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Cultural deprivation

Cultural deprivation is a theory in sociology that claims that members of the working class cannot easily acquire cultural capital, hampering their access to education and upward social mobility.

Proponents of this theory argue that working class culture (regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or other factors) inherently differs from that of people in the middle class. This difference in culture means that while middle-class children can easily acquire cultural capital by observing their parents, working-class children cannot, and this deprivation is self-perpetuating.

The theory claims that the middle class gains cultural capital as the result of primary socialization, while the working class does not. Cultural capital helps the middle class succeed society because their norms and values facilitate educational achievement and subsequent employability. Working class members of society that lack cultural capital do not pass it on to their children, reproducing the class system. Middle class children's culture capital allows them to communicate with their middle class teachers more effectively than working class children which contributes to social inequality.

Bourdieu claimed that state schools are set up to make everybody middle class, although only the middle class and some high achieving working class have the cultural capital to achieve this. From a Marxist perspective cultural deprivation observes that the resources available to the working class are limited, and that working class children enter school less-well prepared than others.

  • Bernstein, B. (2002) Educational Codes and Social Control, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 23: 4. (The whole of this edition is useful for understanding Basil Bernstein).
  • Chitty, C. (2002) Education and Social Class. The Political Quarterly, 73 (2), pp. 208–210.
  • Legewie, J. and DiPrete, T. A. (2012) School Context and the Gender Gap in Educational Achievement. American Sociological Review, 77, (3), pp. 463–485.
  • Leathwood, C. and Archer, L. (2004) ‘Social class and educational inequalities: the local and the global’, in Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 12, (1).
  • Leicester, M. (1991). Equal Opportunities in School: Social Class, Sexuality, Race, Gender and Special Needs, Harlow, Longman.
  • Mac an Ghaill, M. (1996) ‘Sociology of Education, state schooling and social class: beyond critiques of the New Right hegemony’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 17: 163-176.
  • Marks, G. N. (2011) Issues in the Conceptualization and Measurement of Socioeconomic Background: Do Different Measures Generate Different Conclusions? Social Indicators Research, 104, (2), pp. 225–251.
  • Reay, D. (2001) “Finding or losing yourself?’: working-class relationships to education’, Journal of Education Policy 16(4): 333-346.


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