Art, Power, and Society (2021)

This independent reading course is designed to introduce some classic and contemporary scholarly writings that examine the ways in which power is both constituted and reproduced by art–including the systems that constitute art worlds and the cultural meanings and values sustained through the production, exchange, and consumption of art.

As part of the Cultural Ecologies PhD track, this reading list tends to focus on art worlds within the United States.

A note on reading: the sections can be read in any order, but the texts within each section will make more sense if you read them in the order listed below.


Zolberg, Vera L. Constructing a Sociology of the Arts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Power, Space, and Representation

Stoddart, Mark C. J. “Ideology, Hegemony, Discourse: A Critical Review of Theories of Knowledge and Power.” Social Thought & Research 28 (2007): 191–225.

Debord, Guy. Society Of The Spectacle. Detroit, MI: Black & Red, 2002.

Lipsitz, George. How Racism Takes Place. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

Lees, Loretta. “Gentrification.” In The Encyclopedia of Housing, edited by Andrew T. Carswell, 2nd ed. SAGE Publications, 2012.

Wilson, Risë. “Social Practice or Trojan Horse? The Need for an Ethical Framework to Guide Art in the Public Sphere.” Art & the Public Sphere 4, no. 1–2 (2015): 23–29. 

System and Structure

Clifford Geertz. “Art as a Cultural System.” MLN 91, no. 6 (December 1, 1976): 1473–99.

Williams, Raymond. “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory.” New Left Review, no. 82 (1973).

Hall, Stuart, Jennifer Daryl Slack, and Lawrence Grossberg. “Rethinking the Base and Superstructure.” In Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.

Gell, Alfred. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Snorton, C. Riley, and Hentyle Yapp, eds. Saturation: Race, Art, and the Circulation of Value. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2020.

Cultural Capital / Cultural Systems

Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Harvard University Press, 1984.

Lamont, Michèle, and Annette Lareau. “Cultural Capital: Allusions, Gaps and Glissandos in Recent Theoretical Developments.” Sociological Theory 6, no. 2 (1988): 153–68.

Lamont, Michèle, and Virág Molnár. “The Study of Boundaries in the Social Sciences.” Annual Review of Sociology 28, no. 1 (2002): 167–95.


Dickie, George. Art and the Aesthetic:An Institutional Analysis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974.

Becker, Howard Saul. Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Wolff, Janet. “Cultural Studies and the Sociology of Culture.” Contemporary Sociology 28, no. 5 (1999): 499–507.

Case Studies

Creative Placemaking and the Creative City

Bedoya, Roberto. “Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-Belonging.” GIA Reader 24, no. 1 (2013).

Bedoya, Roberto. “Spatial Justice: Rasquachification, Race and the City.” Creative Time Reports (September 15, 2014).

Koh, Annette. “Placemaking When Black Lives Matter.” Progressive City, April 3, 2017.

Murdoch, James, Carl Grodach, and Nicole Foster. “The Importance of Neighborhood Context in Arts-Led Development: Community Anchor or Creative Class Magnet?” Journal of Planning Education and Research 36, no. 1 (2016): 32–48.

Montgomery, Alesia. “Reappearance of the Public: Placemaking, Minoritization and Resistance in Detroit.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40, no. 4 (2016): 776–99.

McLean, Heather E. “Cracks in the Creative City: The Contradictions of Community Arts Practice.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38, no. 6 (2014): 2156–73.

Mitchell, W. J. T. “The Violence of Public Art: ‘Do the Right Thing.’” Critical Inquiry 16, no. 4 (1990): 880–99.

Space, Race, Gentrification, and Neighborhood

Kwon, Miwon. “Sitings of Public Art: Integration versus Intervention.” In One Place after Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.

Schacter, Rafael. “Street Art Is a Period. Period. Or the Emergence of Intermural Art.” Hyperallergic, July 16, 2016.

Schacter, Rafael. “The Ugly Truth: Street Art, Graffiti and the Creative City.” Art & the Public Sphere 3, no. 2 (2014): 161–76. 

Duncum, Paul. “Engaging Public Space: Art Education Pedagogies for Social Justice.” Equity & Excellence in Education 44, no. 3 (2011): 348–63. 

Graham, Janna. “‘A Strong Curatorial Vision for the Neighbourhood’: Countering the Diplomatic Condition of the Arts in Urban Neighbourhoods.” Art & the Public Sphere 6, no. 1/2 (2017): 33–49. 

Palermo, Luca. “The Role of Art in Urban Gentrification and Regeneration: Aesthetic, Social and Economic Developments.” Il Capitale Culturale Studies on the Value of Cultural Heritage 10 (2014): 521–45.

Day, Kristen. “Public Art and the Promotion of Racial Equity.” In Building Bridges, Blurring Boundaries: The Milwaukee School in Environment-Behavior Studies, edited by Sherry Ahrentzen, Carole Després, and Brian Schermer, 1:133–54. Architecture Faculty Books. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, School of Architecture and Urban Planning, 2012. 

D’Souza, Aruna. “Who Speaks Freely?: Art, Race, and Protest.” The Paris Review, May 22, 2018.

Shenker, Jack. “Revealed: The Insidious Creep of Pseudo-Public Space in London.” The Guardian, July 24, 2017, sec. Cities.

Museums, Curation, and Accountability

D’Souza, Aruna. Whitewalling: Art, Race & Protest in 3 Acts. New York: Badlands Unlimited, 2018.

Zeiger, Mimi. “Notes on a Scandal: Interview with Kimberli Meyer, Former Director of Long Beach’s University Art Museum.” Pin-Up.

Scott, Andrea K. “The Whitney Biennial Protests and the Changing Standards of Accountability in Art.” The New Yorker, July 31, 2019.

Aima, Rahel. “Whitney Museum Cancels Show Following Artists’ Accusations of Exploitation.” The Art Newspaper, August 25, 2020.

Livingstone, Jo. “The Whitney Museum’s Careless Attempt to Curate a Summer of Black Uprising.” The New Republic, August 25, 2020.

Cascone, Sarah. “‘We Failed’: A Cleveland Museum Apologizes for Cancelling an Exhibition on Police Brutality Without Consulting the Artist.” Artnet News, June 9, 2020.

Li, Shirley. “American Museums Are Going Through an Identity Crisis.” The Atlantic, November 28, 2020. .