Cultural capital in educational research: A critical assessment
In this article, we assess how the concept of cultural capital has been imported into the English language, focusing on educational research. We argue that a dominant interpretation of cultural capital has coalesced with two central premises. First, cultural capital denotes knowledge of or facility with “highbrow” aesthetic culture. Secondly, cultural capital is analytically and causally distinct from other important forms of knowledge or competence (termed “technical skills,” “human capital,” etc.). We then review Bourdieu’s educational writings to demonstrate that neither of these premises is essential to his understanding of cultural capital. In the third section, we discuss a set of English-language studies that draw on the concept of cultural capital, but eschew the dominant interpretation. These serve as the point of departure for an alternative definition. Our definition emphasizes Bourdieu’s reference to the capacity of a social class to “impose” advantageous standards of evaluation on the educational institution. We discuss the empirical requirements that adherence to such a definition entails for researchers, and provide a brief illustration of the intersection of institutionalized evaluative standards and the educational practices of families belonging to different social classes. Using ethnographic data from a study of social class differences in family-school relationships, we show how an African-American middle-class family exhibits cultural capital in a way that an African-American family below the poverty level does not.
KeywordsSocial Class Educational Research Technical Skill Cultural Capital Alternative Definition
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