As recently as the 1960s, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1939 – 2002) espoused the idea that a persons aspirations and final status in life are determined by their relative social position and, of course, that of their parents. Have you noticed that some people work hard all their lives but appear to achieve very little, either materialistically or intellectually? This is so true in today’s Britain where the wealth gap is widening alarmingly due to the inept policies of consecutive governments since the early 1970s, and we appear to be returning to the Victorian era, with free food queues and rough sleeping. Even those in work very often have to ask for handouts. Britain enjoyed a boom in the 20 years since 1945 with real earnings increasing and as prime minister McMillan said “You’ve never had it so good”. So what went wrong? (But I digress – that’s a topic for another day).
Unlike his posthumous mentor Karl Marx, Bourdieu described three forms of ‘capital’. He was looking for reasons why different people, of similar intelligence, may or may not succeed in the educational system and subsequently, may or may not, enjoy jobs of power and influence (or indeed any job at all). In other words he was looking for sociological reasons rather than intellectual or genetic reasons.
- Economic capital – that which we may inherit from our parents and is invariably passed down the generations giving a child at least a ‘fighting’ chance!
- Social capital – with economic capital we may be able to afford, for example, a private education for our children, holidays abroad, join an exclusive tennis club, learn a musical instrument, learn a foreign language via ‘exchanges’, a university place (inclination allowing) and generally mixing with children of similar background, and their parents. Our children will then use their ‘network’ of contacts and acquaintances to further their job and career prospects and subsequent financial status.
- Once economic and social capital are acquired these may now be progressed by some children into cultural capital. This, amongst other examples, consists of gaining post graduate qualifications, experience working within an international organisation, travelling and gaining an understanding of other cultures and religions, the appreciation of music, poetry and the arts and much more.
Of course this is only a brief and general introduction to a far more nuanced and complicated subject, but will be continued.
Pierre Bourdieu c1960