The Heuristic Significance of Art Sociology


  • Gregor Fitzi


Art Sociology, societal diagnosis, historical causal explanation, autonomy of the art field, Bourdieu, Simmel , Weber


Art sociology may be simply seen as a specialised domain of sociological research. Yet the article suggests that it has also an overarching diagnostic significance to gain a better understanding of ongoing societal transformation trends. It analyses the classical contribution of Weber, Simmel and Bourdieu to the topic. Weber develops a causal-historical explanation for the development of occidental music. It becomes a key to the interpretation of the specific occidental form of rationalism beyond religion and economy. Simmel has a different approach. Art is for him one of the expressions of the modern times that he wants to describe to understand the transformation of the society in which he lives. The diagnostic function of art is at the centre of interest. Bourdieu, on his side, proposes a historical reconstruction for the development of the intellectual field in France during the 19th century. In this frame, art contributes to a symbolic revolution that establishes autonomous societal fields and promotes a qualitative differentiation of complex societies. Yet, Bourdieu’s researches on art have also a diagnostic potential. Building on the analytical heritage of the classics, the article inquiries into the loss of autonomy of the art field in the contemporary art market and contributes to the debate on the heuristic significance of art sociology.


Adam, G. (2016). Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century. Aldershot: Lund Humphries.

Adam, G. (2018). Dark Side of the Boom: The Excesses of the Art Market in the 21st Century. London: Lund Humphries.

ANN (2021). The Art Market and The Museum (online, 6 May–16 Jul 21). In:, Apr 12, 2021 (accessed Feb 15, 2022),

Benjamin, W. (1980). Theories of German Fascism: On the Collection of Essays War and Warrior, Edited by Ernst Junger. New German Critique, 17, 120–128.

Benjamin, W. (2008). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin Books.

Boltanski, L.; Esquerre, A. (2017). Enrichissement: Une critique de la marchandise. Paris: Gallimard.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Genesis and Structure of the Religious Field. Comparative Social Research 13 (1991): 1–44.

Bourdieu, P. (1993). The Field of Cultural Production. Cambridge: Polity Press.

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

Bourdieu, P. (2017). Manet: A symbolic revolution: lectures at the Collège de France (1998-2000) followed by an unfinished manuscript by Pierre and Marie-Claire Bourdieu. Malden: Polity Press.

Chong, D. (2005) Stakeholder Relationships in Contemporary Art, Robertson, I. (ed.) Understanding International Art Markets and Management. London: Routledge.

Coslor, E. (2011) Wall Streeting Art: The Construction of Artwork as an Alternative Investment and the Strange Rules of the Art Market. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fitzi, G. (2019). The Challenge of Modernity. Simmel’s Sociological Theory. Abingdon-New York: Routledge.

Fitzi, G. (2022). Normative Intermittency. A Sociology of Failing Social Structuration. New York: Palgrave.

Fourastié, Jean (1979). Les Trente Glorieuses, ou la révolution invisible de 1946 à 1975. Paris: Fayard.

Glauser, A. et al. (2021). The Sociology of Arts and Markets: New Developments and Persistent Patterns. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Henning, Ch.; Schultheis, F.; Thomä, D. (2019). (Eds.). Kreativität als Beruf (1-4). Bielefeld: Transcript.

Horowitz, N. (2014) Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market. Princeton University Press.

Kemple, Th. (2021). Framing, painting, seeing. Simmel’s Rembrandt and the sense of modernity. in Fitzi, G. (2021). The Routledge International Handbook of Simmel Studies. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 196–209.

Lepsius Mario Rainer (2004). Mina Tobler, die Freundin Max Webers. In: Meurer, Barbel (2004). Marianne Weber: Beiträge zu Werk und Person. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 77–90.

Mader P., Mertens D. & Zwan N. van der (2020). The Routledge International Handbook of Financialization. Abingdon: Routledge.

Schlick, Moritz (2009). Allgemeine Erkenntnislehre (1918). H.J. Wendel and F.O. Engler (Eds.). Vienna: Springer.

Schluchter, Wolfgang (2015). Grundlegungen der Soziologie. Eine Theoriegeschichte in systematischer Absicht. 2. Edition. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Schultheis, F. (2016). A world turned upside down. The birth of an art field under the aegis of the (global) art market. In: Schultheis, F., Single, E., Koefeler, R., Mazzurana, T., & Fearns, J. (2016). Art unlimited? Dynamics and paradoxes of a globalizing art world. Bielefeld: Transcript, 237–255.

Schultheis, F. (2018) The Artist is Absent: the Artist as Creativity Entrepreneur and Changes in Representation and Practices of “Art”. Journal for Art Market Studies, (Vol 2, No 4 (2018)). 1–12. ISSN 2511-7602.

Schultheis, F., (2020a). “Wir machen Kunst für Künstler”: Lohnarbeit in Kunstmanufakturen. Eine ethnografische Studie. Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Schultheis, F. (2020b). The Art, the Market, and Sociology: Concluding Remarks. In: Glauser, A. et al. (2021). The sociology of arts and markets: New developments and persistent patterns. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 411–419.

Schultheis, F. et al. (2015). Kunst und Kapital: Begegnungen auf der Art Basel. Cologne: W. König.

Schultheis, F., Single, E., Koefeler, R., Mazzurana, T., & Fearns, J. (2016). Art unlimited? Dynamics and paradoxes of a globalizing art world. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Simmel. G. (1997). Essays on Religion. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

Simmel. G. (2020). Essays on Art and Aesthetics. London and Chicago: University of Chicago press.

Simmel, Hans (1941/42–2008), ‘Lebenserinnerungen’, in: Simmel Studies, 18/1, 2008, pp. 9‒136.

Velthuis, O. (2007). Talking prices: symbolic meanings of prices on the market for contemporary art. Princeton, New Jersey Woodstock: Princeton University Press.

Weber, Max (1989). Die Wirtschaftsethik der Weltreligionen. Konfuzianismus und Taoismus. Schriften 1915–1920. Max Weber Gesamtausgabe I/19. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Weber, M. (2004a), ‘Intermediate Reflection on Economic Ethics of the World Religions’, in Sam Whimster (ed. 2004). The Essential Weber. A Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 215‒244.

Weber, Max (2004b). Zur Musiksoziologie, Nachlass 1921. Max Weber Gesamtausgabe I/14. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Weber, Max (2016). Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus / Die protestantischen Sekten und der Geist des Kapitalismus. Schriften 1904–1920. Max Weber Gesamtausgabe I/18. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.