Cultural capital and education

Cultural Capital can be defined as the skills and knowledge which an individual can draw on to give them an advantage in social life. In this post, I explore Bourdieu’s foundational concept of the Habitus and then look at how cultural capital can give children an advantage in education.

Key Terms

Capital can be defined as any assets that can improve your life chances.

Cultural Capital – having the skills, knowledge, norms and values which can be used to get ahead in education and life more generally.

Social Capital – possession of social contacts that can ‘open doors’.

Cultural Capital Theory is a Marxist theory of differential educational achievement. In contrast to cultural deprivation theory, cultural capital theory does not see working class culture as inferior, or lacking in any way, it just sees it as different to middle class culture. Instead of blaming working class underachievement on flawed working-class culture, cultural capital theory focuses on the dominance of middle-class culture in society and social institutions.

In short, middle class children are more likely to succeed because the education system is run by the middle classes and works in their interests. The middle classes are able to define their own culture as superior and thus working-class culture and working-class children are marginalised in the education system and end up underachieving.