Childhood Studies Social and Cultural Capital of Childhood
by
Abigail Knight
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0143

Introduction

Social and cultural capital are concepts that originated from the work of the French anthropologist and sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu (b. 1930–d. 2002) and have been applied by academic researchers to the field of childhood. So, although Bourdieu’s work does not deal with children and childhood, his work is an essential starting point for anyone studying the social and cultural capital of childhood. Social capital refers to social connections (e.g., made through employment or clubs) and cultural capital refers to knowledge and academic credentials (institutionalized cultural capital), cultural possessions such as art (objectified cultural capital), and ways of speaking or manner, shown through posture or gestures for example (embodied cultural capital). For Bourdieu, the acquisition of social and cultural capital is achieved through the habitus (predispositions and values acquired from an early age, often unconsciously) and work with other forms of capital, such as economic and symbolic within a “field” or site of social relations in which a struggle for different positions of power is played out, such as the arts, politics, law, family, neighborhood, or school, for instance. For Bourdieu, therefore, the process of acquiring and using social and cultural capital can only be understood in relation to his other main concepts: habitus and field, and thus the interrelationship of his concepts, is important. Work on social capital by Americans Robert Putnam and James Coleman is also important, although they viewed social capital rather differently than Bourdieu. Bourdieu conceptualized social and cultural capital as acquired through the habitus and used to benefit the already privileged in the reproduction of social inequality in the “field,” such as a school or workplace. However, social capital as conceptualized by Putnam and Coleman refers to social networks and connections that, they maintain, result in greater social cohesion through civic engagement based on cooperation, reciprocity, and trust; for these theorists, social capital is used as a stand-alone concept rather than as a relational one as in Bourdieu’s work. In addition to works on the theoretical concepts of social and cultural capital, general overviews and critiques, this bibliography includes sections on a number of areas (or “fields”) of childhood research in which these concepts have been most commonly applied, and these are: education and schools; children’s relationships with families and friends; children and their communities; neighborhoods and sense of belonging; children and young people’s health and well-being; early years; youth; and race, ethnicity, and religious identity. Some references appear in more than one category as they touch upon more than one area of the literature relating to the social and cultural capital of childhood.

General Overviews

Probably the best overviews of social and cultural capital as conceptualized by Bourdieu and applied to childhood have been written since 2009 by Finnish childhood sociologists Siisiäinen and Alanen. Two important chapters by Alanen about using Bourdieu to study childhood are not in English, but with Martti Siisiäinen, she has written a useful introduction to Siisiäinen and Alanen 2011, which is already mentioned in Anthologies. Holland 2009 considers social capital for understanding young people’s lives from the perspective of Bourdieu 1973, Bourdieu 1984, Bourdieu 1986, Coleman 1987, Coleman 1988, and Putnam 2000 (see Theoretical Works) and therefore provides a good overview of the concepts. Morrow 2001, Bassani 2003, Schaefer-McDaniel 2004, Leonard 2005 consider the main conceptualizations of social capital for childhood and are useful overviews. Portes 1998 gives a useful overview of social capital theory including a review of research using social capital as a concept in areas such as predicting children’s academic performance and development, sources of employment, juvenile delinquency, and prevention and ethnic enterprise. Laureau 2011 (first edition 2003) is a classic book on unequal childhoods in the USA and is an excellent illustration of Bourdieu’s ideas that social and cultural capital possessed by more privileged families leads to the reproduction of social inequality.

  • Bassani, Cherylynn. “Social Capital Theory in the Context of Japanese Children.” Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies (2003).

    E-mail Citation »

    Provides a useful overview of American social capital theory as conceptualized by Coleman and Putnam and applies it to the lives and well-being of Japanese children.

  • Holland, Janet. “Young People and Social Capital: Uses and Abuses?” Young 17.4 (2009): 331–350.

    DOI: 10.1177/110330880901700401E-mail Citation »

    Paper based on research with young people, this is a useful critical overview of the concept of social capital as a theory (as conceptualized by Bourdieu, Coleman, and Putnam) highlighting how the concept of social capital relates to young people.

  • Laureau, Annette. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life. 2d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

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    Book based on the study of white and African American families, revised in the second edition, showing how class inequalities are reproduced. Bourdieu’s ideas about social and cultural capital are discussed in the appendix, however, and not embedded in the complete text. First edition was published in 2003.

  • Leonard, Madeleine. “Children, Childhood and Social Capital: Exploring the Links.” Sociology 39.4 (2005): 605–622.

    DOI: 10.1177/0038038505052490E-mail Citation »

    Examines the limited consideration of children and childhood in the theories of Bourdieu, Putnam, and Coleman about social capital. Explores the conversion of children’s social capital into other forms of capital when looking at children’s networks.

  • Morrow, Virginia. “Young People’s Explanations and Experiences of Social Exclusion: Retrieving Bourdieu’s Concept of Social Capital.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 21.4 (2001): 37–63.

    DOI: 10.1108/01443330110789439E-mail Citation »

    Argues that, despite the limitations of social capital theory, the concept can allow the researcher to prioritize the social context of young people’s everyday lives and can be, therefore, a useful heuristic device.

  • Portes, Alejandro. “Social Capital: It’s Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24 (1998): 1–24.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.1E-mail Citation »

    Provides a good overview of the theory of social capital from the perspective of Bourdieu, Coleman, and other authors. Includes a useful section on research about the effects of social capital on children and families in three main contexts: a) as a source of social control, b) as a source of family support, and c) as a source of benefits through extrafamilial networks.

  • Schaefer-McDaniel, Nicole. “Conceptualizing Social Capital among Young People: Toward a New Theory.” Children, Youth and Environments 14.1 (2004): 140–150.

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    Discusses the different conceptualizations of social (and cultural) capital as put forward by the three “theoretical fathers” of social capital theory: Bourdieu, Coleman, and Putnam. Posits how these different conceptualizations might apply to children’s lives.

  • Siisiäinen, Martti, and Leena Alanen. “Introduction: Researching Local Life in a Bourdieusian Frame.” In Fields and Capitals: Constructing Local Life. Edited by Leena Alanen and Martti Siisiäinen, 11–27. Jyväskylä, Finland: Finnish Institute for Educational Research, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    Introduces a book about applying Bourdieu’s concepts to children and families’ lives in a Finnish context by providing an excellent overview of Bourdieu’s concepts, field, habitus, and capital.

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