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Cultural capital

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This article is about the sociological term. For European locations, see European Capital of
The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets; they may be educational or
intellectual, which might promote social mobility beyond economic means.
Cultural capital (French: le capital culturel) is a sociological concept that has gained widespread
popularity since it was first articulated by Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron
first used the term in "Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction" (1973). In this work he
attempted to explain differences in children's outcomes in France during the 1960s. It has since
been elaborated and developed in terms of other types of capital in The Forms of Capital (1986);
and in terms of higher education, for instance, in The State Nobility (1996). For Bourdieu, capital
acts as a social relation within a system of exchange, and the term is extended to all the goods
material and symbolic, without distinction, that present themselves as rare and worthy of being
sought after in a particular social formation (cited in Harker, 1990:13) and cultural capital acts as
a social relation within a system of exchange that includes the accumulated cultural knowledge
that confers power and status.[1]


1 Relation to other types of capital

2 Types

3 Relation to Bourdieu's other concepts

4 Use of the concept in theory and research

o 4.1 Traditional use of concept

o 4.2 Expansion of concept

o 4.3 Criticisms of concept

5 See also

6 Notes

7 References

8 Further reading

[edit] Relation to other types of capital

In The Forms of Capital (1986), Bourdieu distinguishes between three types of capital:

Economic capital: command over economic resources (cash, assets).

Social capital: resources based on group membership, relationships, networks of

influence and support. Bourdieu described social capital as "the aggregate of the actual or
potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less
institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition."

Cultural capital: forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages that a person
has, which give them a higher status in society. Parents provide their children with
cultural capital by transmitting the attitudes and knowledge needed to succeed in the
current educational system.

Later he adds symbolic capital (resources available to an individual on the basis of honor,
prestige or recognition) to this list.

[edit] Types
Cultural capital has three subtypes: embodied, objectified and institutionalised (Bourdieu,
1986:47). Bourdieu distinguishes between these three types of capital:

Embodied cultural capital consists of both the consciously acquired and the passively
"inherited" properties of one's self (with "inherit[ance]" here used not in the genetic sense
but in the sense of receipt over time, usually from the family through socialization, of
culture and traditions). Cultural capital is not transmissible instantaneously like a gift or
bequest; rather, it is acquired over time as it impresses itself upon one's habitus (character

and way of thinking), which in turn becomes more attentive to or primed to receive
similar influences.
o Linguistic capital, defined as the mastery of and relation to language (Bourdieu,
1990:114), can be understood as a form of embodied cultural capital in that it
represents a means of communication and self-presentation acquired from one's
surrounding culture.

Objectified cultural capital consists of physical objects that are owned, such as scientific
instruments or works of art. These cultural goods can be transmitted both for economic
profit (as by buying and selling them with regard only to others' willingness to pay) and
for the purpose of "symbolically" conveying the cultural capital whose acquisition they
facilitate. However, while one can possess objectified cultural capital by owning a
painting, one can "consume" the painting (understand its cultural meaning) only if one
has the proper foundation of conceptually and/or historically prior cultural capital, whose
transmission does not accompany the sale of the painting (except coincidentally and
through independent causation, such as when a vendor or broker chooses to explain the
painting's significance to the prospective buyer).

Institutionalized cultural capital consists of institutional recognition, most often in the

form of academic credentials or qualifications, of the cultural capital held by an
individual. This concept plays its most prominent role in the labor market, in which it
allows a wide array of cultural capital to be expressed in a single qualitative and
quantitative measurement (and compared against others' cultural capital similarly
measured). The institutional recognition process thereby eases the conversion of cultural
capital to economic capital by serving as a heuristic that sellers can use to describe their
capital and buyers can use to describe their needs for that capital.

[edit] Relation to Bourdieu's other concepts

The concept cultural capital is fundamentally linked to the concepts of fields and habitus. These
three concepts have been continually developed throughout all of Bourdieus work. A field can
be any structure of social relations (King, 2005:223). It is a site of struggle for positions within
that field and is constituted by the conflict created when individuals or groups endeavor to
establish what comprises valuable and legitimate capital within that space. Therefore one type of
cultural capital can be at the same time both legitimate and not, depending on the field in which
it is located. It can be seen therefore, that the legitimation of a particular type of cultural capital
is completely arbitrary. The power to arbitrarily determine what constitutes legitimate cultural
capital within a specific field is derived from symbolic capital.
Habitus is also important to the concept of cultural capital, as much of cultural capital can be
derived from an individuals habitus. It is often defined as being dispositions that are inculcated
in the family but manifest themselves in different ways in each individual. (Harker, 1990:10;
Webb, 2002:37; Gorder, 1980:226). It is formed not only by the habitus of the family (Harker et
al., 1990:11) but also by the objective chances of the class to which the individual belongs (King,

2005:222), in their daily interactions (Gorder, 1980:226) and it changes as the individuals
position within a field changes (Harker, 1990:11).

