In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cultural Capital

  • Introduction
  • Cultural Capital in Bourdieu’s Work
  • Key Introductions to Bourdieu’s Concept
  • Conceptual Elaboration
  • Cultural Capital in Textbooks
  • Overview in Education
  • Consumption Studies and Taste
  • Politics and Cultural Capital
  • International Circulation of the Concept
  • Miscellaneous Applications
  • Criticisms

Sociology Cultural Capital
David L. Swartz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0209


Cultural capital is used conceptually and researched empirically as a staple in much contemporary social scientific research. The concept was coined by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to explain educational inequality in France. His concept covers a wide variety of cultural resources, such as verbal facility, general cultural awareness, aesthetic preferences, information about the school system, and educational credentials. In later writings Bourdieu suggests that what he calls cultural capital should in fact be called “informational capital.” His point is to suggest that culture (in the broadest sense of the term) can become a power resource that socially differentiates insiders from outsiders. This inequality occurs when cultural resources become objects of struggle. The concept gained traction early in educational research, in which it has been used to explain differential achievement in schooling. As a measure of family background, the importance of cultural capital relative to income and other possible stratifying factors has become the object of considerable research and debate in the sociology of education. But the concept has been imported into many other substantive areas, such as culture, consumer tastes, family, organizations, and stratification to such an extent that today it is found across a broad range of the social sciences and now figures as an important concept in introductory sociology textbooks. And the concept has provoked criticism and debate relative to how it is measured, its effects, its distribution, and variations in different national contexts.

Overview of Bourdieu’s Concept of Cultural Capital

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