The Celebrification of the Public Sphere
The democratization and diversification of celebrity together with the penetration of entertainment celebrities into non-entertainment social fields has turned celebrity into a defining characteristic of our modern media-saturated societies. The first aim of this article based PhD-project is to gain a better theoretical understanding of this celebrification process through analyzing its relationship with mediatisation and commodification on the one hand and through integrating celebrity into Bourdieu’s field theory on the other hand. A central starting point of this research is that celebrities are never ideologically neutral and should be conceived of as sites of social and political struggle. Both implicitly (as embodiments) and explicitly (through endorsements) celebrities play a role in the public sphere. The second aim therefore is to study the role and importance of celebrities in the public sphere. This is done by concentrating on the agents, the context and the content. First, in studying the ‘agents’, we focus on celebrities’ socio-political activist practices and their potential of functioning as role models. Both studies are informed by practice theory (a.o. Schatzki, Reckwitz, Couldry) and are based on in-depth interviews with Flemish celebrities. Next, we try to explain how celebrities have acquired a place in the public sphere by tracking the most fundamental changes that have led to celebrity politics (in its large sense) in Belgium. Additionally, a quantitative content analysis of four Flemish newspapers (1998–2007) enables us to critically evaluate the relative importance of celebrities in the public sphere and also gives us the possibility to test our conception of celebrification with empirical data. Third, this project focuses on a Belgian celebrity-supported national campaign on the duolegacy and argues that this can be understood as a neoliberal philanthropic project because of its redefinition of good citizenship and of relations between civil society and the state. This analysis is based on promotional material and news articles on the campaign and aims to improve our understanding of possible unintended consequences of celebrities’ activism and roles in the public sphere. Overall, this PhD-projects intends to contribute to celebrity studies by exposing possible dynamics and characteristics of a (g)local celebrity culture (i.e. Flanders/Belgium) which is different from the dominant Anglo-American celebrity culture.