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Cultural capital


In sociology, the term cultural capital refers to the social assets of a person (education, intellect, style of speech and dress, etc.) that promote social mobility in a stratified society. Cultural capital functions as a social-relation within an economy of practices (system of exchange), and comprises all of the material and symbolic goods, without distinction, that society considers rare and worth seeking. As a social relation within a system of exchange, cultural capital includes the accumulated cultural knowledge that confer social status and power.

In '“Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction” (1977), Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron presented cultural capital to conceptually explain the differences among the levels of performance and academic achievement of children within the educational system of France in the 1960s; and further developed the concept in the essay “The Forms of Capital” (1985) and in the book The State Nobility: Élite Schools in the Field of Power (1996).

In the sociological essay, “The Forms of Capital” (1985), Pierre Bourdieu identifies three categories of capital:

There are three types of cultural capital: (i) Embodied capital; (ii) Objectified capital; and (iii) Institutionalised capital:

The cultural capital of a person is linked to his or her habitus (embodied disposition and tendencies) and field (social positions), which are configured as a social-relation structure. The field is the place of social position that is constituted by the conflicts that occur when social groups endeavour to establish and define what is cultural capital, within a given social space; therefore, depending upon the social field, one type of cultural capital can simultaneously be legitimate and illegitimate. In that way, the legitimization (societal recognition) of a type of cultural capital can be arbitrary and derived from symbolic capital.

The habitus of a person is composed of the intellectual dispositions inculcated to him or her by family and the familial environment, and are manifested according to the nature of the person. As such, the social formation of a person's habitus is influenced by family, by objective changes in social class, and by social interactions with other people in daily life; moreover, the habitus of a person also changes when he or she changes social positions within the field.



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  • Bourdieu, Pierre (2001). Masculine Domination. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • 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. 92–11
  • Dolby, N., (2000) "Race, National, State: Multiculturalism in Australia" in Arena Magazine, v.45, pp. 48–51
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  • 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. 218–233
  • 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. 22–34
  • King, A., "Structure and Agency" in Harrington, A., (ed) (2005) Modern Social Theory: an introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 215–232
  • Kingston, P., (2001) "The Unfulfilled Promise of Cultural Capital Theory" in Sociology of Education, Extra Issue, pp. 88–99
  • 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. 278–302
  • 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. 144–153
  • Rössel, Jörg and Claudia Beckert-Zieglschmid, 2002: Die Reproduktion kulturellen Kapitals. Zeitschrift für 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 Bourdieu's 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.
  • Webb, J., Schirato, T. & Danaher, G., (2002) Understanding Bourdieu, Sage Publications, London
  • First published 1983 in German as Ökonomisches Kapital - Kulturelles Kapital - Soziales Kapital in Soziale Ungleichheiten, edited by Reinhard Kreckel, pp. 183–198.
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