Cultural Capital

Posted: October 18, 2013 in Experience & Identity

Pierre BourdieuI found out this week I have cultural capital. Didn’t know I had it and now I know, I find myself feeling highly relieved!

The idea of Cultural Capital was first realised by Bourdieu, a French sociologist, who used the term cultural capital as a way of explaining the advantage that middle class children gain from having middle class parents. And because ‘working class’ children do not acquire the same cultural capital, they are basically at a disadvantage in the education system and as a result, the society and culture in which they live.

As I read this article, it was difficult not to feel quite thankful that I have had the kind of upbringing that gave me opportunities. I had music lessons, I went to pottery classes (my mum still has some of the deformed items in the downstairs loo) and I endured listening to the Archers for most of my young years. What I didn’t realise was that these experiences were ‘lining my cultural pocket’ with advantages that only now I have come to understand. Today we watched Grayson Perry’s social/art study of the middle classes – In the Best Possible Taste. (Channel 4 June 2012). It was spookily accurate and reminded me of my mum with her beloved Le Creuset set (I’ve had this for 20 years) and her NCT (we still get together every year and I’m nearly 20)!

Yet I am left with an uneasy feeling – how condescending to think that working class children don’t also experience some of this cultural wealth, or am I just naïve, assuming that everyone has the same opportunities. Bourdieu argues, middle class cultural capital is not all about the money, it’s about the subconscious foundations that are laid down by families and I guess your family either has it or they don’t! In his other book Distinction (1970) he even argues that the ‘taste’ I have is not my ability to choose but comes from my class and my upbringing. Now I’m really starting to question things. On this course so far, I’ve realised that not only do I not own my own image (it is the persona I want to others to see and probably based on media pressures and subliminal messages), I am ruled by my iphone (according to Sherry Turkle) and now the very things I choose and the decisions I make are based on my parent’s class structure and my place in it! A question I am starting to ask myself is – do I own any of me? And do I have my cultural capital forever or do I have to start earning my own? I’m thinking my cultural capital might become different from my parents’ cultural capital and how do I ensure I give my cultural capital to my children?

As Einstein once said:

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

Well I’m certainly raising a lot of questions at the moment!

  1. sherryl wilson says:

    I am not sure if you are agreeing or disagreeing with Bourdieu, or maybe you are somewhere in the middle. The processes he describes apply to all social groups and their habitus, it is just that some are more valued, and therefore carry more authority and power, than others. In any case, you are engaing with this material in a thoughtful way and I enjoy reading your blogs.

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