Cultural Capital is a concept associated with the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Put most succinctly, it refers to the concrete social habits that embody cultural mastery, and that can be picked up or dropped depending on a person’s desire to identify (or not) within a given group. From holding up a pinkie while drinking one’s tea to knowing how to do the wave at a sports game to one motorcycle rider discreetly waving with the left hand to another coming in the opposite direction, the habits of culture are how we learn to identify ourselves and belong to larger groups. Who exactly taught us to smile for the camera and stand in front of the monument? But people acquainted with the social habits of the West do it no almost matter who they are, and how well- (or ill-) represented they may feel about the place in question.
I write Cultural Capital from Washington, DC, our political capital (for better or worse) and a virtual museum of identity. Like Bourdieu, I can’t see our culture outside of our politics, and hope to probe here what the two together are or might become. DC’s founding obsession with national/political power is an interesting lens through which to see the culture of our country. This website is an experiment in the many things we might look at through this lens, with the trained eye of an art historian. I’m sure the world needs more than another website just now. But in these times that feel increasingly pressed (to put it mildly), I hope this site can be a place for looking closely and critically at the images and practices that enforce what is now and perhaps even help us to see a way past it.
Especially in this town, we are always reaching to monuments to explain (or explain away) things. As any historian (or William Faulkner) can tell you, the past isn’t really past. Accordingly, while this site will include my observations and prognostications, it also includes a guide to the past as it is incarnated in Washington. Entitled Monumental Anxiety: An Anti-Guide to the Monuments of Washington, DC, it seeks to put on display what otherwise often stays hidden.