The symbolic economy of authenticity as a form of symbolic violence: the case of middle-class ethnic minorities

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While authenticity has become a main axiological principle in late-modernity, a desired good and token of worth, studies from different countries indicate inequality in access to authenticity: middle-class ethnic minorities often face difficulties being recognized as authentic and experiencing themselves as such. This phenomenon is discussed below in terms of symbolic violence. While doing this the article makes several theoretical contributions: (1) Bourdieu's notion of symbolic violence is historicized. Different forms of symbolic violence (pre-modern, modern, and late-modern) are distinguished, each relying on a unique cosmology, logic, and symbolic economy. (2) Different strategies employed by social theorists to theorize authenticity are discussed and compared to reveal a gap between common understandings of authenticity as the dispositional depth of action and the misrecognized principle that often informs the ascription of authenticity, i.e. faithfulness to established discursive categories. Discursive structures allow members of hegemonic groups to naturalize cultural exploration and self-transformation as authentic self-realization, whereas even second-generation middle-class ethnic minorities often have their classed dispositions suspected as inauthentic. Some eventually understand themselves as inauthentic, while others invest in late acquisition of lowbrow culture in order to gain authenticity, thus contributing to their own subjection. (3) Cultural schemes may thus exert symbolic violence even if they cannot be traced back to strategic action of their privileged beneficiaries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-19
Number of pages18
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2016


  • Bourdieu
  • authenticity
  • discourse
  • ethnicity
  • middle-class
  • recognition
  • symbolic violence

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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