[edit] Use of the concept in theory and research

The concept of cultural capital has received widespread attention all around the world, from
theorists and researchers alike. It is mostly employed in relation to the education system, but on
the odd occasion has been used or developed in other discourses. Use of Bourdieus cultural
capital can be broken up into a number of basic categories. First, are those who explore the
theory as a possible means of explanation or employ it as the framework for their research.
Second, are those who build on or expand Bourdieus theory. Finally, there are those who attempt
to disprove Bourdieus findings or to discount them in favour of an alternative theory. The
majority of these works deal with Bourdieus theory in relation to education, only a small
number apply his theory to other instances of inequality in society.

[edit] Traditional use of concept

Those researchers and theorists who explore or employ Bourdieus theory use it in a similar way
as it was articulated by Bourdieu. They usually apply it uncritically, and depending on the
measurable indicators of cultural capital and the fields within which they measure it, Bourdieus
theory either works to support their argument totally, or in a qualified way. These works help to
portray the usefulness of Bourdieus concept in analysing (mainly educational) inequality but
they do not add anything to the theory.
One work which does employ Bourdieus work in an enlightening way is that of Emirbayer &
Williams (2005) who use Bourdieus notion of fields and capital to examine the power relations
in the field of social services, particularly homeless shelters. The authors talk of the two separate
fields that operate in the same geographic location (the shelter) and the types of capital that are
legitimate and valued in each. Specifically they show how homeless people can possess staffsanctioned capital or client-sanctioned capital (2005:92) and show how in the shelter, they are
both at the same time, desirable and undesirable, valued and disparaged, depending on which of
the two fields they are operating in. Although the authors do not clearly define staff-sanctioned
and client-sanctioned capital as cultural capital, and state that usually the resources that form
these two capitals are gathered from a persons life as opposed to their family, it can be seen how
Bourdieus theory of cultural capital can be a valuable theory in analysing inequality in any
social setting.

[edit] Expansion of concept

A number of works expand Bourdieus theory of cultural capital in a beneficial manner, without
deviating from Bourdieus framework of the different forms of capital. In fact, these authors can
be seen to explore unarticulated areas of Bourdieus theory as opposed to constructing a new
theory. For instance, Stanton-Salazar & Dornbusch (1995:121) examine how those people with
the desired types of cultural (and linguistic) capital in a school transform this capital into
instrumental relations or social capital with institutional agents who can transmit valuable
resources to the person, furthering their success in the school. They state that this is simply an

elaboration of Bourdieus theory. Similarly, Dumais (2002) introduces the variable of gender to
determine the ability of cultural capital to increase educational achievement. The author shows
how gender and social class interact to produce different benefits from cultural capital. In fact in
Distinction (1984:107), Bourdieu states sexual properties are as inseparable from class
properties as the yellowness of lemons is inseparable from its acidity. He simply did not
articulate the differences attributable to gender in his general theory of reproduction in the
education system. What allows a certain thing to exist, or not exist....that is the question.
On the other hand, two authors have introduced new variables into Bourdieus concept of
cultural capital. Emmison & Frows (1998) work centers on an exploration of the ability of
Information Technology to be considered a form of cultural capital. The authors state that a
familiarity with, and a positive disposition towards the use of bourgeoisie technologies of the
information age can be seen as an additional form of cultural capital bestowing advantage on
those families that possess them. Specifically computers are machines (Bourdieu, 1986:47)
that form a type of objectified cultural capital, and the ability to use them is an embodied type of
cultural capital. This work is useful because it shows the ways in which Bourdieus concept of
cultural capital can be expanded and updated to include cultural goods and practices which are
progressively more important in determining achievement both in the school and without.
Hage uses Bourdieus theory of cultural capital to explore multiculturalism and racism in
Australia. His discussion around race is distinct from Bourdieus treatment of migrants and their
amount of linguistic capital and habitus. Hage actually conceives of whiteness (in Dolby,
2000:49) as being a form of cultural capital. White is not a stable, biologically determined trait,
but a shifting set of social practices (Dolby, 2000:49). He conceptualizes the nation as a
circular field, with the hierarchy moving from the powerful center (composed of white
Australians) to the less powerful periphery (composed of the others). The others however are
not simply dominated, but are forced to compete with each other for a place closer to the centre.
This use of Bourdieus notion of capital and fields is extremely illuminating to understand how
people of non-Anglo ethnicities may try and exchange the cultural capital of their ethnic
background with that of whiteness to gain a higher position in the hierarchy. It is especially
useful to see it in these terms as it exposes the arbitrary nature of what is Australian, and how
it is determined by those in the dominant position (mainly white Australians).
John Taylor Gatto writes a piece in Harper's issue in 2003, Against School. Gatto addresses
issues over education in modern schooling as a retired school teacher. The relation of cultural
capital can be linked to Alexander Inglis's 1918 book, Principles of Secondary Education, which
makes clear how modern American schooling is now what it had been for Prussia in the 1820's.
The objective was to divide children into sections by distributing children into subjects by age
groups and common test scores. Inglis introduces six basic functions for modern schooling.
Functions three four and five are most related to cultural capitol because they describe the
manner in which schooling enforces childrens' cultural capital from a young age. Bellow are
functions three to five from Gatto's issue: "3. The diagnostic and directive function. School is
meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence
mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. 4. The differentiating function. Once
their social role has been "diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only as far as
their destination in the social machine merits-- and not one step further. So much for making kids

