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Call for papers n° 5: Art and culture criticism. Decline or supremacy?

Deadline for abstract submission: SEPTEMBER 23, 2013.

Special issue edited by Anne-Sophie Béliard (CIM - MCPN, Sorbonne Nouvelle University) and Sidonie Naulin (PACTE, IEP Grenoble).

What has become of art and culture criticism since the advent of the Internet? It seems that the array of criticized products is widening (books, films, but also television series, video-games, etc.), that the critics are diversifying (professionals and non-professionals) and that the forms of criticism are changing (reviews, comments, algorithm calculations, etc.). These evolutions ultimately bring up the question of art and culture criticism in the contemporary context: what objects does it apply to? Who produces it, and how? What effects does it have?

As opposed to advertising, criticism epitomizes an independent channel of recognition and ranking of cultural products, which works as an actor of symbolical legitimization (Bourdieu, 1996). The social contexts in which criticism takes place are shaped by both relations of cooperation – in the Beckerian perspective of “art worlds” – and of competition – in the Bourdieusian perspective of “social fields”. Although criticism participates in creating the value of cultural products, the study of its reception shows that its effect on consumers’ representations and choices is far from automatic. Indeed, a number of sociologists defend the idea that criticism as a genre is disappearing (Moulin, 1992; White & White, 1965) due to its transformation into a means of promotion in the hands of marketing and advertising agents. In addition, other sociologists argue that the influence of critics is being reduced to defining what is art (insofar as a work of art is an object of art criticism) with no direct impact on sales or prices (François, 2008).

This means that even though critics, according to these authors, are no longer “guides”, they still seem to retain a role as “attention catchers”. Researches on contemporary transformations of culture worlds, including the Internet, show that critics have a structuring effect due to the consumers’ uncertainty regarding “singular goods” (Karpik, 2010) and due to the producers’ struggle for visibility. Therefore, the studies that focus on visibility (Heinich, 2012), reputation (Chauvin, 2010), or recognition (DEPS, 2010), pay particular attention to the role of critics.

Research Directions

In the light of these considerations, we are suggesting three non-exclusive axes to approach the issue’s topic: 1) the widening of the domain of criticism; 2) the democratization of criticism; 3) the effects of criticism.

The widening of the domain of criticism

In the areas traditionally covered by criticism (like music, books or restaurants) the Internet does not only modify the economy and organization of the businesses (digitalization, downloading, online shopping, etc.). It also fosters new tools and formats of evaluation, such as ranking the popularity of products according to the number of clicks they received, bloggers suggestions, or consumers’ comments. Moreover, throughout the 20th century, the area covered by criticism has opened to a number of productions, such as cinema (de Baecque, 2003), radio and television (Bourdon & Frodon, 2002), wine (Fernandez, 2004), or computing (Blank, 2006), for example.

How does the Internet allow for a diversification of criticized cultural products, and how far does such a diversification reach? What are the new forms of criticism available on the Internet? Considering these evolutions, one may debate the applicability of Bourdieu’s analysis of legitimization through criticism.

In addition, these questions can be complemented by a reflection on the relation between the legitimacy of the objects of criticism, and the legitimacy of critics themselves. Does criticism still effectively function as a means of cultural validation on the Internet? Do the widening of criticism’s domain and easy online publication banalise or even devalue criticism, or do they merely redefine the activity? These topics invite us to revise the study of consensus production by critics (Van Rees, 1987) in the light of the critical discourse’s volatility on the web.

From professional to non-professional critics: towards a democratization of criticism?

The Internet can be seen as a place where two aspects of the critic’s work are being redefined: one is disinterested objectivity, the other is explicit subjectivity. On the one hand, the web allowed for new forms of objective evaluations to emerge (ranking algorithms based on Internet users’ or professionals’ contributions, as on platforms like IMDb or TripAdvisor). On the other hand, the possibility for everyone to express themselves publicly on diverse digital formats (blogs, forums, wikis...) also led to a democratization of the critic’s expertise in a movement that Patrice Flichy (2010) called the « consecration of the amateur ».

How does the participation of non-professional critics change professional critics’ work? What part of the evolution of criticism is due to the Internet’s distinctive features’, particularly interactivity? Is there an effective decline of the top-down legitimization by professional critics in favour of a bottom-up logic where cultural products are recommended by amateurs? In addition to these questions, we may also explore the respective characteristics of professional and non-professional criticism, as well as the specific skills and expertise of a professional critic.

Who are the critics on the web? The wealth of vocabulary available to refer to “critics” (specialists, experts, analysts, observers, journalists...) also suggests studies about their daily work, and the socio-demographic characteristics of professionals and non-professionals alike.

