Theory and Society

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 613–648 | Cite as

The power of the intelligentsia: The Rywin Affair and the challenge of applying the concept of cultural capital to analyze Poland’s elites

  • Tomasz Zarycki


This article aims at integrating the phenomenon of the Central and Eastern European intelligentsia into the application of the theory of cultural capital of Pierre Bourdieu to the analysis of societies of that region. This is done by critically reevaluating the model of evolution of the post-communist countries of Central Europe proposed by Gil Eyal, Ivan Szelényi, and Eleanor Townsley, in their “Making Capitalism without Capitalists.” The present article argues for supplementing their approach with an analytical distinction between the concepts of intellectuals (as masters of the critical discourse culture) and the intelligentsia, which in countries like Poland have an important component of post-gentry culture. The identity and images of the intelligentsia are analyzed as important though highly contested aspects of cultural capital in Poland. Wide implications of discursive battles on the status of intelligentsia in contemporary Poland are exemplified in the case of the debates over the so-called Rywin Affair in Poland and the role played in that affair by the major Polish intellectual Adam Michnik. The political discourse related to the affair and to the status of Michnik are studied in context of the structure of the Polish political scene and related to the academic debates on the intelligentsia, whether it is a “really existing” and significant social group or merely a marginal one and “outdated discourse.”


Social Capital Cultural Capital Communist Party Political Capital Freedom Fighter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



An earlier version of this article was presented at the Conference of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES), Cambridge, U.K., 2–4 April 2005. The author would like to thank readers of earlier versions of this article and the Editors of Theory & Society, in particular David Swartz, as well as anonymous reviewers for their numerous comments and suggestions. The author of course takes all the responsibility for the theses and shortcomings of the article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Social StudiesUniversity of WarsawWarsawPoland

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