Date: Jun 3, 2019
Category: Definition Essay
Cultural Capital Definition

Formulated by Pierre Bourdieu, the term ‘cultural capital’ refers to the ideas, symbols, preferences, and tastes that can be tactically put in use as a resource for social action. These ideas and knowledge are drawn upon by individuals as they take part in their roles within the social arena and range from etiquette rules to the ability to read and write effectively for successful communication. In other words, cultural capital is the universal cultural background, disposition, as well as skills, that are transferred from generation to generation. It represents the ways in which people talk, how they socialize, act, perform their language practices, as well as their code of dressing, behaviors, and shared values. Through analogy with other forms of capital such as economic capital, cultural capital resources can be accumulated, invested, and converted into various forms. Consequently, individuals in upper social stratum can provide their children with various cultural competencies and language that offer them a likelihood of success not only in their education but also in their career life. On the other hand, working-class students who lack access to cultural recourses are likely to be unsuccessful in their academics, which is a factor that describes how our educational systems produce social class inequalities. According to Bourdieu, the distribution of cultural and economic capital reinforces each other. Success in academics, which reflects the original cultural capital, is the only means in which well-paid occupations can be achieved. The earnings acquired from high paying professions allow those who are successful to enroll their children in private educational systems with the aim of enhancing the opportunities for their educational accomplishment.

Cultural capital can be broken down into three categories including embodied cultural capital, objectified cultural capital, and institutionalized cultural capital. Embodied cultural capital refers to the skills and properties that an individual learns from his or her family. A superb example of this type of cultural capital is language. As a child, the first language is learned from the primary caregiver and the environment in which they grow up. The child’s ability to communicate efficiently plays an important part, especially when they join the school. Growing up in a household or environment that fosters effective communication equips the child with adequate skills required for learning. The languages children are exposed to also play a significant role and can be both advantageous and disadvantageous upon school entry. The environment where only one language is privileged, for instance, English, can make the cultural capital of any other language to be of little or no significance. In addition, exposing children to more than one language can be disadvantageous in cases where multiple languages hinder fluency of the preferred language.

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Cultural capital in the objectified state manifests itself in all forms of the coherent, autonomous world which, even being the product of chronological action, possesses its laws, as well as the surpassing personal wills. Objectified cultural capital consists of forms of physical objects which symbolically express cultural capital. An example of a household that is rich in objectified cultural capital is a home that has access to books, paintings, and monuments, as well as other works of art. The last category of cultural capital is the institutionalized cultural capital, which is characterized by academic qualifications. Individuals enroll in learning institutions in order to acquire diplomas and other qualifications. They are pieces of papers that symbolize or tell other members of the society that they are educated and skillful in their respective majors and hence are worthy of employment. The papers representing their academic qualifications give various institutions, such as the labor market, opportunities to compare and contrast them qualitatively and quantitatively with other applicants searching for similar opportunities.

Pierre Bourdieu argues that the more cultural capital a person has, the better the person performs in his or her academics. He holds that social strata are arranged into three positions, including the first, middle, and the third class. The first class consists of people in the lower positions of the social classification such as small business traders, workers, and agricultural professions. The second class is made up of people in the intermediate social arrangement including industry employees, intermediate office staff, and business people. The third class, which is the last in order of classification, includes the affluent and the wealthy, as well as those in a high governmental position. Although each level of classification has its unique position in the cultural capital, the highest amount is afforded by those in the third class. The main reason that explains why children of the dominant class are likely to acquire cultural capital is that they are free from economic constraints. The freedom from economic constraints offers them opportunities to explore and acquire various skills from learning and other practices, hence making them competitive in the labor workforce.

Bourdieu believes that fluency in first or second class does not sufficiently describe or represent cultural capital. This stems from the idea that the two cultural fluencies do not transform into the affluent elite class, rather they transmute into either low or middle class. His main interest was in the manner in which the elite and affluent members of the society reproduce themselves from generation to generation. A high level of culture is characterized by classical music, art, dance, and literacy. However, it also encompasses architecture, cuisine, furniture, and vacation resorts, as well as clothing. Mastering these arts is a form of cultural capital because the knowledge can be transformed into both social and financial advantages at various points in a person’s life. For instance, when a lady puts on a fitting suit, carries a nice handbag, and wears beautiful shoes during a job interview, she lands on the job because of the impressive appearance. She was taught to clad well by her parents and peers. The culturally monitored skill pays off through landing on a prestigious career position. She may then get married to a millionaire and hence acquire a fortune. At that particular time, the cultural capital has offered her supplementary financial capital.

Children in the third class acquire cultural capital from both their families and education. In most cases, children of the affluent people in society obtain supplementary access to their culture in the learning institutions, because their educational curricula reinforce their household culture. This is not the case with children of the first class or intermediate class. Children of the poor people within certain communities, minority groups, and immigrants are disadvantaged. School culture subverts or contradicts their home culture in the sense that they are forced to master a new culture when in learning institutions and at the same time master their culture at home. Although children of the first and middle class may accomplish the very hard task of mastering two distinct cultures simultaneously, they still fail to study all that is needed in order to attain or get access to the third class in their life after school. This is because learning institutions fail to teach the necessary cultural skills and knowledge required for access. Examples of things that are not taught in school are demeanor, dressing and table manners. It is important to note that the corresponding curriculum of the third class home trains children various class-associated skills and knowledge that learning institutions ignore. Due to the reason that children of the first and intermediate classes fail to acquire class-related cultural skills and knowledge from both their homes and schools, they are virtually impossible for them to obtain at all.