This research axis also includes reflexions on the critics’ activities. Critics are first the receptors of the cultural objects on which they subsequently produce a discourse. How does this reception stage differ from that experienced by “ordinary” amateurs ? This point also opens possibilities for a reflexion on the construction of critics’ reputation and the role played by the Internet in critics’ networks and their strategies for visibility in such an open space.

Reception, effects and influence of criticism

The advent of the Internet allows us to renew the approaches on the effects and influence of criticism. As far as quantitative studies can measure the effects of criticism (on sales, prices, producers’ strategies, etc.), what is the influence of the new online spaces of criticism (public ranking systems, blogs, etc.)? What is the impact of different criticisms according to their respective format, style, or author, and how can this be measured? How are the relations between criticism and marketing evolving?

These macrosociological questions on the effects of criticism focus on the capacity of criticism to redefine a domain’s legitimacy, or even to change consumption practices. We also welcome microsociological studies that focus on occasional and regular receptors of criticism. Such an approach can contribute to a better understanding of the activities that derive from reading criticisms. How do people use criticism in their cultural choices and practices? Do the traditional social variables such as age, gender and economic background allow identifying different levels of receptivity to criticisms on the Internet?

To complete the comprehension of critics’ and criticisms’ influence, this research axis is also open to studies on the critics’ concrete work. For instance, researches can consider the relative positions of critics in professional networks or in cultural industries and the influence of the environment on their practice (Janssen, 1997). A detailed ethnographic study of their activities, their work organization, their integration in an economic world that aims to promote cultural works (Beuscart & Mellet, 2012) or their daily choices of objects for criticism (Naulin, 2012) and discourse registers would shed light on what makes the strengths and weaknesses of criticisms.

Calendar and pratical information

The articles summaries (up to 600 words, in French or English) should be sent by email to before September 23th, 2013.

Submissions should expose clearly the research question, methodology and theoretical framework, as well as the scientific interest of the article and its relevance for the theme of publication. Summaries may come with a short bibliography.

Submitted summaries will undergo a blind review by the issue coordinators and members of the editorial board. Authors will be contacted by the editors. However, the positive evaluation of the abstract does not guarantee the publication of the article.

We would like to draw the contributors’ attention to the section dedicated to the « news of the classics » that aims to revisit social sciences classic theories in the light of the Internet.

The journal Reset also has a « varia » section that is open to all kinds of human and social sciences articles on the Internet as a research object or method.


The Editorial board:



Baecque Antoine (de) (2003). La Cinéphilie. Invention d’un regard, histoire d’une culture. 1944-1968, Paris, Hachette Littérature.

Beuscart Jean-Samuel & Mellet Kevin (2012). Promouvoir les œuvres culturelles. Usages et efficacité de la publicité dans les filières culturelles, Paris, La Documentation Française.

Blank Grant (2006). Critics, Ratings and Society. The Sociology of Reviews, Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Bourdieu Pierre (1996). The Rules of Art. Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Bourdon Jérôme & Frodon Jean-Michel (eds.) (2002). L’Œil critique. Le journaliste critique de télévision, Bruxelles, De Boeck.

Chauvin Pierre-Marie (2010). Le Marché des réputations. Une sociologie du monde des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Éditions Féret.

Département des Études, de la prospective et des statistiques (DEPS) (2010). Appel à propositions de recherche : Transformation des formes de reconnaissance dans le domaine culturel. Notoriété, réputation et légitimité, Paris, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication.

Fernandez Jean-Luc (2004). La Critique vinicole en France. Pouvoir de prescription et construction de la confiance, Paris, L’Harmattan.

Flichy Patrice (2010). Le Sacre de l’amateur, Paris, Seuil.

François Pierre (2008). Les Critiques d’art contemporain. Une perspective de sociologie économique, Paris, Ministère de la Culture, Délégation aux arts plastiques.

Heinich Nathalie (2012). De la visibilité : excellence et singularité en régime médiatique, Paris, Gallimard.

Janssen Susanne (1997). « Reviewing as Social Practice: Institutional Constraints on Critics’ Attention for Contemporary Fictions ». Poetics, 24, pp. 275–297.

Karpik Lucien (2010). Valuing the Unique. The Economics of Singularities, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Moulin Raymonde (1992). L’Artiste, l’institution et le marché, Paris, Flammarion.

Naulin Sidonie (2012). Le Journalisme gastronomique. Sociologie d’un dispositif de médiation marchande, Thèse de sociologie, Paris, Université Paris-Sorbonne.

Pourtier Héloïse (2006). « Avant-propos : la critique culturelle, positionnement journalistique ou intellectuel ? », Quaderni, 60, pp. 51-53.

Van Rees C. J. (1987). « How Reviewers Reach Consensus on the Value of Literary Works », Poetics, 16 (3-4), pp. 275 – 294.

White Harrison & White Cynthia (1965). Canvases and Careers. Institutional Change in the French Painting World, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

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