Cultural Capital: Main Topics of Conflict

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Capital - 'accumulated labour' Economic Capital - easily translated to money Social Capital - made up of social connections that can be transformed into economic capital Cultural Capital – in the form of books or writings, can be institutionalised through the education system The ability of an individual to convert one form of capital into economic capital is indicative of their class status. Social mobility – an individual's movement between classes over a period of time This article looks at the incorporation of cultural capital into the education system in order to reduce educational inequalities. This means that schools can no longer achieve a high rating without providing some form of cultural capital, to better the pupils in later life. 

The article emphasises the controversial nature of this action. John Yandell argues that the idea of cultural capital leads to a perception that one culture is superior to another. Juliet Mickelburgh supports this and also questions whether the culture of the working-class will come to be seen as inferior in relation to middle class culture – See box 2 Diane Reay, another critique of the idea, argues that the obligation is 'both authoritarian and elitist'. She goes on to further the argument stating that 'key elements of cultural capital are entwined with privileged lifestyles' therefore it is not as easy as identifying these and teach them to the working-class– See box 1 and 3 Dorling would argue in support of this view. 

The perception that achievement is based on merit alone harms the poor the most. As we know, cultural capital is dictated by the dominant class, therefore those in lower class are often feel shamed as they are perceived not to lack the same ability as others. School makes children feel incompetent ultimately leading to despair. This produces a population of unhappy people. Cultural capital is often transferred within the setting of a school, however parental cultural capital can be communicated within the setting of the home. Bourdieu contended that this explained the differences in educational attainment amongst the classes. 

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Children from working-class families, were likely to have parents who lack the appropriate cultural capital, and therefore the same learning would not occur in the home. As the education system endorses the transmission of cultural capital within the home this allows for inequalities in educational attainment between classes, to be reproduced. This suggests that those in favour of Ofsted's proposal fail to understand Bourdieu's argument. By ignoring wider inequalities, education ultimately entrenches inequality, therefore this policy will not increase social mobility. Cultural capital can be institutionalised through the achievement of qualifications. The higher these qualifications are the better the job the individual is likely to achieve. However, academic language is defined by the dominant class, therefore, qualifications often reflect this form of cultural capital. 

Although intelligence is assumed to be equally distributed cultural capital is not. Assessing all classes on the basis of a dominant form of cultural capital reduces social mobility. Those who are not a part of the dominant group have more difficulty internalising this new form of cultural capital and converting it into qualifications. Once again this suggests that introducing cultural capital into the education system will have little effect on social mobility. Bourdieu would refer to this as 'symbolic violence', where one class' cultural capital becomes 'misrecognized' as legitimate. This is referred to as 'misrecognition' as cultural tastes are arbitrary and can therefore not be superior or inferior to each other. 

These ideas also link to the earlier discussion on the institutionalisation of cultural capital (see box. Research from Jæger highlights the role that economic, cultural and social capital play in educational achievement across generations. Jæger concludes that the impact of economic and cultural capital has decreased across the generations. He finds that a parent's economic capital has no significance, in the third generation, whilst a parent's cultural capital is only of weak significance. Finally, he suggests that social capital is contributing to educational inequality in a new way, whereby it is the ability of a child to gain an opportunity to work abroad that is important. 

Analysing Jæger's results, in relation to the article discussed above, it is unlikely that the implementation of cultural capital into the education system will affect educational inequalities and therefore social mobility. Jæger found a weak significant correlation between educational attainment and parental cultural capital which suggests that the transmission of cultural capital within the home is less important than previously thought. However, he finds that social capital has the most significant impact on educational attainment. Ofsted fails to acknowledge the influence of other forms of capital on educational attainment. 

This could mean that rather than increasing social mobility, the policy just leads to a strengthening of the significance of social capital, causing social mobility to be inhibited by social capital as opposed to cultural capital. The prioritisation of one culture over another within the education system is a form of institutional symbolic violence. The achievement of good qualifications requires the successful imitation of the ruling classes habitus. 

Although this successful imitation would lead to increase social mobility (through the achievement of good qualifications and therefore a respectable job) the morality of labelling a class as inferior is questionable. As Dorling argues, many in the lower classes feels shamed as a result and ultimately this leads to despair. Such despair is causing catastrophic rises in mental health illnesses. Looking at this policy exclusively in relation to social mobility, it is evident that is unlikely to be successful. Reducing one inequality between the classes only highlights another that will become the next barrier to social mobility.

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