Essay on Cultural Capital. Definition and Explanation. Part 2


Now, we will talk about the cultural capital of different countries. We have already sorted out this concept a little thanks to the first part  of the article.

If expressed in a more modern sociological language, the cultural capital signals about belonging to a status group, a certain stratum of society to which you must be admitted in order to gain an access to the most valuable social resources. Its members have friends and are looking for spouses among themselves. Inside it, information is circulating about the most attractive economic opportunities.

This group protects its borders through the prestigious cultural consumption due to the fact that people go to the opera and read books. When they meet a person not of their own circle, they repel them and do it with a clear conscience. They feel that they are motivated not by the desire to monopolize the access to the economic goods but by the praiseworthy reflexes of a cultural person. Monopolization still happens, but it happens as if by itself, without the slightest ulterior motive.

Historically, a cultural capital of the modern type appears in Renaissance Italy in the 15th century. Prior to it, the interest in high culture in our understanding of the word occurs from time to time, but it is perceived rather as a personal quirk, not as something forced.

Meanwhile, we learn that one of the English bishops of the XIII century collected antique statues and terribly lamented when the ship carrying the items for his collection from Italy sank. The Chronicler reports this not only with disapproval but with some detached misunderstanding.

After the XVI century, his motives would no longer amaze anyone in Christian Europe. The single high culture, a part of which is the admiration of fine arts in general and antiquity in particular, is spreading throughout Europe. Its borders partly begin to blur only in the twentieth century, and even then not everywhere. In France, for example, today we still find the traditional high culture almost completely inviolable.

The Mystery of the Century

"Cultural capital" as a term is associated most strongly with a French sociologist named Pierre Bourdieu, who tried to solve a large Marxist riddle with the help of this concept. How it turns out that children of the rich become rich, and children of the working class remain the working class, while most of the fortune is not inherited, and the school system is built in such a way that all students receive a seemingly completely identical formal education?

Bourdieu answers: "There is a cultural capital that is broadcast very early." Children from the French upper class come to school and they are able to read and write. Some of them have learned to read by Proust. Others are ready to perform fairly complex assignments. A teacher, naturally, is easy and pleasant with them. Completely involuntarily, he or she identifies them as capable and even brilliant.

They become favorites, they are given more attention, they are good at examinations and come out with excellent certificates. As a result, they go further in life with a full sense that they have achieved everything by themselves and, in general, everyone believes this. And children of the working class, who studied at the same school and did not have time to practice, also think that those children are better because they have a great talent.

History in other countries is slightly different. For example, in America, which was very similar to Europe until the middle of the 20th century, the cultural capital began to develop in a different direction. Instead of a uniform "good taste", the most appreciated property was the omnivorousness, about which a cultured person can keep up the conversation with almost any interlocutor.

In France, talking about Modigliani is right and good, but you do not need to admit that you like the local analog of Aivazovsky. In America, it is an ideal case when you like Modigliani and the local analog of Aivazovsky, and Aivazovsky himself (it may be necessary to communicate with a Russian), and also some number of folk artists (it may be necessary to communicate with a native American). Because in this case, whomsoever you encounter, you will feel a kindred spirit.

The Fate of the Intelligentsia Through the Prism of Stratification Theory

The big mystery is what is happening today. Previously, everything was much simpler: the cultural capital was equally used everywhere. There was a group that identified itself as intelligentsia and was proud if it could boast of many generations of educated ancestors. Education replaced money.

Of course, no one had old money, but there was old education, and it was not forbidden to advertise it. Individual members of this group spontaneously developed an analogy with the old money even further, insisting that the intelligentsia was determined by a very early upbringing, and the true intellectual was the one whose education stopped in high school, and culture was fixed at the level of reflexes.

The intelligentsia was very strict in preserving its borders. Those who wanted to pass to its circle had to constantly prepare themselves for the necessity to withstand long debilitating conversations about the vocal of opera singers, different schools of philosophy, and their attitude to French poetry. Today, any of these topics can be disclosed in a very short time if you decide to buy a college paper.

It is important to note that in many countries, the intelligentsia did not include the political and administrative elite and was not the dominant social group. Nevertheless, there is an impression that there was a clear attraction between the administrative-economic elite and the intelligentsia – the children of the latter, at least, often sought to be surrounded by the children of the first.

Later, the feeling spread that the cultural capital rapidly lost the significance it had before. Data for some countries show that groups attached to the high culture survived the transformation period much better than others. They quickly found a new job, their children were more often transformed into the new elite, and the feeling of decades of a crisis was less painful for them.

Returning Trends

However, we can say that even in those countries where the situation with the cultural capital was very shaky, all develop towards a convergence with others. After a period of a temporary loss of interest, impractical higher education begins to be in demand again. In some universities, the most expensive specialties in the recent years are no longer economics and jurisprudence, but exotic humanitarian programs such as Oriental Studies. If you are a student of one of these specialties and you require academic help, you can get it on

Those sketchy data that exist with the respect to the life trajectories also show that the holders of a high cultural capital are still on average more successful than others, although this is not fully realized by themselves. The intelligentsia has a tendency to exaggerate the drama of their social situation. However, it does not level the significance of the cultural capital but it only makes it more effective. The main trick of the devil of class reproduction is to convince everyone that it does not exist – or at least that it lurks not where it must be sought in reality.

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