Ramblings & ephemera

Social capital: subcultural vs cultural

From danah boyd’s “Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?“:

What’s at stake here is what is called “subcultural capital” by academics. It is the kind of capital that anyone can get, if you are cool enough to know that it exists and cool enough to participate. It is a counterpart to “cultural capital” which is more like hegemonic capital. That was probably a bit too obscure. Let me give an example. Opera attendance is a form of cultural capital – you are seen as having money and class and even if you think that elongated singing in foreign languages is boring, you attend because that’s what cultured people do. You need the expensive clothes, the language, the body postures, the social connects and the manners to belong. Limitations are economic and social. Rave attendance is the opposite. Anyone can get in, in theory… There are certainly hodgepodged clothes, street language and dance moves, but most folks can blend in with just a little effort. Yet, the major limitation is knowing that the rave exists. “Being in the know” is more powerful than money. You can’t buy your way into knowledge of a rave.

“Coolness” is about structural barriers, about the lack of universal accessibility or parsability. Structural hurdles mean people put in more effort to participate. It’s kinda like the adventure of tracking down the right parking lot to get the bus to go to the rave. The effort matters. Sure, it weeds some people out, but it makes those who participate feel all the more validated. Finding the easter egg, the cool little feature that no one knows about is exciting. Learning all of the nooks and crannies in a complex system is exhilarating. Figuring out how to hack things, having the “inside knowledge” is fabu.

Often, people don’t need simplicity – they want to feel proud of themselves for figuring something out; they want to feel the joy of exploration. This is the difference between tasks that people are required to do and social life. Social life isn’t about the easy way to do something – it’s about making meaning out of practice, about finding your own way.

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