In children whose societal origins and, as a result, dispositions, and outlooks are not of the upper or dominant class, learning institutions play a major role in inculcating dispositions and values that are in line with the mainstream culture. Therefore, associations can be found between various competencies such as in painting or music and educational capital. Learning institutions assist children of the lower and middle statuses to acquire ‘standard’ and improved cultural capital. In fact, various professions, such as secondary and primary school instructors of first or intermediate class backgrounds, owe almost all their cultural capital to the academic systems. Acquisition of cultural capital, both in the school and family, especially for the children of parents in the middle and lower status, involves a lot of time, efforts, sacrifices, and creativity. As opposed to the economic capital, which can easily be transferred from one person to another, cultural capital cannot be passed from one individual to another in an instant notice. In fact, when the holder of cultural capital passes on to glory, their cultural capital cannot be inherited by any other person, not even by immediate family and loved ones, because it goes with them into the grave.

Culture is utilized by dominant social factions in the exercise of power through various communicative channels, such as the media, personal interactions, and learning institutions, as well as religious institutions. One of the major situations where the dominant social groups utilize culture is in access to various communications and discourse events. As a matter of fact, not every individual has equal rights of admission to legal, political, and media scholarly or bureaucratic conversations. The strategies and patterns of access to discursive events can be spelled-out by almost every social domain, situation, profession, and genre, as well as institutions. In the political arena, only the heads of various ministries have access to cabinet forums and parliamentarians to debates in the parliament. Any other person, including the members of the public, has passive access, whereby, they act as listeners during public talks. This is also visible in employment-related conversations where only the boards of governors have access to business corporation meetings. In learning institutions and religious gatherings, teachers and religious leaders respectively, have control over all communicative events and hence control the learning and religious discourse. Students and followers of religions get access to address other students and believers only when their heads have appointed them. Important to note is that access to communicative discourses can either be on a voluntary basis or mandatory depending on domains. An example of mandatory access to discursive events is when a person is ordered to speak during court hearings. Culture is also utilized by dominant groups in exercising power through everyday interactions. There are ethnically diverse patterns of access based on age, class, status quo, and gender as well as the educational achievements to name a few, among other decisive factors that describe dominance, power, and prejudice. For instance, men may have more access than women, whites more than blacks, and senior generation more than young people.

Most powerful elites come from the dominant groups, such as the whites in America. The power offers them access to the media, discourses of officialdom, and political decision-making processes, as well as to the judicial systems. In the American scenario, whites have special access and privileges to social sources. Additionally, the white group at large is controlled by the affluent white elites through their persuasive influence on the whites’ belief system and mental conditions including their stereotypes, ideologies, and discrimination. The converse is also true for the non-dominating factions, whose subordination is more aggravated by their lower social status. Not only is their lack of access defined by their minority and cultural capital, but also by their inability to gain access to an adequate education.

Discrepancies in access to the media by minorities and majority elites also offer a clear description of how the dominant social group utilizes culture in the exercise of power. Despite the overall noninterventionist self-description of various journalists, the minority groups lack equal access to the media, which symbolizes the dominance of the whites in this realm. The fact that the newsrooms are virtually dominated by white journalists has serious repercussions not only in the style of writing and news production but also in the entire angle of the television programs and news discourses. In addition, the cultural minority groups lack both social and economic power – a factor that contributes to their inability to acquire usual forms of structured media access, including public relations, press conferences, and press releases. Additionally, journalists of the dominant group are viewed as credible sources, especially when they offer critical opinions about white elites. Moreover, prominence and selection of news topics and issues are also biased and reported according to the negative and stereotypical attitudes as preferred by the corporate, social, scholarly leaders and their institutions. Issues such as those related to immigration are defined as invasions and fundamentally problematic. They are rarely defined as of the profitable contribution to the American economy or even as the situations that enrich the American culture. Other biased issues of ethnic news coverage are those related to violence, crime, and drugs. The fact that the minority groups have limited access to definition forums on issues, topics, and situations that are of relevance to them, journalists from the dominant group cover less such issues and make them less prominent. This has been the case for such issues like racism, low employment opportunities for minority groups, police brutality, and miserable working conditions to name but a few. This particularly happens in cases where the leaders from the dominant group are to be held accountable to the situations.

I agree with Bourdieu that cultural capital is conveyed through families. However, I do not agree with his idea that learning systems reproduce the construction of the division of cultural capital entirely. Some sociologists point out that students who exhibit similar cultural capital with their teachers are more privileged than those of different cultural capital. Although it may be true that some teachers may tend to relate positively and more readily to the students whose competencies, manners, and values resemble their own, not every teacher will subconsciously privilege pupils of similar cultural capital. In addition, cultural capital is not strictly acquired through the family. Some students acquire cultural capital from friends and peers and later explore the acquired interests individually. For instance, a child, observing a fellow child who seems to be more skilled and knowledgeable about artworks after attending a cultural day at the national museum, can acquire knowledge from the observations and also by researching on the museum’ internet site. In this scenario, the child acquires cultural capital through learning and personal efforts.

In conclusion, cultural capital can be defined as broad-spectrum cultural background disposition and knowledge, as well as skills that are transmitted from generation to generation. It manifests itself in the way people talk, socializes, acts, chooses the code of dressing, shared values, etc. It can be subdivided into three segments, including embodied, objectified, and institutionalized cultural capital. There are various ways in which the dominant group utilizes culture in the exercise of power such as through the media, personal interactions, and religious institutions, as well as learning institutions. Cultural capital can be acquired through both learning and families.