'Cultural capital' is a term which was invented by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930- present) in the 1970s.

Put simply, cultural capital is the cultural inheritance gained from our family and other class members. Wealth, status and power are all affected by the way we are taught, or not taught, the dominant ideology from birth..

Hmm, confused? Perhaps an example will help:

Three people go into a shop in Sweden. One person is from Norway, the other from Australia, and the other from France. They all want to buy a loaf of bread (or a pair of shoes, or some condoms... whatever you want this merry group to be buying, basically).

  • The Norwegian can speak the language, and has no trouble getting the object.

  • The French person can speak a little bit of Swedish and gets what they want after a few moments of gesturing and basic interaction.

  • The Australian can't speak the language at all and sputters away, pointing at the object and getting louder and more distressed until the shop keeper catches on.
So in this analogy, the Norwegian is considered a representative of the upper class , the French person is middle class and the poor old Aussie is the working class guy.

The 'cultural capital' idea is that although all three people can speak their own language, some were better at communicating with a second group than others. Even though the Norwegian would have looked smarter and more together than the blabbering Australian or even the half-successful French guy, it was just a result of him being the only one with the cultural capital needed, the required knowledge of the dominant ideology.

The education system is often blamed for the continuance of the uneven class structure in our society. For all students to have an equal chance to succeed in the school environment the upper class must allow other classes to mobilise by stopping the current system which enables the dominant class to reproduce its power, wealth and status without question.

An example of cultural capital in the education system is a student who, when faced with a school exam, can't concentrate. She's doodling, looking out the window, talking and laughing- doing everything except her test. It's because she hasn't been taught the way to behave in this situation, whereas her upper-class peers are well trained in sitting still, keeping quiet and endeavouring to excel.

If the exam system was changed or she was taught good old fashioned upper class values (cultural capital) from birth she would have a better chance at coming first in the test. Either of these options, of course, would be damn near impossible.

More info and stuff at freespace.virgin.net/chris.livesey/tece1ef.htm