cultural capital

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cultural capital

wealth in the form of knowledge or ideas, which legitimate the maintenance of status and power.

As proposed by BOURDIEU in particular, the notion of cultural capital extends the Marxist idea of economic capital. It is suggested that possessors of this form of capital exert considerable power over other groups, using it to gain preferred occupational positions and to legitimate their claims to a greater share of economic capital. Thus a dominant class has the symbols (language, culture and artefacts) through which it can establish HEGEMONY. Bourdieu argues that the school, through the mechanism of awarding of certificates and diplomas, is a key institution by which the established order is maintained. The language, values, assumptions and models of success and failure adopted within schools are those of the dominant group. Thus, success in the educational system is largely dictated by the extent to which individuals have absorbed the dominant culture, and by how much cultural capital is shared by the dominant group, thus ideologically legitimating the existing social order.

It is, in part, as a result of the operation of cultural capital that the working class are often upstaged in the competition for educational and occupational honours. This is because not only does cultural capital bring inherent advantages in learning, etc, but it is also possibly a factor leading to an undervaluation of formal qualifications, credentialled skills, etc, and a preference for more loosely defined ‘social characteristics’ by some employers, e.g. a preference for middle-class graduates from élite institutions, even when they possess inferior formal qualifications.

The concept of cultural capital involves a view of the advantages of human capital that differs from the main alternative theory the HUMAN CAPITAL theory (see also INTELLIGENCE). It is complementary to a further alternative to human capital theory i.e. screening theory, which has some shared features and some differences of emphasis -see SCREENING. Compare also FUNCTIONALIST THEORY OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
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