Cultural Capital: Allusions, Gaps and Glissandos in Recent Theoretical Developments
Sociological Theory, 6(2): 153-168, 1988
17 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2012
Date Written: 1988
The concept of cultural capital has been increasingly used in American sociology to study the impact of cultural reproduction on social reproduction. However, much confusion surrounds this concept. In this essay, we disentangle Bourdieu and Passeron's original work on cultural capital, specifying the theoretical roles cultural capital plays in their model, and the various types of high status signals they are concerned with. We expand on their work by proposing a new definition of cultural capital which focuses on cultural and social exclusion. We note a number of theoretical ambiguities and gaps in the original model, as well as specific methodological problems. In the second section, we shift our attention to the American literature on cultural capital. We discuss its assumptions and compare it with the original work. We also propose a research agenda which focuses on social and cultural selection and decouples cultural capital from the French context in which it was originally conceived to take into consideration the distinctive features of American culture. This agenda consists in 1) assessing the relevance of the concept of legitimate culture in the U.S.; 2) documenting the distinctive American repertoire of high status cultural signals; and 3) analyzing how cultural capital is turned into profits in America.
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