heir personal best. 5. The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to
Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called "the favored races." In short, the
idea is to help things along by consciously attempt to improve the breeding stock. Schools are
meant to tag the unfit-- with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments clearly
enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the
reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were
intended to do: "it was the dirt down the drain." These three functions are directly related to
cultural capital because through schooling children are discriminated by social class and
cognitively placed into the destination that will make them fit to sustain that social role as they
grow. They will be lead down the path into the class they will belong to and during the fifth
function will be directly undesirable to the more privileged set of children and be even
furthermore pushed down the ladder.

[edit] Criticisms of concept

Criticisms of Bourdieu's concept have been made on many grounds, including a lack of
conceptual clarity [2] Perhaps due to this lack of clarity, researchers have operationalised the
concept in diverse ways, and have varied in their conclusions. While some researchers may be
cricised for using measures of cultural capital which focus only on certain aspects of 'highbrow'
culture, this is a criticism which could also be levelled at Bourdieu's own work. Several studies
have attempted to refine the measurement of cultural capital, in order to examine which aspects
of middle-class culture actually have value in the education system. [3] [4] [5] [6]
It has been observed that Bourdieu's theory, and in particular his notion of habitus, is entirely
deterministic, leaving no place for individual agency or even individual consciousness. [7] [8]
Although Bourdieu claimed to have transcended the dichotomy of structure and agency, this is
not necessarily convincing.
Bourdieu has also been criticised for his lack of consideration of gender. Kanter (in Robinson &
Garnier, 1986) point out the lack of interest in gender inequalities in the labour market in
Bourdieu's work.

[edit] See also

Pierre Bourdieu

Social capital

Cultural studies

Culture change

Cultural economics

Human capital

Individual capital

Academic capital

[edit] Notes

^ http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0761973419&id=ACA5uF2PlMC&pg=PA37&lpg=PA37&dq=%22cultural+capital%22&sig=Q4zsnh-3tlJGwSFMJGc2kA3KKI


^ Sullivan, A. 2002. Bourdieu and Education: How Useful is Bourdieus Theory

for Researchers? Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences. 38(2) 144-166.


^ Sullivan, A. 2001. Cultural Capital and Educational Attainment Sociology.

35(4) 893-912.


^ DiMaggio, P. (1982). 'Cultural Capital and School Success'. American

Sociological Review, vol. 47,189-201.


^ Crook, C. J. (1997). Cultural Practices and Socioeconomic Attainment:

TheAustralian Experience.Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut.


^ De Graaf, N. D., De Graaf, P.,and Kraaykamp, G. (2000). 'Parental Cultural

Capital and Educational Attainment in the Netherlands: A Refinement of the Cultural
Capital Perspective'. Sociology of Education, vol. 73, pp. 92-111.


^ DiMaggio, P. (1979). 'Review Essay: On Pierre Bourdieu'. American Journal of

Sociology, vol. 84,1460-74.


^ King, A. (2000). 'Thinking with Bourdieu Against Bourdieu: A 'Practical'

Critique of the Habitus'. Sociological Theory, 18, 3: 417-433.

