“The particular requirement of awards-that the judges read a whole heap of novels-is, more than anything, the things that makes awards screwy.”- Adam Roberts
“[N]o commentor can altogether avoid participating in the very economy of prestige, the very system of valuing and devaluing, esteeming and disesteeming, that he or she undertakes to examine. My point, though, is. . . . to stress the peculiar resistance prizes seem to have mounted against any real scrutiny of their functions and effects.” – James F. English
In last week’s column I ended my discussion of the Hugo Awards with a question: why is it that the awards incite both spirited defense and myriad criticisms? The point of that question was not to set up more discussion or debates, but to seriously consider what constitutes the effects of these awards. The social and cultural “work” (not the best term, but the best one we have in a discourse saturated with capitalistic meanings) of awards is not just limited to the fact of their granting, or to the ritualized celebration that bestows them on artists, or even to the measure of prestige that they grant to the recipient and back to those that grant them. Awards in general, and the Hugos in particular, are not just objects of exchange and contention in their specific fields and beyond; they are symbols of sodality, of enchantment, and of adumbration.
The Hugo Awards operate within an economy of prestige, a non-financial transactional system of creating and exchanging value that mainly relates to the literary field of production. The Hugos also contribute to the social reproduction of groups and positions within the field and, because of the field’s connections to the capitalist system around it, are potentially effective in increasing the success of the recipient and those associated with them in the financial economy. The Hugos as highly-valued cultural objects influence the relationship of the recipients (and to some extent the nominees) to both economies by accumulating and promulgating symbolic capital. But the awards, in large measure, are less about the winners than they are about the social groups who maintain and use them.