SOC 385, Blog 4: Bourdieu
April 5th, 2013
According to French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu, there exist three forms of capital: economic, cultural and social. These three forms work together to help certain individuals advance in society. Those with the most capital rise to success more easily than those with the least. The first of these forms, economic capital, encompasses all material wealth that one owns. This includes money, property and assets. The second form, cultural capital, refers to all that one was taught, raised with and studied. Within cultural capital exists three different subsets: embodied state, including culture and disposition, objectified state including number of objects and property owned and institutionalized state, including diplomas and advanced degrees. The final form of capital Bourdieu lists is social capital. Social capital revolves around networks, connections and the people with whom one interacts. This for of capital is institutionalized through both shared recognition and shared sense of worth.
While it is generally an acknowledged fact that economic capital signifies economic inequality and subsequent disparities in quality of life, few people consider social and cultural capital as doing the same. Because they are not physical, these forms of capital are harder to see but they also greatly influence the reproduction of economic inequalities. As such, the only way to combat inequality in modern American society is to address social and cultural forms of capital as well.
Cultural capital is, in many ways, more influential than economic capital. If a man lacking in cultural capital were to win the $10,000 in the lottery, for example, chances are that money would run out long before it made any lasting impact on his life. If the same man was given the opportunity to further his education for $10,000 worth of community college classes, he could very likely end up with enough cultural capital to render him more viable in the workforce. As such, education has the power to change one’s place in life and help them achieve success.
While welfare does supply impoverished citizens with some sort of economic capital (meager as it may be), this is simply not enough to make lasting change. Social capital, on the other hand, is near impossible to simply give to a child whose parents are not already well connected. This leaves cultural capital. Within the realm of cultural capital, I believe that bettering this country’s education system is the key to improving our economic state and battling inequality at large.
The country’s current public education system is failing miserably. Chicago alone has a high school graduation rate of only 61% with only 50.1% of African American males graduating. Every 26 seconds, another student in the United States drops out of school and those who remain often graduate as functioning illiterates. Our school system is failing and this failure is fueling an economic crisis. If the government decided to spend more money on schools, however, and raise the conditions of every urban public school to match wealthier suburban school standards, students would be afforded the right to improved cultural capital.
With the current school-closing crisis in Chicago, it is not likely that this cultural capital will be given to our students willingly. This is something that must be fought for. We will never advance as a nation until we spend more money on schooling than on missiles and bombs. We must learn to use the social capital that we have as college students and sociologists to force society to see the importance of cultural capital because until they are forced, those in power will likely never understand the plight of the country’s poorest and the importance of supplying their children with the best education available. Until this happens, we will never truly eliminate inequality nor will we escape our current economic crisis. As American political activist Robert Green Ingersoll once said, “By nature all people are alike, but by education become different.”