[edit] References

De Graaf, N., De Graaf, P., & Kraaykamp, G., (2000) Parental cultural capital and
educational attainment in the Netherlands: a refinement of the cultural capital
perspective in Sociology of Education, v.73, i.2, pp.9211

Dolby, N., (2000) Race, National, State: Multiculturalism in Australia in Arena

Magazine, v.45, pp.4851

Dumais, S., (2002) Cultural Capital, Gender, and School Success: the role of habitus in
Sociology of Education, v.75, i.1, pp.4468

Emirbayer, M., & Williams, E., (2005) Bourdieu and Social Work in Social Service
Review, v.79, i.4 p689-725

Emmison, M., & Frow, J., (1998) Information Technology as Cultural Capital in
Australian Universities Review, Issue 1/1998, p.41-45

Gorder, K., (1980) Understanding School Knowledge: a critical appraisal of Basil

Bernstein and Pierre Bourdieu in Robbins, D., (2000) Pierre Bourdieu Volume II, Sage
Publications, London, pp.218233

Harker, R., (1990) Education and Cultural Capital in Harker, R., Mahar, C., & Wilkes,
C., (eds) (1990) An Introduction to the Work of Pierre Bourdieu: the practice of theory,
Macmillan Press, London

Kalmijn, M., & Kraaykamp, G., (1996) Race, cultural capital, and schooling: An
analysis of trends in the United States in Sociology of Education, v.69, i.1, pp.2234

King, A., Structure and Agency in Harrington, A., (ed) (2005) Modern Social Theory:
an introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.215232

Kingston, P., (2001) The Unfulfilled Promise of Cultural Capital Theory in Sociology
of Education, Extra Issue, pp.8899

Martin, B., & Szelenyi, I., (1987) Beyond Cultural Capital: toward a theory of symbolic
domination in Robbins, D., (ed) (2000) Pierre Bourdieu Volume I, Sage Publications,
London, pp.278302

Robbins, D., (1991) The Work of Pierre Bourdieu: recognising society, Open University
Press, Buckingham

Robinson, R., & Garnier, M., (1986) Class Reproduction among Men and Women in
France: reproduction theory on its home ground in Robbins, D., (ed) (2000) Pierre
Bourdieu Volume I, Sage Publications, London, pp.144153

Rssel, Jrg and Claudia Beckert-Zieglschmid, 2002: Die Reproduktion kulturellen

Kapitals. Zeitschrift fr Soziologie 31: 497 - 513.

Stanton-Salazar, R., & Dornbusch, S., (1995) Social Capital and the Reproduction of
Inequality: information networks among Mexican-origin high school students in
Sociology of Education (Albany), v.68, i.2

Sullivan, A. 2002. Bourdieu and Education: How Useful is Bourdieus Theory for
Researchers? Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences. 38(2) 144-166.

Sullivan, A. 2001. Cultural Capital and Educational Attainment Sociology. 35(4) 893912.

Webb, J., Schirato, T. & Danaher, G., (2002) Understanding Bourdieu, Sage Publications,

[edit] Further reading

Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction Bourdieu and Passeron. In Richard K.

Brown (Ed.), Knowledge, Education and Cultural Change. London: Tavistock.

Les Trois tats du capital culturel in Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, 30

(1979), pp. 36.

The Forms of Capital: English version published 1986 in J.G. Richardson's Handbook for
Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, pp. 241258.
o First published 1983 in German as konomisches Kapital - Kulturelles Kapital Soziales Kapital in Soziale Ungleichheiten, edited by Reinhard Kreckel, pp. 183

Bourdieu,Pierre and Jean Claude Passeron, (1990) Reproduction in Education, Society

and Culture, Sage Publications Inc, ISBN 0803983204

Bourdieu,Pierre (1996), The State Nobility, Translated by Lauretta C. Clough Foreword

by Loic J. D. Wacquant,

Swartz,David (1998), Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, University
of Chicago Press ISBN 0226785955

Farkas,George (1996), Human Capital Or Cultural Capital?: Ethnicity and Poverty

Groups in an Urban School District,Publisher: Aldine Transaction, ISBN 0202305244
and [1]

Fowler,Bridget (1997), Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory, Sage Publications Inc,
ISBN 0803976267

HyperBourdieu World Catalogue) "A comprehensive, contextual and referential

bibliography and mediagraphy of all works and public statements by Pierre Bourdieu"

The Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies

[hide]v d eTypes of capital

Academic Circulating/Floating Cultural Cross-cultural Educational Financial Fixed

Human Individual Information
Instructional Intellectual Knowledge Natural Organizational Physical Political Public
Sexual Social Spiritual Symbolic Venture Working
By term

Liquid (short) vs. Patient (long)

Marxist analytical

Constant Variable Fictitious

Marxist historical


See also: Five Capitals

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