John H. Goldthorpe

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"Cultural Capital": Some Critical Observations

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Bourdieu, cultural capital, social reproduction.

"Cultural capital" is a key concept in the work of Pierre Bourdieu. It plays a central role in Bourdieu's account of the generation of class inequalities in educational attainment, which has evident affinities with those advanced by other sociologists of education; but also in his far more ambitious - though empirically unsustainable - theory of social reproduction. Much confusion can then be shown to arise from a failure to distinguish between the uses of the concept in the two quite differing contexts of what might be labelled as Bourdieu "domesticated" and Bourdieu "wild". Researchers using the concept in the former context often fail to appreciate its radical nature and, in turn, the full extent to which their findings undermine Bourdieu's theory of social reproduction; while those who would wish to understand the concept in the latter context have difficulty in showing its continuing fitness for research purposes, given the failure of the larger theory in which it is embedded. Advantage would follow from leaving the language of "cultural capital" to those who still seek to rescue this theory, and otherwise replacing it with a more differentiated conceptual approach.

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