite

Gerber, A. (2019) “Black Hole Suns: Binarism and Gravity in Cultural Fields”, Culture Unbound, 12(2), pp. 393–411. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.191217a.