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cultural capital

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A term introduced by Pierre Bourdieu to refer to the symbols, ideas, tastes, and preferences that can be strategically used as resources in social action. He sees this cultural capital as a ‘habitus’, an embodied socialized tendency or disposition to act, think, or feel in a particular way. By analogy with economic capital, such resources can be invested and accumulated and can be converted into other forms. Thus, middle-class parents are able to endow their children with the linguistic and cultural competences that will give them a greater likelihood of success at school and at university. Working-class children, without access to such cultural resources, are less likely to be successful in the educational system. Thus, education reproduces class inequalities. Bourdieu sees the distribution of economic and cultural capital as reinforcing each other. Educational success—reflecting initial cultural capital—is the means through which superior, higher-paying occupations can be attained, and the income earned through these jobs may allow the successful to purchase a private education for their children and so enhance their chances of educational success. This ‘conversion’ of one form of capital into another is central to the intragenerational or intergenerational reproduction of class differences. Bourdieu recognizes a number of other forms of capital, most notably the social capital of contacts and connections.

Subjects: Social sciencesSociology

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