Assignment 1 Blog 5: Symbiotic Networks Capitalising Through Death: Bowie, Brixton, and Bourdieu

Rogers (2016) suggests that when a pop star that is adored dies suddenly, what they stood for becomes immediately relevant and real, the life of the mind, the realm in which they exist, becoming of incredible worth, and their presentation manipulated more so by the media. In a year riddled with the death of popular music icons – Bowie, Prince, and Cohen, to name but a few –, cultures otherwise worlds apart have come together intrinsically as if grieving as a whole rather than an individual, mourning the loss of culture rather than a singular visionary.

Bruner (1990) suggests that we make ourselves and our identities through our autobiographical narratives, which ultimately allows us to build a set of social practices and cultural rules and understandings (Trevarthen, 1999) that guide us not only through life as a whole, but through individual moments shared culturally, collecting our own bank of cultural and social capital, a symbolic currency that provides you with a particular status among particular groups or society as a whole (Bourdieu, 1984; Thornton; 1996). Contextualising and modernising this path of thought, I would argue that we not only create and develop our identities through our own autobiographical narratives, but of the autobiographical narratives of others, particularly highlighted by the coming together of seemingly unrelated communities to grieve the deaths of cultural icons such as Bowie, whose fans created and gathered at impromptu street shrines, only mere hours after his death in his birthplace of Brixton as well Berlin, Los Angeles, and New York.

Vist (2011) suggests that it is not the work of art, but the individual and contextual experiences of the art in question that is important, as if to say it is not the work Bowie produced as Aladdin Sane, but the experiences that were conceived from it that its image evoked at his Brixton shrine. Ruud (2010) claims that the way we experience music and are influenced by it depends on the context, our background, and the music itself, functioning as a mutual relationship between the music, the person, and the situation. I develop this thesis by suggesting that our own narrative paths are intertwined with those of others when the music remains the same, yet the situation changes, and the person becomes the people through a culturally symbolic moment. In one way, this symbiotic networking of people as a whole is a bank of cultural and social capital, an enriched experience enhanced by its shared notion, however on the other hand, you could argue that cultural capital is in fact a static notion, and ultimately what counts as cultural capital does not change over time (Sablan and Tierney, 2013), no matter the context, and thus the symbiotic network is nothing more than a group of people reminiscing individually. Whilst there is certainly room to discuss this notion in further research, I agree with and update Throsby’s (1999) suggestion that a cultural group can assign a cultural valuation to a given item – in this case, David Bowie and his life’s work – which ultimately differs between individuals, re-appropriating itself in particular cases as if a sufficient societal consensus is ranking the overall value against specific moments in time.

Our own autobiographical narratives are altered symbiotically through the shifting value of our own cultural capital – highlighted by the communal grieving of popular musical and cultural icons – in the sense that for a culturally and socially significant moment in popular culture, we are sharing our individual experiences collectively in a bank of capital, alleviating the high taste of that particular icon posthumously.


Rogers, J. (2016). Bowie, Prince, Cohen & The Quiet Power Of Public Grief. [online] The Quietus. Available at: [Accessed 11 Dec. 2016].

Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Trevarthen, C. (1999). Musicality and the intrinsic motive pulse: Evidence from human psychobiology and infant communication. Rhythms, Musical narrative, and the Origins of Human Communication, Musicae Scientiae, Special Issues, 1999-2000, pp. 157-213. Leige, Belgium: European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Routledge, Oxford.

Thornton, S. (1996). Club cultures. 1st ed. Hanover: University Press of New England.

Ruud, E. (2010). Music therapy: A Perspective from the Humanities. 1st ed. Gilsum, N.H.: Barcelona Publishers.

Sablan, J. and Tierney, W. (2016). The Changing Nature of Cultural Capital. In: M. Paulsen, ed., Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 29th ed. Springer Netherlands, pp.153-188.

Vist, T. (2011). Music Experience in Early Childhood: Potential for Emotion Knowledge?. International Journal of Early Childhood, 43(3), pp.277-290.

Throsby, D. (1999). Cultural Capital. Journal of Cultural Economics, [online] 23(1/2), pp.3-12.


2 thoughts on “Assignment 1 Blog 5: Symbiotic Networks Capitalising Through Death: Bowie, Brixton, and Bourdieu

  1. I really like the metaphor of a collective bank of memories and cultural capital to explain the en masse grief that occurs when a popular icon dies. The symbiotic nature of grief and shared musical experiences and the nostalgia that accompanies the two have been evident in many instances in 2016. Music adding to an autobiography, which requires a context for it’s role as ‘art’ is also eloquently written. I find it interesting that such an outpouring of expressive grief as making a shrine is much more commonplace when a popular musician dies than for any other sector of society, and shows the mystical power music has for evoking worship and emotion.

  2. Music is a ‘thing’ lives on far longer than the creators themselves and in some cases where it may seem as though the music itself has become obsolete or dead it resurrects in the form of remixes. It is sad that in some cases an artist’s hard work and creation is only then much appreciated as suggested by Rogers (2016) “…when a pop star that is adored dies suddenly, what they stood for becomes immediately relevant and real…”. Music unites people from different backgrounds however with a shared identity and meaning as explained your thesis. The coming together of fans to grieve their pop star as an autobiographical narrative are an interesting notion.

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