The Comparison Of Two Cultural Capital'sTheory By Bourdieu And Marx

Bourdieu’s theory of various forms of capital emerges from Marx’s theory but develops it significantly. Explain Marx’s theory of capital, then discuss how Bourdieu builds on Marx. Explain the various forms of capital (economic, social and cultural) and how each of these influences an individual’s life today.

In this essay, I adopt the capital theory of Bourdieu to discuss the influence of the various types of capital and how it affects society and the role of an individual in the social hierarchy. I will also address Marx's philosophy of capital and how his principles and concepts influenced Bourdieu beyond the economic conception. This essay will also provide an analytical approach to the various types of capital, which are cultural, economic and social, and will explore how it can be beneficial to acquire one type of capital and turn it into other forms. Lastly, I will be expanding on how relevant these forms of capital are in contemporary society.

Karl Marx believed that society's structure in the mid-nineteenth century, and the way society is formed, is based solely on the relationship that people have with the economy. For Marx, he didn’t believe in the concept of ‘capital', it is, “a definite social relations of production pertaining to a particular historical social formation, which simply takes the form of a thing and gives this thing a specific social character” (Albarran:2006). In pursuit of surplus value, Marx argues that capital and commodities are resources only to the degree that they are mobilised.He saw the different levels of the social superstructure as politics and ideology, and saw them standing on the firm foundations of an economic base comprising the forces and ties of production (Fulcher, J and Scott, J:2011:28). This raised a conflict between the “bourgeoisie” (those who own the means of production) and the proletariat (those exploited for wage labour). This resulted in the production of goods and services by the working class, based on profit-making for the ruling class. Marx argued that the individual pursuit of profit is promoted by capitalism as it is based on the principle of private ownership of property and resources (OCR:2015). Arguing that this structure generates and enhances social disparities between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, economically. However, he claims that capitalism has a short lifespan, due to the fact that as exploitation grew, capitalist economies developed, and the superstructure became a barrier to further economic development. This issue meant that in a revolt, property ties and the superstructure had to be swept away.

In the phase of industrialisation, society has become a more open system shaped by competition and a higher degree of mobility, as compared to the previous and more conventional stratification system. In which hard work, economic, social and cultural capital, rather than law, custom or hereditary status, have defined the position of people in society. Pierre Bourdieu was inspired by Karl Marx. Marx's influence is perhaps most evident in the idea that Bourdieu, like Marx, believed that capital constituted the foundation of social life and defined one's position in the social structure. The prominent French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, was interested in the manner in which culture is reproduced and how the ruling classes preserve their position. He describes how it is possible to obtain, and turn various types of capital into other aspects and argues that an understanding of the various types of capital can help to illustrate the social world's structure and dynamics. Bourdieu extends the concept of Marx’s theory on capital to include “immaterial and non-economical types of capital, specifically cultural and social capital” (Hayes:n.d.), beyond economic conception. Therefore, highlighting the idea that other forms of capital influences structure rather than only limiting the focus on economic elements. He argued that it called for a 'revived interest in the role of culture and class formation and experiences' (Crompton:2008:93) to challenge the deterministic approaches to class analysis that stressed the objective characteristics of economic production and occupational status and advocated for a wider understanding of class.

Bourdieu argues that cultural capital holds strong influence over individuals. It refers to the non-material aspects that people carry and share, which can function as a symbolic reflection of the socioeconomic status of an individual (Xu and Jiang:2020). It has three forms of existence, first being the ‘institutionalised state’, which corresponds to academic achievement (Nice:n.d.). Secondly, ‘objectived cultural capital is related to the ownership of cultural products and lastly, the embodied state refers to the beliefs, skill and knowledge of individuals (Nice:n.d.).

Bourdieu declared the embodied state to be the “long-lasting dispositions of the mind and the body” (Bourdieu:1986:48). For example, behaviour of one can be established through parental socialisation (Xu and Jiang:2020). Through the distribution of values and tradition, this capital can be consciously accumulated and unconsciously retained from the family over time (Pouliot:2014). However, this cannot be passed on immediately. Bourdieu states that the embodied state, “cannot be transmitted by gifts or bequest, purchase or exchange” (Bourdieu:1986:48). He believes that, 'depending on the culture and the social status, it must be taught over time'(Pouliot: 2014). This is because it changes and influences the ways in thinking, thus, leading to either a slow or rapid possession of these traits and impacts in character. In addition, cultural capital is less censored and regulated than the clearly observable forms of communication (Pouliot:2014). However, people also have control over what they want to embody and what actions, traits and beliefs are the right fit for their character. Therefore, it is a form of capital that has control and choice over the way it influences individuals today.

On the other hand, the objectified state refers to material or physical artefacts and media that are transmissible, such as literature and drawings (Pouliot:2014) that hold influence and contribute to their jobs or educational pursuits. He believes that “cultural goods can be appropriated both materially – which presupposes economic capital – and symbolically – which presupposes cultural capital” (Bourdieu:1986:50). They are simply cultural products that have been passed down for direct profit making. An individual may, however, own it only if it has the appropriate conceptual origin or historically prior cultural capital (Pouliot: 2014). Such objective types of cultural capital tend to signify the economic class of one.

Lastly, Bourdieu argues that the final form of cultural capital is the ‘institutionalised state’, which refers to “the form of academic qualifications”. He views this as one way of neutralizing some of the properties it derives from the fact that, being embodied, it “has the same biological limits as its bearer” (Bourdieu: 1986:50) He argues that even if there is a gap between assured competence and cultural capital, academic cultural capital also guarantees the qualifications of a person (Pouiliot: 2014). Hence, this makes a defined rate of conversion between cultural capital and economic capital by “guaranteeing the monetary value of a given academic capital” (Bourdieu:1986:51).

In certain cultures, as they grow older, people may acquire or achieve status through their talents, efforts, or accomplishments. In comparison, depending on several variables, such as their gender or race, an ascribed social status is given to individuals at birth. People distinguish status in certain societies based on physical or mental impairment, or whether they are from an ethnic group, or even on whether they are a girl or a boy. This is apparent in the World Policy Research Center at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, where people with disabilities have been identified as one of the last groups with equal rights (Kennedy: 2020). This highlights the significance of obtaining status in society which roots from the forms of cultural capital.

However, Bourdieu refuses to accept that certain forms of culture 'can be deduced or derived from any notions of appropriateness or relative value” (Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture:1977). Therefore, the ideology that dominant groups perpetuate and, which directs and guides what is learned in schools and colleges, cannot assert any inherent dominance, nor is it subject to any more practical validation in terms of the standards that modern communities usually place on their members: for example, with regard to the expertise and skills they must learn in order to engage in public relations.

Economic capital refers to economic goods, such as land and money that people have. Bourdieu stated that he did not want to 'dwell on the idea of economic capital because it is not his field' (Desan:2013:332). Suggesting that Bourdieu’s focus was never soley on the economical basis of structure, but rather the influence that this has with cultural and social capital. He states that 'economic capital is at the root of all other types of capital” and argues that other types of capital are just “disguised forms of economic capital” (Bourdieu: 1986:252). Therefore, advocating that economic capital is a front for society, where many people assume that it is the main concern, although this is just as essential as the other factors in understanding society and culture.

On the other hand, Bourdieu defines social capital as the “aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to the possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”(Bourdieu:1986:248). The social capital of an individual is defined by the scale or network of relationships, the amount of its combined wealth and how the individual can put them in action effectively. According to Bourdieu, in order for them to be called on quickly in the future, social networks must be constantly managed and fostered over time. Social capital is about the importance of social networks, because it is of immense significance that people have goodwill for them. More precisely, through social networks, social capital acquired in the workplace makes “knowledge, power, and unity accessible to the individual” (Pierre Bourdieu - an overview: ScienceDirect Topics:2014). Depending on the interests and career paths of people, networks change. Hence, our weak ties, those with whom we may rarely be in touch with or simply not know very well, our social capital are evolving and changing by extension. People develop weak ties through networking, which can eventually develop into strong ties-relationships that are complemented by telephone conversations or face-to-face meetings (Pierre Bourdieu - an overview:ScienceDirect Topics:2014).

The social world, for Bourdieu, is therefore riddled with constant antagonism and power struggles where vast parts of the population are dominated, a condition that they rather embrace as 'natural' and refuse access to capital and general social appreciation (Punch, Harden, Marsh and Keating, 2013). The dynamic workings and interactions between these three terms and stages of study allow Bourdieu, he would argue, as we conceptualise the social system, to transcend a dependence on over-simplistic distinctions between 'agency and structure'(Punch, Harden, Marsh and Keating:2013).

Bourdieu illustrates his conceptualisation of the conversion among the different forms of capital. He argues that obtaining one type of capital at a high level, can be useful in the exchange for another. For example, during interviews for well-paid jobs, those with strong cultural capital will be willing to exchange it for economic capital, “their superior experience and credentials offer them and benefit over other candidates” (Giddens and Sutton: 2017:136). People with high social capital may know the right people and have strong influence and are able to trade this for symbolic capital, such as reverence for others and improved social status, thereby raising their chances of power (Giddens and Sutton:2017:136). In addition, skills enable cultural artefacts that have economic value to be produced. At the same time, the absence of cultural capital will limit the opportunity to 'fit in with agreed expectations (habitus), which can restrict access to social networks and prevent development of status’ (Pret, Shaw and Drakopoulou Dodd: 2016) . Anderson and Miller (2003) also suggest that having a high socioeconomic status (embodied cultural capital) enables entrepreneurs to set up broader social networks, in regard to their convertibility. Thus, displaying the relevance and impact obtaining strong forms of capital have in contemporary society for individuals.

However, we neglect social status as a relational construct, by concentrating on discrepancies in the amount of capital. Our focus on the amount of capital helps us to account for disparities in social stratification, but the relational component cannot be calculated.

To conclude, we can see that Bourdieu’s ideas and theory on capital, is very different and more developed from that employed by Marx. Marx had paid little attention to the other factors, such as the cultural sphere, that can affect an individual's position in society. Although, Bourdieu used Marx’s theory of capital to develop a ‘marxisant’ theory of culture (Moi:2000:322). He argues that capital has the power to reproduce 'in an identical or expanded form' (Bourdieu:1986:241), in that part of society's system that makes and limits the lives of individuals (Bourdieu:1986:242). He conceptualises the different forms of capital and evaluates the ways in which these are influential and significant in contemporary society, explaining how cultural capital can be exchanged and converted into other forms. In saying this, this essay has demonstrated these forms of capital, how they can be useful for individuals today, and have explained the way that Bourdieu has developed on the Marx’s theory of capital.


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07 July 2022
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