The Relevance Of Bourdieu’s Ideas Of Cultural Capital

In this essay, I will critically examine the relevance of Bourdieu’s ideas of ‘cultural capital’ and ‘habitus’ to understanding contemporary educational inequalities associated with social class. Pierre Bourdieu is a French sociologist, Bourdieu who was born into a working class family in southern France. He attended a secondary school in Pau before transferring to a more prestigious school in Paris. He was later admitted to the École Normal Supérieure, where he studied philosophy under Louis Althusser. He then taught in countries such as France and Algeria.” (, 2020) Education and the curriculum is constructed by people from an upper or middle class background with particular norms and values.

“Bourdieu states that cultural capital consists of familiarity with the dominant culture in a society, and especially the ability to understand and use 'educated' language. The possession of cultural capital varies with social class, yet the education system assumes the possession of cultural capital. This makes it very difficult for working class pupils to succeed in the education system. Bourdieu argued that capital formed the foundation of social life and dictated one’s position within the social order. For Bourdieu and Marx both, the more capital one has, the more powerful a position one occupies in social life. However, Bourdieu extended Marx’s idea of capital beyond the economic and into the more symbolic realm of culture.” (Sullivan. A, 2002)

“Social class, also called class, is a group of people within a society who possess the same socioeconomic status. Besides being important in social theory, the concept of class as a collection of individuals sharing similar economic circumstances has been widely used in censuses and in studies of social mobility.” (, 2017) Within the United Kingdom, class is split into three main groups; the upper class are seen as the wealthiest in society, the pupils’ parents have occupations in high managerial positions or they'll have wealth that was inherited from their parents. The second class group is that the middle class, pupils whose parents are seen as this class typically hold occupations in lower managerial positions or other professional occupations like business people like an accountant or caseworker . Last is the Lower or working class, these pupils’ parents would be people that are entry level retail shop workers, factory workers with shift work as an example . Throughout this essay, I will be able to mention these three class groups.

Capital typically wants to ask money acquired from belonging to a specific class, prestige or position in society and it improves people’s life chances. Bourdieu argued that it's not only money that provides the upper class power, but cultural capital also . He argued that the children of the middle or upper class parents’ are likely to possess knowledge, behaviour, attitudes and cultural experiences that ensures that they achieve education and society. Bourdieu’s ideas regarding ‘Capital’ consists of 4 parts. Bourdieu describes Capital as assets individuals have at their own disposal. Capital is that the currency that buys you a better position in society. Capital is often seen as the cornerstone or foundation of social life, it decides your position within the social world. Essentially, the quantity of capital you acquire increases, although not all types of labour is equal. The longer spent trying to accumulate capital the more valuable it is. Bourdieu categorised capital into four parts, firstly ‘Economic Capital’ is monetary assets such as property, stocks, investments and income. Secondly, ‘Cultural Capital’ refers to the cultural attributes like language, education and lifestyles. Next, ‘Social Capital’ which relates to social networks and therefore the resources groups or individuals can acquire from belonging to particular networks. Finally, ‘Symbolic Capital’ relates to assets available to someone on the idea of class, prestige or recognition within a specific culture.

The two sorts of capital I will explain during this essay are cultural and social capital. Cultural capitals are often described as what you've got and what you recognize.

Bourdieu broke it down further into three different categories. Firstly, the ‘embodied state’ focuses on the mind and body, the shape of data that resides within us. Education is knowledge we hunt down on our own accounts. It gives us a better social prestige because with it comes money, power and influence. Regarding language, normally children of upper class read tougher books, are ready to do detailed home learning and should watch documentaries. By then doing these activities their vocabulary improves and widens. Unlike children from a labor would have limited use of vocabulary because they're likely to measure in poverty conditions where home learning is going to be limited or non-existent. Therefore, amongst their peers at college they get lower test results and obtain put into lower ability groups and that they tend to not enter further education. Furthermore, Bias on cultural capital is clear in schools, teachers will acknowledge cultural capital as intelligence, this leads to them labelling pupils of that specific class typically bourgeoisie . Teachers also can differentiate pupils from social classes by their looks, state of faculty uniform or shoes. By their accent, if they speak formal english, use of vocabulary or slang. Pupils’ mannerisms, taste and behavior might be linked to particular social classes.

The next idea which relates to cultural capital by Bourdieu is ‘the objectified state’. Objectified capital focuses on materialism - what material objects we use to point what class we belong to. Bourdieu argues each sort of capital relates to the opposite and possession of 1 can cause the acquisition of others. Brands are often attached to different class , as an example an bourgeoisie students formal school shoes would presumably be bought from brands like ‘Clarks, Kickers or John Lewis’. where because the majority labor formal school shoes are bought from ‘Shoezone or a supermarket chain brand value range like George at Asda.

Lastly, the institutionalised state is using things like authority, credentials and qualifications because the way society measures class . In an institutionalised state furthering your education after an undergraduate degree increases social capital thanks to you acquiring more opportunities and building relationships with people with equivalent credentials as you. Furthermore, shares cultural capital means a collective identity. People that attend Eton College for instance are most likely getting to socialise with fellow peers, continue to Oxford or Cambridge University and increase social networks whether by knowing tons of individuals they share an equivalent background with or by knowing a couple of folks that are more influential than them. Building relationships with people of a better prestige will encourage other influential people to understand who you're . Therefore acquiring more amounts of cultural capital. In Education, cultural capital refers to having the talents , knowledge, norms and values which allows pupils to progress in education and life generally

A limitation of Bourdieu’s Cultural capital theory relating to education is that the majority of schools have after school clubs to help working class students in particular so blaming schools for being biased against working class children may be invalid. An example of a way working class parents can improve their child’s cultural capital is encouraging their children to read challenging pieces of literature.

“The notion of habitus is like cultural capital, habitus is transmitted within the home. However, whereas cultural capital consists of the possession of legitimate knowledge, habitus is a set of attitudes and values, and the dominant habitus is a set of attitudes and values held by the dominant class. A major component of the dominant habitus is a positive attitude towards education.” (Sullivan. A, 2002 p149) Habitus is an individualistic outlook, socialisation and organisation form taste, attributes, mannerisms and posture of individuals. Internalisation happens which the mind and body see things they do as the norm. They start to do it without realising and it activates more when they are with people of similar class to them. As a result, they assume what is seen as good and bad taste which influences the kind of leisure or extracurricular activities they do for instance.

“Bourdieu notes that working class students are more likely to drop out of the education system than middle and upper-class students, even if we control for previous achievement. He claims that this is a more important mechanism of selection than exam failure.” (Sullivan.A, 2002 p.151) 'Thus, previous performances being equal, pupils of working-class origin are more likely to eliminate themselves from secondary education by declining to enter it than to eliminate themselves once they have entered, and a fortiori more likely not to enter than to be eliminated from it by the explicit sanction of examination failure.' (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990, p. 153) The habitus is in some way formed by the objective chances of success shared by the class. The habitus in turn determines the actions of the members of the class.

A limitation of Bourdieu’s habitus theory relating to education is that working class pupils' motivation could equally be the same as their middle class due to admiration of individual habits their middle class peers possess. An example of a way working class parents can improve their child’s habitus is by encouraging their children to further their secondary school education and progress to university.


  1. A Sullivan - Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences, 2002
  2. Bourdieu and education: How useful is Bourdieu's theory for researchers?
07 July 2022
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