What is Cultural Capital?

The term cultural capital comes from the French philosopher Pierre Bordieu. To understand this term, we have to look at his work with the habitus and the field.

The term cultural capital comes from the French philosopher Pierre Bordieu. To understand this term Click To Tweet

What is the ‘Habitus’?

Society is ordered in a certain way, consciously and unconsciously we adopt rules, make choices based on societal interplay, although a conductor does not orchestrate this game.

Bourdieu calls possibilities the ‘field’ and he the way we navigate this ‘field’ and the habitus through choices around knowledge about ourselves. An excellent starting point is to think about choices around gender, race, etc. are the earliest forms decisions we make, now let me reiterate these can be conscious and unconscious.

“literally mould the body and become second nature … operating in a way that is pre-conscious and hence not readily amenable to conscious reflection and modification” (Thompson, 1991, p. 12-13).

The habitus is personal history and experiences intertwined with the society you are in being codified into practice. Alignment to the habitus leads to gains in cultural capital and thus status, money and contacts.

The concept of cultural capital is a currency which allows people to navigate the culture and impacts on the opportunities and experiences afforded to them. Material objects are also as included within the boundaries of cultural capital, but in this blog, I’ll concentrate on the less tangential components such as etiquette, skills, education and preferences.

Bourdieu categorises cultural capital into 3 states.

Embodied cultural capital – This is the conscious acquisition of knowledge and passively inherited, language acquisition and numeracy are examples.

Objectified cultural capital – Having objects and materials, in this way, people can show off their social status. ‘I only eat organic food.’

Institutionalised cultural capital – This is credentialed learning, GCSE, A-Levels, degrees, etc. Institutionalise capital may be exchanged for the objectified state as society rewards (with higher salaries) and vice versa (the ability to gain more knowledge as you are not worried about the finances).

If you are born into a place which affords you the above society gives you more opportunities.

What does the OfSTED framework mean?

I assume that the framework means that school are equipping pupils with a schematic repertoire to navigate society. Which is fine; teaching pupils how to make choices that make them more successful is not controversial. However, what does this mean? Are we teaching pupils to talk a certain way, to portray certain etiquettes, to read a revere a certain type literature? Which again, albeit the ethnocentrism of society in the UK is not overtly contentious.

Let’s break this down if you read Shakespeare? Eat with the right cutlery? Wear the right colour shoes to an interview? This cultural capital will make you more successful. OfSTED have by this inclusion have put destroyed the idea of a… Click To Tweet

Let’s break this down if you read Shakespeare? Eat with the right cutlery? Wear the right colour shoes to an interview? This cultural capital will make you more successful. OfSTED have by this inclusion have put destroyed the idea of a meritocracy, they have smashed myth, as society does not judge pupils on merit but primarily their three status, the knowledge they choose to acquire, their objects and their credentials which are not always linked to the work those pupils put in.

Yes, I know, I’m skipping the ‘whiteness’ in the UK curriculum and the implication of ‘the best that has been thought and said’.

There more on that coming.

Further Reading.

Elaine M. Power (1999) An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s Key Theoretical Concepts, Journal for the Study of Food and Society, 3:1, 48-52, DOI: 10.2752/152897999786690753

Pierre Bourdieu, Key Concepts. Edited by Michael Grenfell.

 

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