Access: New York Times
Summary: Part of the larger multi-media project Why Poverty?, this short documentary film poem entitled "Lullaby" can be used to teach Pierre Bourdieu's concept of social distance. The film depicts homeless people sleeping by A.T.M. machines in banks, and the reactions of people who encounter them. In a description of the film, filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky references the term social distance: "I wanted the film to be more universal—to emphasize the social distance between most people and the homeless people they encounter, wherever they are in the world." While Kossakovsky does not mention Bourdieu, instructors can use the clip and Kossakovsky's quote to initiate a discussion around Bourdieu's application of the term. As Erica Haimes (2003) summarizes in her article, Embodied Spaces, Social Places and Bourdieu: Locating and Dislocating the Child in Family Relationships: "Notions of space and place are central to Bourdieu’s work. He uses the term space literally (activities occur, and actors act, in physical spaces which have practical and symbolic significance in relation to each other) and metaphorically (preferring the term ‘social space’ to ‘society’ (2000:130-5). Actors occupy multiple places within multiple 'relatively autonomous’ fields that together constitute the social space. These places constitute their status, class, social position: their place within society" (11). Bourdieu is interested in understanding the processes that result in people's varying social positions relative to one another or, the social distance between people. After screening the film, instructors can ask: What activities are occurring in this space? How are actors acting? What practical and symbolic significances do these activities and actions have in relation to each other? Further, how do these activities and actions constitute and reinforce the status, class, and social positions of the people in the film? For example, viewers might consider the different activities occurring in this space (e.g., sleeping vs. completing a bank transaction) and the different ways actors act in this space (e.g., laying on the ground, stepping over a sleeping person, turning back around, etc...), and how these different activities and actions shed light on the multiple statuses, classes, and positions—or social distance—actors occupy relative to one another in the film. Does the film succeed at illustrating, in Kossakovsky's words, "the social distance between most people and the homeless people they encounter"?
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp