Sunteți pe pagina 1din 23

BOURDIEU AND EDUCATION:

HOW USEFUL IS BOURDIEU'S THEORY FOR RESEARCHERS?


ALICE SULLIVAN*
1. Introduction
Bourdieu's theory of cultural reproduction has beenhighly influential, andhas
generated agreat deal of literature, both theoretical andempirical. This paper
will examine thetheory andthe use empirical researchers inthefields of edu-
cation andstratification have made of it. Bourdieu's work must beseen inthe
context both of thedebateonclass inequalities ineducational attainment andof
broader questions of class reproduction in advanced capitalist societies. The
theory of cultural reproduction isconcernedwiththelink betweenoriginal class
membership andultimate class membership, andhow this link is mediated by
theeducation system.
According to Bourdieu, the education systems of industrialised societies
function insuch away astolegitimate class inequalities. Success intheeduca-
tion system is facilitated by the possession of cultural capital and of higher-
class habitus. Lower-class pupils do not ingeneral possess these traits, so the
failure of themajority of thesepupils is inevitable. This explains class inequal-
ities in educational attainment. However, success andfailure inthe education
systemis seenasbeing duetoindividual gifts (or thelack of them). Therefore,
for Bourdieu, educational credentials help to reproduce and legitimate social
inequalities, as higher-class individuals are seen to deserve their place in the
social structure.
The first part of this paper will consist of a general discussion of Bourdieu's
theory of education, with particular reference totheconcepts of cultural capital
andhabitus. I will argue that the concept of habitus is theoretically incoherent
andhas no clear usefor empirical researchers. The concept of cultural capital,
on the other hand, while not constructed particularly clearly by Bourdieu, is
substantive enough to bepotentially useful to empirical researchers. The sec-
* Alice Sullivan holds a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Nuffield
College, Oxford, United Kingdom. Currently she is working with Anthony Heath (Nuffield
College, Oxford) onabook oninequalities ineducation inBritain.
Address: NuffieldCollege, NewRoadOxfordOXl INF, UnitedKingdom.
E-mail address:Alice.Sullivan@nuf.ox.ac.uk.
144
TIreNetherlands 'Journal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - 110. 2 - 2002
ondsection of thispaper will therefore assess someof theempirical work con-
cerning cultural capital andtheproblems involved inoperationalising thecon-
cept.
2. Bourdieu's Theory
2.1 Cultural Capital
2.1.1Introduction toCultural Capital
Bourdieu states that cultural capital consists of familiarity with the dominant
culture inasociety, andespecially theability tounderstand anduse 'educated'
language. The possession of cultural capital varies with social class, yet the
education systemassumes thepossession of cultural capital. This makes itvery
difficult for lower-class pupils tosucceed intheeducation system.
"By doing away with giving explicitly to everyone what it implicitly demands of everyone,
the education system demands of everyone alike that they have what it does not give. This
consists mainly of linguistic andcultural competence andthat relationship of familiarity with
culture which canonly beproduced by family upbringing when ittransmits thedominant cul-
ture." (Bourdieu, 1977a, p. 494)
Bourdieu claims that, sincetheeducation systempresupposes thepossession of
cultural capital, which few students infact possess, thereis agreat deal of inef-
ficiency in 'pedagogic transmission' (i.e. teaching). This is because students
simply do not understand what their teachers are trying to get across. For
Bourdieu, thisisparticularly apparent intheuniversities, where students, afraid
of revealing theextent of their ignorance cc minimize the risks by throwing a
smoke-screen of vagueness over the possibility of truth or error." (Bourdieu and
Passeron, 1990, p. 114)
But despite the fact that lower-class pupils are seriously disadvantaged in
the competition for educational credentials, the results of this competition are
seen as meritocratic and therefore as legitimate. In addition, Bourdieu claims
that social inequalities are legitimated by the educational credentials held by
those indominant positions. This means that the education system has akey
roleinmaintaining thestatus quo.
"... it [educationlisinfact oneof themost effectivemeans of perpetuating theexisting social
pattern, as it bothprovides anapparentjustification for social inequalities andgives recognition
tothecultural heritage, that is, toasocial gift treatedasanatural one." (Bourdieu, 1974, p. 32)
Insum, Bourdieu's view is that cultural capital is inculcated inthehigher-class
home, andenables higher-class students togainhigher educational credentials
The NetherlandsJournal a/Social Sciences - Volume 38- no. 2- 2002
145
than lower-class students. This enables higher-class individuals to maintain
their class position, andlegitimates the dominant position which higher-class
individuals typically goes on to hold. Of course, some lower-class individuals
will succeed in the education system, but, rather than challenging the system,
thiswill strengthenitby contributingtotheappearanceof meritocracy.
Bourdieu canbecriticisedfor not beingprecise enough about exactly which
of the resources associatedwith thehigher-class homeconstitute cultural capi-
tal, and how these resources are converted into educational credentials.
However, Bourdieu's emphasis onthenon-material resources possessed by the
higher-class household is tobewelcomed. Wehave evidence that thedramatic
fall in the material costs tofamilies of education due to educational reforms,
such as the universal provision of free andcompulsory secondary education,
havenot diminished thedegreeof associationbetween class origins andeduca-
tional attainment (Shavit andBlossfeld, 1993; Halsey et al., 1980). This sug-
gests that theeducational advantage which higher-class parents pass ontotheir
children may not beentirely causedby economic factors, andthat thenotionof
cultural capital is therefore worthy of serious attention.
2.1.2 Cultural Capital vs. Other Forms of Capital
The strength of the link that Bourdieu suggests between cultural capital, edu-
cational credentials andoccupational positions may be questioned, as infact,
thecorrespondence between cultural capital endeducational credentials aswell
as the correspondence between educational credentials and elite occupational
positions is far from complete. It may be that one has to see the strength of
Bourdieu's claiminthelight of theFrench context, where thereis adistinctive
link between thegrandes ecoles andhighpositions intheprofessions andgov-
ernment administration. Evengiventhisprovisothough, onemust acknowledge
that key powerful positions, inbusiness for example, arenot allocatedprimar-
ily according toeducational credentials. So, itis unsurprising that Bourdieu has
beenaccusedof giving toomuchweight tosymbolic relations attheexpense of
material ones (Willis, 1983). YetBourdieurefers toeconomic capital andsocial
capital (social relationships andnetworks) aswell assymbolic andcultural cap-
ital (Bourdieu, 1989, p. 230). It is difficult to assess how important Bourdieu
thinks cultural capital is inrelationtoother forms of capital, as heischaracter-
istically unclear onthis point.
"Apart fromthefact that theincreaseintheproportionof holders of themost prestigious acad-
emic qualifications among the ruling classes may mean only the need to call upon academic
approval inorder tolegitimatethetransmissionof power andprivileges isbeingmoreandmore
felt, theeffect isasthoughthecultural andeducational mechanisms hadmerely strengthened or
taken over fromthe traditional mechanisms such as the hereditary transmissions of economic
capital, of anameor of capital interms of social relationships." (Bourdieu, 1977a, p. 496)
146
Tire Nemerlanas'Joumal of Social Sciences ~ Volume 38-IlO. 2- 2002
Have cultural and educational mechanisms "merely strengthened" traditional
mechanisms or reproduction or have they "taken over from" such traditional
mechanisms? Bourdieu slides from the former to the latter claim as if there
were not much tochoose between them. And as if that was not vague enough,
Bourdieu is not actually claiming todescribe reality, but uses thenon-commit-
tal phrase"the effect is asthough". (Such evasivephrases formpart of many of
Bourdieu's sentences). In fact, (the first part of the sentence implies) educa-
tional credentials may not benecessary to secure privileges at all, but only to
legitimate them. In short this passage, along with others in a similar vein, is
quiteincoherent. Weareleftwithnoclear ideaof Bourdieu's viewof theimpor-
tance of cultural and educational capital in the transmission of privileges. At
times Bourdieu stresses the roleof educational credentials insocial reproduc-
tion, while at other times thevalueof educational credentials is downplayed ".
. . sinceacademic qualifications areaweak currency andpossess all their value
only within thelimits of theacademic market." (Bourdieu, 1977a, p. 507)
For cultural capital tobeanimportant mechanism of social reproduction it
must bethecase, notjust that cultural capital facilitates theacquisition of edu-
cational credentials, but that educational credentials are animportant mecha-
nismthrough which wealth andpower aretransmitted. Bourdieu focuses onthe
first of theserelationships at theexpense of thelatter, andthis may account for
theambiguity inhis views onthesubject.
2.1.3 TheCultural Arbitrary
Inaddition tocultural capital, Bourdieu introduces the supplementary concept
of thecultural arbitrary, which poses anadditional obstacle tolower-class edu-
cational attainment. Bourdieu does not define the concept of the cultural arbi-
trary. However, hestates that:
"In any given social formation the legitimate pedagogic action, i.e. the pedagogic action endowed
with the dominant legitimacy, is nothing other than the arbitrary imposition of the dominant cultur-
al arbitrary insofar as it is misrecognized inits objective truth as the dominant pedagogic action and
the imposition of the dominant culture." (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990, p. 22)
SinceBourdieuusestheterm'cultural arbitrary' without definingit, itisnot clear
preciselywhat hemeanswhenreferringtoarbitrariness, or towhat extent hesees
thecultural skillsdemandedandtransmittedby theeducationsystemasarbitrary.
Insomecases, theeducational standardsdescribedby Bourdieuareclearly in
somesensearbitrary.For instanceBourdieuclaims that lower-classstudentswho
achieveadegreeof academicsuccessby dint of hardwork, facetheobstaclethat
their achievementmay bedeemedtobetoohardwon, andnot natural enough. In
theeducationsystem:
The Netherlands'Loumal of Social Sciences - Volume 38- no. 2- 2002
147
"... application becomes pedantry and a respect for hard work grinding, limited pettiness,
with the implication that it is intended tocompensate for lack of natural talents." (Bourdieu,
1974, p. 59)
This aristocratic disdain for lower-class attempts to appropriate higher-class
culture leads toapeculiar set of values inhigher education. Namely:
"... atendency toprefer eloquence totruth, style tocontent." (Bourdieu, 1967, p. 335)
Bourdieu backs up this claimby reference to university examination reports
(Bourdieu and Saint-Martin, 1974). He claims that the criteria of university
examiners reflect the values of thedominant classes, andthat the morevague
thedemands of theexaminers are, theless chance lower-class pupils will have
of adhering tothese demands.
These comments onthethemeof academic values arehighly plausible. But
one must ask how important the cultural arbitrary is in contributing to class
inequalities ineducational attainment. Although Bourdieu's argument is rather
compelling in relation to the evaluation of work in the arts and humanities
departments of universities, itdoes nothavethesameforcewhenappliedtothe
sciences or to primary and secondary schools. The national exams taken by
school children inmany nations are largely examined using clear andexplicit
criteria (although no doubt subjective judgements are afactor in determining
students' results). This problem reflects a general tendency of Bourdieu's to
focus on universities rather than on schools. This can only detract from his
arguments sinceitmeans that Bourdieuisdealingwithapopulationfromwhich
thelower-classes have already beenlargely eliminated.
Bourdieu does not appear toseeevery element of thecultural capital trans-
mittedinthehome andtheeducation transmitted intheschool as arbitrary. So,
how do we decide which educational values and practices are arbitrary, and
which valid?
"The sociological theory of pedagogic action distinguishes between the arbitrariness of the
imposition and the arbitrariness of thecontent imposed, only soas tobring out the sociolog-
ical implications of the relationship between two logical fictions, namely apure power rela-
tionship as theobjective truth of theimposition andatotally arbitrary culture as theobjective
truth of the meanings imposed ... There isnopedagogic actionwhich does not inculcate some
meanings not deducible fromauniversal principle (logical reason or biological nature ... )"
(Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990: 9)
Inrelation to the content of teaching, "arbitrariness" is opposed to"objective
truth" and"meanings deducible fromauniversal principle". This is confusing,
since"objective truth" and"meanings deducible fromauniversal principle" are
148
The NetherlandsJournal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 110.2 - 2002
not thesame thing. If anything which is not objectively trueis therefore "arbi-
trary", does this mean that subjects in which we can never be confident of
objectivetruth arealways utterly arbitrary? Or istheaimof truthenough tojus-
tify adiscipline? What about subjects such asmusic or woodwork whichdonot
aimat truth?
Bourdieu's notion of the"cultural arbitrary" is unclear. It is not possible to
determine towhat extent heis arguing that the dominant culture andthe edu-
cational values that serveit arenobetter thananyother culture. Bourdieu gives
some interesting examples of arbitrary values ineducation, but does not give a
precise definition of what constitutes arbitrariness inthis context. Hedoes not
make a clear enough distinction between those parts of the dominant culture
which areinsomeway snobbish (Le. exclusivefor exclusivity'S sake) andarbi-
trary, andthose which are universally valuable but not universally accessible.
Such adistinction is essential if we are todistinguish between those elements
of the dominant culture which should be taught in schools, and those which
should beremoved fromthecurriculum. It seems clear that lower-class pupils
would be disadvantaged by alack of cultural resources even if the content of
educational syllabuses and assessments were utterly rational. A sophisticated
grasp of language alonewouldbeahuge advantage injust about any conceiv-
ableeducation system. Giventhis, thecultural arbitrary shouldprobably berel-
egated toaminor roleinany explanatory theory of class inequalities ineduca-
tional attainment.
2.2 Habitus
2.2.1 Introduction toHabitus
The notion of habitus is central to Bourdieu's thought, yet it is never clearly
defined. I will try toelucidate theconcept before going ontocriticise it.
Like cultural capital, habitus is transmitted within the home. However,
whereas cultural capital consists of the possession of legitimate knowledge,
habitus is aset of attitudes andvalues, andthedominant habitus is aset of atti-
tudes andvalues heldby thedominant class. A major component of the domi-
nant habitus is apositive attitudetowards education.
"... the systemof dispositions towards theschool, understood as apropensity toconsent to
the investments intime, effort andmoney necessary toconserve andto increase cultural cap-
ital." (Bourdieu, 1977a, p. 495)
So is habitus just aset of attitudes, directed primarily towards education and
culture? Sometimes Bourdieu seems tosuggest that thedominant habitus con-
sists of more thanthis - that it includes (or at least gives rise to) competence
inspecific social settings, including for instance:
The NetherlandsJournal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - no. 2- 2002
149
"... the practice of the games andsports of high society or the manners andtastes resulting
fromgood breeding ... " (Bourdieu, 1977a: 506)
Sowhat does Bourdieu meanby a"set of dispositions"? Hegives various def-
initions, including a "tendency", "propensity" or "inclination" (Bourdieu,
1977b, p. 214). Giventhevagueness of this, itis not surprising that theconcept
of habitus is condemned as"ambiguous andoverloaded" (Nash, 1990, p. 446).
Although the concept is too nebulous to be operationalised, ethnographic
researchers inthefield of education have oftenmade reference tohabitus (see
for example Reay, 1995; Reay et al., 2001; McLeod, 2000; Cooper andDunne,
1998; Delamont et at, 1997). Yetit is unclear what theconcept of habitus adds
tosuch work. An attempt has beenmade touse habitus inaquantitative study
of education (Dumais, 2002), butthisstudy simply denotes occupational expec-
tations, quite arbitrarily, as 'habitus'. So, the main use of habitus is togive a
veneer of theoretical sophistication toempirical findings.
2.2.2 Structure andAgency: theRoleof Habitus
Given the messiness of the concept of habitus, one might ask why Bourdieu
introduces it into his theory at all. The answer is that Bourdieu thinks that the
concept of habitus solves afundamental problem insociology - the conflict
between structure andagency.
Bourdieu attacks crudestructuralismonthegrounds that "certain structural-
ists" see"agents as thesimple 'supports' of structures investedwith themyste-
rious power of determining other structures." (Bourdieu, 1977a, p. 487)
However, Bourdieu also criticises methodological individualism. Certain
"atomistic" mobility researchers aresingled out for attack onthe grounds that
they do not recognise that social mobility can coexist with stable class struc-
tures. Bourdieu protects himself here by failing to name the researchers he is
referring to, and it would be hard to imagine a mobility researcher failing to
recognise this simple point.
According to Bourdieu, if we wish to avoid the dichotomy between indi-
vidualism andstructuralism:
"This means that our object becomes theproduction of thehabitus, that systemof dispositions
which acts as mediation between structures and practice; more specifically, it becomes nec-
essary tostudy the laws that determine thetendency of structures toreproduce themselves by
producing agents endowed with thesystem of predispositions which is capable of engender-
ing practices adapted to the structures and thereby contributing to the reproduction of the
structures." (Bourdieu, 1977a, p. 487)
150
Tire Netherlands' Journal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - flO. 2 - 2002
Bourdieu notes that working class students aremore likely todrop out of the
education systemthanmiddle andupper-class students, evenif we control for
previous achievement. He claims that this is amore important mechanism of
selection thanexamfailure.
"Thus, previous performances being equal, pupils of working-class origin are more likely to
eliminate themselves from secondary education by declining to enter it than to eliminate
themselves once they have entered, and afortiori more likely not to enter than to be elimi-
nated fromit by theexplicit sanction of examination failure." (Bourdieu andPasseron, 1990,
p. 153)
Bourdieu claims that this phenomenon canbeexplained interms of thework-
ing class habitus. The habitus is insome way formedby theobjective chances
of success sharedby theclass. Thehabitus inturndetermines theactions of the
members of theclass.
"... the negative predispositions towards the school which result inthe self-elimination of
most children fromthe most culturally unfavoured classes and sections of aclass ...must be
understood as ananticipation, based uponthe unconscious estimation of theobjective proba-
bilities of success possessed by the whole category, of the sanctions objectively reserved by
the school for those classes or sections of a class deprived of cultural capital." (Bourdieu,
1977a, p. 495)
The objections to this are obvious. Firstly, how can an estimation be uncon-
scious? If habitus isnot generatedby conscious individuals, wheredoes itcome
from? Secondly, evenif anindividual knows theobjective probabilities of suc-
cess possessed by the whole category, why do they not recognise that, by
changing their attitude tothe education system, the individual may escape the
fate of therest of their category?
Thirdly, Bourdieu seems tobearguing that people's behaviour is theresult
of accepting the "objective probabilities" of future success. However, as
J enkins points out, "Something which happens at time 'x' cannot beaccounted
for by the likely state of affairs - as predicted by statistics - at the time
'x+1'." (J enkins, 1992, p. 81). Expectations about the future must be based
upon thepresent. The actions based ontheseexpectations create social reality,
rather than"objective probabilities" creating expectations which leadtoaction.
Itmight bearguedthat itisuncharitable tointerpret Bourdieu asputting for-
wardanexplanation of current events interms of future events. But evenif we
interpret Bourdieu morekindly asarguing that lower-class pupils donotpursue
demanding educational options because they areaware of thecurrent tendency
of theclass as awhole not topursue such options, it must beadmitted that this
is afeeble explanation. If wewere happy toaccept explanations of thecharac-
The Netherlands'Toumal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - no. 2- 2002
151
teristics of individuals which simply refer us tothecharacteristics of thegroup
of which these individuals aremembers, without explaining these characteris-
tics, therewouldbelittleneedfor sociology.
In sum, the notion of habitus utterly fails inBourdieu's stated purpose of
avoiding both structuralist determinism and "atomism". It has been observed
that thenotionof habitus iscompletely deterministic, leaving noplacefor indi-
vidual agency or evenindividual consciousness (DiMaggio, 1979; King, 2000).
Yet Bourdieu denies the charge of determinism on the grounds that the same
habitus will produce different practices indifferent social fields, andthehabi-
tus can be changed by changed circumstances (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 116). The
speciousness of this argument canbeillustratedby thefact that thesamecharge
will produce different motion indifferent electric fields - which hardly shows
that electromagnetism has arolefor individual freedom.
2.3 Science and Language
Along with many writers on Bourdieu (Heath, 1982; Hammersley, 1981;
J enkins, 1992, 1989) I havecomplained that Bourdieu fails toexpress his the-
ory clearly. This failure is bound up with Bourdieu's rejection of what he
describes asa"... positivist conception of science ... " (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 19-
20). Of course, Bourdieu doesnot definewhat hemeans by positivism. Instead,
he uses the common ploy of denouncing all research that attempts to test
hypotheses empirically as positivist without actually saying what he thinks is
wrong with this typeof methodology. Therejection of theimportance of deriv-
ing hypotheses from a theory and attempting to test these hypotheses allows
Bourdieu tobeunapologetic intheuseof poorly defined concepts.
"Especially intheAnglo-Saxon tradition, peoplecriticise theresearcher for usingconcepts that
function as signposts pointing tophenomena that are worth examining but that often remain
obscure andvague, evenif they aresuggestive andevocative." (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 40)
Against suchAnglo-Saxon criticisms, Bourdieu asserts that, because thesocial
worldiscomplex, theories about itmust becomplicated, andmust beexpressed
incomplicated language.
"I think that, literary and stylistic qualities apart, what Spitzer says about Proust's style is
something I could say about my own writing. Hesays, firstly, that what is complex can only
besaidinacomplex way; secondly, that reality is not only complex, but also structured... if
youwant toholdtheworld inall its complexity andat thesame time order andarticulate it. .
. you have touseheavily articulated sentences that canbepractically reconstructed likeLatin
sentences... " (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 51-52)
152
The Netherlands' Journal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - no. 2 - 2002
Theabsurdity of this argument iseasily shown. Firstly, theaimof scienceisnot
to"holdtheworld inall its complexity", andthehistory of science tells us that
asimple theory will be preferred to amore complicated theory if the simpler
theory has equal or superior predictive power, e.g. Copernicus' defeat of
Ptolemaic astronomy. Furthermore, it simply is not truethat adifficult concept
or theory must beexpressed indifficult language.
The real purpose served by the obscurity of Bourdieu's prose is toprotect his
ownwork fromrefutation. Bourdieu's strategy indealing with criticism is to
claimthat his critics havenot understood his work, andtoimply that his critics
arejust jealous because they arenot as clever as him.
"... they criticise not my analyses, but analready simplified, if not maimed, representation
of my analyses. This isbecause they invariably apply tothemthevery modes of thought, and
especially distinctions, alternatives andoppositions, which my analyses areaimedat destroy-
ing andovercoming." (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 107)
Thepoint that thecritic may not agreethat Bourdieu has succeeded indestroy-
ingsuchoppositions isignoredby Bourdieu, whonever dealswith specific crit-
icisms inadirect way.
When acriticismis made of Bourdieu, theexplanation for this is always to
befoundintheinadequacies of thecritic. So, behind"positivist methodology"
lies an "epistemology of resentment" which allows its advocates to "prohibit
others from doing what they themselves are unable to do, so that they can
imposetheir ownlimits onothers." (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 35) "Positivism" issim-
ply" ... atradition often appealed to by the most mediocre of researchers in
order to'pare thelioncubs' claws', asPlatoput it- inother words, todispar-
age and reduce the creations and innovations of the scientific imagination."
(Bourdieu, 1990, p. 40)
So, although Bourdieu declares a "headlong, rather crazy commitment to
science" (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 26), hisrejectionof scientific values ismadeplain.
Furthermore, his impenetrable prosestyle shouldnot beseensimply as anirri-
tationfor thereader, but rather asbeing closely boundupwith this rejection of
scientific values, since clarity makes a theory amenable to testing, whereas
obscurity protects it fromfalsification.
3. Empirical Evidence on Cultural Capital
The theory of cultural reproduction has generated a great deal of empirical
work. Most of this work focuses onthe link between cultural capital andedu-
cational attainment. Theevidence ismixed, largely duetowidely varying oper-
ationalisations of cultural capital. Evidence on the link between educational
attainment andsocial reproduction andmobility will also be examined. There
The Netherlands'Journa! a/Social Scie1JCeS - Volume 38- 110. 2- 2002
153
hasbeenlessfocus onthispart of Bourdieu's theory, but such evidence asthere
is suggests that educational capital is asmuch avehicleof social mobility as of
social reproduction.
3.1 Bourdieu's Own Evidence
Bourdieu isadamant that hedoes notengageintheory for itsownsake, andthat
empirical work is central tohis enterprise.
"Let mesay outright andvery forcefully that I never 'theorise', if by that wemean engage in
the kind of conceptual gobblede-gook ... that is good for textbooks andwhich, through an
extraordinary misconstrual of the logic of science, passes for Theory in much of Anglo-
American social science ... There is nodoubt atheory inmy work, or, better, aset of think-
ing tools visible through the results they yield, but it is not built as such ... It is atemporary
construct which takes shape for andby empirical work." (Waquant, 1989, p. 50)
Unfortunately, the claimthat Bourdieu's theoretical framework is subordinate
to the needs of empirical research is not backed by the evidence he provides
regarding cultural reproduction.
For Bourdieu's theory tobebackedempirically, hewouldneedtoshowthat:
1. Parental cultural capital is inheritedby children.
2. Children's cultural capital is converted into educational credentials.
3. Educational credentials are a major mechanism of social reproduction in
advanced capitalist societies.
Of course, Bourdieu does not deny that privilege can be inherited through
means other thantheacquisitionof educational credentials. Inheritanceof prop-
erty, and occupational advantage gained through social networks are obvious
examples of this. So, Bourdieu's theory is not refuted by empirical evidence
that there is no absolute correspondence between credentials andoccupational
outcomes. However, itis crucial toBourdieu's theory that cultural capital actu-
ally does facilitate educational success, andthat educational success actually is
associated with occupational advantage, even if this is only ameans of legiti-
mating class inequalities.
Bourdieu claims that (1) and(2) areshown:
"... by the fact that, among thepupils of the grandes ecoles, avery pronounced correlation
may beobserved between academic success andthefamily's cultural capital measured by the
academic level of theforbears over twogenerations onbothsides of thefamily... " (Bourdieu,
1977a, p. 497)
Bourdieu isnot entitledtoassumethat ahighparental level of educationreveals
a high level of parental cultural capital. As pointed out by De Graaf (1986),
Bourdieu's useof parental educational credentials asameasure of cultural cap-
154
The Netherlands' Journal a/Social Sciences - Volume 38- no. 2- 2002
ital begs thequestion of whether educational credentials simply constitute" ...
embodied cultural capital that has received school sanctioning" (Bourdieu and
Boltanski, 1981, p. 145). In addition, the use of bivariate analyses is crude.
Clearly, asimple associationbetween twovariables is not convincing evidence
of acausal relationship. Bourdieu fails toshow that parental cultural capital is
inheritedby thechildren, andthat thisis themechanismthrough which higher-
class pupils tend to attain higher educational credentials than lower-class
pupils. His evidence is quiteconsistent with educational privilege beingpassed
downthrough mechanisms other thancultural capital, such asparental encour-
agement andmaterial resources.
Bourdieu also presents evidence that both social class and educational
attainment arestrongly associated with participation incultural activities such
as book reading and buying, and cinema, theatre, concert and museum atten-
dance (Bourdieu and Boltanski, 1981, p. 490-492). However, on their own,
these figures do not really back up Bourdieu's theory. They do not constitute
evidence that participation in cultural activities is the mechanism by which
middle class parents ensure goodqualifications for their children.
Insum, Bourdieu assumes much of what hesets out toprove. It is circular
totreat educational level asaproxy for cultural capital if oneis trying toassess
whether cultural capital does in fact help to determine the educational levels
reached by individuals.
3.2 Other Research on Cultural Reproduction
Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital is not clearly defined, andit is not partic-
ularly surprising that it has beenoperationalised invarious different ways. And
giventhat researchers haveoperationalisedtheconcept of cultural capital indif-
ferent ways, it is not surprising that empirical studies of the effect of cultural
capital on educational attainment have varied in their conclusions. Since
Bourdieu's definition of cultural capital is not precise, it is not clear what an
'authentic' operationalisation wouldconsist of, andmany studies appear totake
theconvenient routeof defining cultural capital interms of thosemeasures that
arereadily available insome dataset. However, Bourdieu does explicitly state
theimportance of linguistic competence. Cultural 'competence' and 'familiari-
ty' canreasonably beinterpreted asknowledge of andparticipation inthedom-
inant culture. Despite this, most investigations of cultural capital have not
includeddataonlinguistic ability or cultural knowledge. Dataoncultural activ-
itiesother thanreading hasoftentendedtowards highly exclusiveactivities such
asgallery attendance, which areforeigntoalargeproportionevenof themiddle
andupper-classes. Sincedoubt hasbeencast ontheimportance of suchforms of
participation inhigh culture as abasis for social andcultural exclusion, at least
outsidetheFrench context (Lamont andLareau, 1988; Lamont, 1992), anexclu-
sivereliance onsuch items seems misguided. Commonly, theproxy of parental
The NetherlandsJournal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 no. 2- 2002
155
educationisusedinsteadof dataonparental cultural capital, althoughthisproxy
clearly begs thequestionof whether occupational status andeducational attain-
ment actually do reflect the possession of cultural capital. In general, surveys
include dataoneither pupils' or parents' cultural participation, but not both.
It has been arguedthat Bourdieu's ownoperationalisation of theconcept of
cultural capital is quite inadequate. Yet Bourdieu is not the only author touse
parental education as aproxy for cultural capital. Authors who use this proxy
includeHalsey et al. (1980), Robinson andGamier (1985), J onsson(1987) and
Egerton(1997). Halsey et al. (1980) usetheOxfordMobility Study, asurvey of
10,000adult males inEnglandandWales. Their measureof cultural capital is a
combined measure of the level of qualifications attained by the respondent's
father andthetypeof school attendedby therespondent's brother, andthey find
(using path analysis) that this measure is associated with the type of school
attended by respondents, but has no further effects oneducational outcomes.
J onsson (1987) uses Swedish survey data based on a random sample of the
adult population, collected in1968, 1974, and1981. Parents' education is used
as aproxy for cultural capital. J onsson assesses thehypothesis that theimpor-
tanceof cultural resources indetermining educational outcomes isincreasing as
compared tomaterial resources, andfinds that, infact, the relative importance
of parental occupational classandeducational status remained stableduringthe
course of the 20th century, andthat parents' educational andoccupational sta-
tus affect students' educational attainment to a similar degree. Robinson and
Gamier (1985) examine therole of education inclass reproduction inFrance,
(using logistic regression) and find that fathers' education is more important
thanfathers' social class indetermining children's educational attainment, but
that the role of education inclass reproduction has beenexaggerated. Egerton
(1997), using the National ChildDevelopment Study (NCDS) finds that man-
agerial class parents arelesshighly educatedthanprofessional parents, andthis
leads to relatively low levels of educational attainment (defined in terms of
chances of gainingA level, intermediate, anddegreelevel qualifications) for the
children of managers, especially if they aregirls, but also stresses the role of
material resources, as doSavage andEgerton (1997).
Other studies have attemptedtomeasure cultural capital directly, but some-
times in asomewhat narrow or arbitrary way. For example, some studies use
individual items, or items onone activity only, as measures of cultural capital.
LambusesAustralian datacollectedin1983on358Melbourne students inyear
10(age 15). Cultural capital is operationalised as attendance at art exhibitions
during thepast year, and, inthecaseof nonattendance, expresseddesiretohave
attended. The effect of cultural capital on educational aspirations is analysed
using step-wise multiple regression, controlling for social origin and type of
school attended. Cultural capital is found to have astrong impact onplans to
attendcollegefor boys, but aweaker impact for girls. Graetz (1988) uses asam-
156
The Netherlands' Journal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - no. 2 - 2002
pleof 2,197Australian adults, surveyedin1984-5. A measure of thenumber of
books inthehomewhentherespondent was aged14isusedasaproxy for cul-
tural capital, and Graetz finds a consistent impact on the number of years of
schooling completed by respondents, controlling for parental education and
family wealth. Katsillis andRubinson (1990) use items exclusively measuring
participation in formal culture. The measure of cultural capital used is com-
posed of items on the self-reported level of attendance at museums and gal-
leries, thetheatre, andlectures, of 395seniors fromGreek public high schools
in 1984. Nolink is found between this measure of cultural capital andeduca-
tional participation.
Attendance at cultural classes is another somewhat narrow measure of cul-
tural capital. Aschaffenburg andMaas (1997) useasurvey of public participa-
tioninthearts intheUS administered in1982, 1985, and1992, with asample
sizeof 12,984. Themeasure of cultural capital is basedonsurvey items asking
adult respondents about their attendance at cultural classes (Le. classes in the
arts) throughout their youth. The authors acknowledge that this measure is
problematic, sinceachild's participation incultural classes may reflect parental
investment inchildren's educational futures ingeneral, rather thancultural cap-
ital per se. Respondents alsoprovidedinformation ontheir parents' cultural par-
ticipation during therespondents' youth; listening to classical music or opera,
taking therespondent toart museums or galleries, taking therespondent toper-
formances of classical music, dance, or plays, andencouraging therespondent
toreadbooks (alpha = 0.72). Both parents' andrespondents' cultural capital is
foundtobesignificantly associatedwith educational transitions across thestu-
dents' educational careers. A problemwith this study is thelack of controls for
either parental occupation or income. Roscigno andAinsworth-Darnell (1999)
alsooperationalise cultural capital as attendance at cultural classes (art, music,
dance), plus museum trips (alpha = 0.6). Using the US National Educational
Longitudinal Survey (1988 and 1990, n = 16,189), they find (using linear
regression, and controlling for SES andfamily structure) that cultural classes
and museum trips have a significant positive effect on students' grade point
averages andmaths test scores, andtheeffect ongrades does not vary by race.
Which cultural attributes should be seen as constituting capital cannot be
determined without empirical investigation, since the term cultural capital
implies ananalogy with economic capital, andtherefore, areturn. The return
on cultural capital takes the form of educational credentials and, ultimately,
occupational success. Therefore, it is necessary to examine which elements
actually yield returns in the sense of contributing to educational success.
DiMaggio was thefirst researcher touseabroadrangeof potential measures of
cultural capital inorder to explore the concept empirically. DiMaggio (1982)
uses theUS 'Project Talent' database, basedoninterviews with 1906white 11th
grade students carried out in 1960, and afollow-up in 1971. A wide range of
The Netherlands' Journal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - no. 2- 2002
157
items onstudents' attitudes toculture andparticipation inculturewereused. In
addition, tests were administered tapping students' familiarity with literature,
music and art. Factor analysis distinguished three separate scales, the third of
which is designated as 'cultural capital', and includes cultivated self-image
(based on 10self-evaluation items such as 'I enjoy beautiful things') , interest
insymphony concerts, andparticipation incultural activities (drawing, acting,
attending concerts, reading literature). A vocabulary test score is used as a
proxy for ability, andDiMaggio excludes cultural information fromthe analy-
sis (linear regression) because of its high collinearity with this measure. (This
is unfortunate, since itprevents any examination of thequestionof whether the
effect of cultural participation oneducational attainment ismediatedby knowl-
edge). Cultural interests arefoundtohavenosignificant effect onself-reported
grades (controlling for 'ability' andfather's education) but cultural capital has
asignificant positive effect ongrades, especially innon-technical subjects. In
the case of women, thereturns tocultural capital were greatest for individuals
fromhigh-status families, but for men, the returns were greatest tothose from
lower andmiddle status households.
DiMaggio and Mohr (1985) find the effect of cultural capital measured in
this way extends to attenance at college and graduate school, and to marital
selection. In Mohr andDiMaggio (1996), the same dataset is used, but Mohr
andDiMaggio extendtheir interest toparental cultural capital, measuredusing
ascale composed of items oncultural resources inthe homewhen therespon-
dent was growing up(books, musical instruments, hifi/stereo, classical records,
art equipment, photo-developing equipment) andparents reading certain mag-
azines. Mohr and DiMaggio find that social class is only weakly associated
with cultural capital, while household cultural resources are more strongly
linkedtorespondents' cultural capital. Theprocess of cultural transmissionwas
found to be strongly gendered, with direct effects of fathers' occupation only
for sons, anddirect effects of mothers' education only for daughters.
If participation incultural activities does leadtoacademic success, onemay
ask why this shouldbe. Ganzeboom(1982) contrasts Bourdieu's viewthat par-
ticipation in high-culture is anassertion of elite status with the 'information-
processing' view, according towhich thetypeof cultural participation engaged
inby different groups is explained by theinformation-processing capacities of
individuals inthosegroups. A potential explanation of the associationbetween
cultural participation and academic success, which is linked to the 'informa-
tion-processing' view, is that participation in cultural activities leads to the
development of knowledge or skills, which inturnenable pupils tosucceed at
school. For instance, onemight expect reading novels tocontribute toboth lin-
guistic competence andcultural knowledge, andtotherefore beassociatedwith
school success. Some studies have refined the cultural reproduction approach
by breaking 'cultural capital' downintoits constituent parts, inorder toexam-
158
The Netherlands'Joumal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - "0.2 - 2002
ine the mechanisms through which it operates. Public cultural participation
(e.g. theatrevisits) tends tobeseenas 'status-seeking', whilereading is seenas
developing and/or reflecting cognitive skill.
DeGraaf (1988) uses datacollectedfromtheparents andteachers of 1,031
pupils who had entered secondary school in 1967 in the Federal Republic of
Germany. The measure of cultural capital used is composed of responses on
parents' 'interests' (inpolitics, philosophy, other cultures, reading prestigious
magazines) and 'reading behaviour' (number of books inthehome, number of
books readlast year, interest inbooks). Controlling for cognitive skills, asmea-
sured by teacher-reported elementary school grades, reading climate had a
direct effect onthechances of entering agymnasium (themost prestigious form
of secondary schooling) but parental interests do not. In addition, De Graaf
(1986) estimates linear structural models in which educational attainment is
predicted by social background andby indicators of parents' financial andcul-
tural resources, using the 1977Dutch 'Quality of Life Survey'. Twomeasures
of parents' cultural resources wereused, 1. Reading (number of hours per week
spent reading andlibrary visits per month), 2. Cultural Participation (visits per
month to museums, galleries, theatres, concerts, historical buildings). Factor
analysis supported the view that reading and cultural participation should be
seenasseparatefactors. DeGraaf finds that parents' participation informal cul-
ture has no impact on children's educational attainment, but parents' reading
behaviour has some effect. Twocohorts areused(younger cohort n=317 fami-
lies, older cohort n=221families) toexamine changes intherelativeimportance
of cultural andfinancial resources indetermining educational attainment over
time, andit is found that the influence of financial resources has disappeared
since 1950, andthe influence of cultural resources has also declined, although
parental occupation andeducation retaintheir importance.
Crook (1997) breaks cultural capital into twoparts, reading andbeaux arts
participation. Beaux arts participation refers toparticipation informal cultural
activities outside the home, such as gallery, theatre and concert attendance.
Crook uses the 1993Australian National Social ScienceSurvey, arandomsam-
pleof adultAustralians (n= 2,760). Respondents provided information onboth
their own cultural practices as adolescents andas adults, andontheir parents'
cultural practices. Factor analysis supports theseparationof cultural capital into
beaux arts andreading dimensions. Beaux artsitems recorded thefrequency of
attendance at ballet, opera, classical concerts, museums, theatre, andof classi-
cal music listening at home, (alpha for this scale ranges from 0.69 - 0.75).
Reading items record the frequency of reading serious books and practical
books, library visits, andalso thetotal number of books owned, (alpha ranges
from 0.57 - 0.75). Crook controls for parental education, fathers' occupation
and material resources in his analyses, and finds that parents' and children's
cultural capital areassociated, but thereisnorigidtransmission of cultural cap-
The Netttertands'Foumal of Social Sciences - Volume 38- no. 2- 2002
159
ital from parent to child. Educational outcomes (respondent-reported school
grades andyears of education) aremodelledusing linear regression. A substan-
tial effect of childhood reading is found. A small but significant parental beaux
arts effect is found, but respondents' ownbeaux artsparticipation isnot signif-
icant. Crook also examines occupational outcomes, andfinds that the occupa-
tional returns to cultural participation areindirect, being entirely mediated by
educational attainment.
De Graaf et al. (2000) also divide cultural participation into reading and
beaux arts. They usetheNetherlands Family Survey 1992-1993, arandomsam-
ple of adults (n=1,653). Respondents were asked about their parents' cultural
participation when they themselves were aged 15, but not their own cultural
participation. Beaux arts participation reflects thefrequency of parental atten-
dance at art museums, historical museums, opera or ballet, classical concerts
andthetheatre(alpha = 0.80). Reading behaviour reflects whether parents read
regional or historical novels, thrillers, science fiction or war novels, Dutch lit-
erature, translated literature, andliteratureinaforeignlanguage (alpha = 0.73).
Theeffect of cultural capital oneducational attainment ismodelledusing linear
regression, and controlling for parental educational attainment, father's occu-
pational status, parental financial resources, family structure, andbirth cohort.
Theeffect of parental reading onrespondents' educational attainment is signif-
icant, though smaller thantheeffect of financial resources. Parental beaux arts
participation has nosignificant effect.
Both Crook (1997) andDeGraaf et al. (2000) findthat reading is strongly
associated with academic success whereas beaux arts participation is not, and
infer fromthisthat theeffect of cultural capital oneducational attainment isdue
to the 'educative resources' such as analytic and cognitive skills which are
developed by reading, rather thantothecommunication of status viaparticipa-
tion in formal culture. However, this inference may be questioned, since one
couldarguethat participation inbeaux arts may contribute tothedevelopment
of skills andknowledge, or that students' reading is as likely tocommunicate
status, andprejudice teachers intheir favour as is participation inother cultur-
al activities.
Sullivan (2001, 2000), inastudy of 465 English year 11(age 16) students,
breaks cultural participation down into four categories; reading (type and
amount of books read, library use, newspapers read), TV viewing (watching
relatively 'highbrow' programmes), music (listening toclassical or jazz, play-
ing aninstrument), and 'public' cultural participation (art gallery, theatre, and
concert attendence). Tests of cultural knowledge and vocabulary were also
administered, inorder toallowthe'development of skills' hypothesis tobetest-
ed. Respondents were also surveyed ontheir parents' cultural participation, (a
measure composed of: readingbehaviour, number of books inthehome, news-
papers taken, music and radio stations listened to, subjects discussed in the
160
Tile Netherlands' Journal of Social Sciences - Volume 38- no. 2- 2002
home, andart gallery, theatre andconcert attendence). Linear regression analy-
sis shows nosignificant associationbetween themusic andpublic cultural par-
ticipation measures and examination grades subsequently achieved, whereas
reading andTV watching habits are significantly associated with grades (con-
trolling for parents' education andsocial class). Furthermore, students' vocab-
ulary andcultural knowledge scores fully mediate theeffect of cultural partici-
pation on exam grades, supporting the 'development of skills' hypothesis.
Sullivan argues that the important distinction is not that between 'public' and
'private' cultural participation, but that between verbal or literary forms which
use words to transmit content (including cultural information) and visual or
musical forms whicharenot basedonwords or thetransmission of information,
andaretherefore lesslikely todevelop theskillswhich arerewardedwithinthe
school.
Of course, the direction of causality between cultural knowledge andpar-
ticipation may be queried. Ganzeboom(1982) interprets his finding of ahigh
level of association between cultural knowledge and cultural participation as
evidence for theview that high levels of knowledge andskill allow people to
understand and enjoy cultural stimuli, therefore making cultural participation
more likely. It seems plausible that both these mechanisms operate - cultural
participation develops cultural knowledge and skill, which in turn allows
greater cultural appreciation, making further cultural participation more likely.
An alternative mechanism of cultural reproduction is found inthe sugges-
tion that the culture of the school reflects the dominant culture. This could
occur if teachers areprejudiced infavour of pupils whodisplay' cultured' traits,
andtherefore give themhigher grades. Farkas et al. (1990) findthat thecourse
grades awarded by teachers are not entirely determined by course-work mas-
tery, but are also affected by students' skills, presentational styles, and work
habits (though nodiscrimination by raceor SES isfound). Thisviewisperhaps
most relevant in the US, where grades awarded by teachers are animportant
outcome of schooling, whereas inmost European nations the key outcome of
schooling istheresults gainedinnational examinations. Alternatively, thedom-
inant culture couldbeingrained inthecurriculum. However, it has beenpoint-
edoutthat, although thismay betrueof France, thereislittleemphasis onhigh-
brow culture inschools incountries such as Britain, the Netherlands, andthe
US (DeGraaf et aI., 2000). A relatedpossibility is that childrenwithout cultur-
al capital may experience school as aculturally hostile environment. This may
be less to do with high-culture thanwith styles of interaction with the school
(Lareau andHorvat, 1999) andthestyles andrhythms of daily lifefor children
of different social classes (Lareau, 2000).
Inaddition, it is unclear whether cultural capital is a mechanism of social
reproduction or of social mobility. Thosestudies that measureboth parents' and
children's cultural participation find astrong association between the two, net
The NetherlandsJournal a/Social Sciences - Volume 38- no. 2- 2002 161
of other background factors (Ganzeboom, 1982; Crook, 1997; Sullivan, 2001),
suggesting that cultural capital istransmittedwithinthehome, althoughthesta-
tistical relationship isnot asrigidasBourdieu's theory wouldsuggest. Thelink
between social class and cultural participation is not so strong, although the
professional classes have particularly high levels of cultural participation
(Ganzeboom, 1989). Bourdieu suggests that lower-class individuals who
attempt to appropriate high culture should not reap the full benefit. On the
whole, the evidence does not support this view. DiMaggio (1982) finds that,
among males, educational returns to cultural capital are restricted to students
fromlower andmiddle class homes, whereas among women, returns tocultur-
al capital aregreatest tothosefromhighstatus families. DeGraaf et al. (2000)
findthat educational returns tocultural participation arehighest tothechildren
of parents withlowlevelsof education. KalmijnandKraaykamp (1996) present
cultural capital asaroutetosocial mobility for disadvantaged ethnic groups, as
the authors findthat the faster increase incultural capital among blacks com-
pared to whites has contributed to the convergence ineducational attainment
(measured as years of education).
A further problemfor thetheory of cultural reproduction is the incomplete
relationship between educational attainment and occupational outcomes. It is
well established that social class of originhas animpact onindividuals' occu-
pational destinations net of educational attainment (Marshall et al., 1997).
Savage andEgerton (1997) suggest that thestrong social class effect onoccu-
pational outcomes which remains controlling for measured ability is evidence
of theimportance of material, rather thanjust cultural, resources. Robinson and
Gamier (1985) suggest that theroleof educationinclass reproduction inFrance
has beenexaggerated, andother mechanisms of class transmission, such as the
inheritance of property, underestimated. Infact, Robinson andGamier (1985)
statethat educational credentials provide ameans of social mobility rather than
social reproduction. So perhaps the school is aprogressive rather than acon-
servative force after all.
Bourdieu suggests that the importance of cultural resources has increased
over time, asfinancial barriers toeducational participation havebeenremoved.
However, thosestudies which haveexamined this hypothesis havenot support-
edit (De Graaf, 1986; J onsson, 1987; Halsey et aI., 1980).
Insum, variedoperationalisations of theconcept of cultural capital haveled
to varied results in the empirical work in this field. The majority of studies
show that cultural participation is associated with educational attainment, but
that a substantial social class effect remains unexplained by 'cultural capital'
however it is measured. Those researchers that have broken down the concept
of cultural capital inorder toassess which cultural activities areassociatedwith
educational success have supported the view that participation in formal or
'beaux arts' culture is irrelevant to educational success, whereas reading is a
162
The Netherlands' Journal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 - no. 2 - 2002
significant factor. This has been seen as evidence that an explanation of the
effect of cultural capital interms of skills aquiredby students is moreplausible
thananexplanation interms of prejudice fromteachers. It shouldbenotedthat
thereis nothing newinthemost plausible element of Bourdieu's theory - the
observation that themiddle or upper-class childoftenenjoys cultural aswell as
economic advantages. This insight neednot gohandinhandwith anacceptance
of 'cultural reproduction' theory as such. Writing well before Bourdieu, Floud
et al. (1956) divide theresources associatedwith the home into 'material' and
'cultural' categories. Their measure of cultural resources includes parents'
knowledge of theselection procedures of thegrammar schools, parents' visits
tothechild's school, parents' aspirations andpreferences for thechild's educa-
tion, newspapers andmagazines readandlibrary membership. Although much
of thework cited here suggests that cultural resources matter, it does not nec-
essarily support Bourdieu's theory of cultural reproduction as awhole.
4. Conclusions
Bourdieu's project is extremely ambitious, and I have argued that many ele-
ments of Bourdieu's theoretical work are empirically unhelpful. For example,
habitus is aconcept with someintuitiveplausibility, but isatoncetooall-inclu-
siveandtoovacuous tobeof anyusetoempirical researchers. Bourdieu's claim
that thenotionof habitus solves theconflict betweenstructure anddeterminism
ontheonehandandagency andindividualismontheother is quiteunjustified.
Infact Bourdieu's theory has noplacenot only for individual agency, but even
for individual consciousness.
The part of Bourdieu's theory which has been most influential, and most
fruitful for empirical researchers is theconcept of cultural capital. However, it
must beacknowledged that thisconcept isnot clearly defined. Therelatedcon-
cept of the cultural arbitrary is also limited by vagueness. Bourdieu has some
valuable insights intoarbitrary practices inhigher education. However, hedoes
not distinguish clearly enough between standards which are prejudicial to
lower-class pupils andstudents because they arearbitrary, andstandards which
areprejudicial tolower-class pupils andstudents because they donot have the
resources tomeet those standards.
Ingeneral, research has foundthat cultural capital (definedinvarious ways)
has some impact on educational attainment, but does not explain all or even
most of the social class effect. Interms of labour market outcomes, although
educational credentials areanimportant mechanismfor theallocation of occu-
pational positions, thedirect effects of social class shouldnot beunderestimat-
ed. Furthermore, it is not clear to what extent educational credentials are a
mechanism of social reproduction or of social mobility. Some of theempirical
findings oncultural capital seemtocontradict one another. This may bepartly
The Netherlands'Toumal of Social Sciences - Volume 38~two 2- 2002
163
due tothefact that thesestudies were carriedout at different times indifferent
countries. It may be that cultural capital is more important insome countries
than in others, or operates differently indifferent countries at different times.
For example Lamont andLareau(1988) andLamont (1992) arguethat cultural
participation isnot asclass-differentiated intheUS asinFrance, andcast doubt
ontheimportance of participation inhigh culture as abasis for social andcul-
tural exclusion inthe US. However, the main reason for the variable findings
presented hereis thedifferent methodologies usedineach study, andinpartic-
ular, the array of different operationalisations of cultural capital that areused.
Giventhat someelements of cultural participation appear tobeassociatedwith
educational success while others are not, the most fruitful approach for
researchers appears tobethat of examining cultural factors indetail, aspart of
thebroader project of explaining class differentials ineducational attainment.
ABSTRACT
Bourdieu and Education: How Useful isBourdieu's Theory for
Researchers?
AliceSullivan
Bourdieu's theory of cultural reproductionhasbeenhighly influential withinthe
sociology of education. This paper will provide a critical introduction to
Bourdieu's theory regarding thecultural reproductionof educational advantage,
andanoverview of the empirical literature oncultural reproduction. It will be
arguedthat the 'grand theory' of cultural reproductionisunhelpful. Ontheother
hand, the concept of cultural capital, though ill-defined, has proved useful for
empirical researchers.
REFERENCES
Aschaffenburg, K. andMaas, I. (1997). 'Cultural andEducational Careers: The dynamics of social
reproduction'. American Sociological Review, 62, pp. 573-587.
Bourdieu, P.(1967). 'Systems of Education andSystems of Thought'. International Social Science
Journal, vo!. 19, no. 3, pp. 367-388.
Bourdieu, P. (1974). 'The School as aConservative Force: Scholastic andCultural Inequalities'. In
Eggleston, L, ed, Contemporary Research in the Sociology of Education, pp. 32-46. Methuen,
London.
Bourdieu, P.(1977a). 'Cultural Reproduction andSocial Reproduction'. InKarabel, 1. andHalsey,
A. H., eds, Power and Ideology in Education. OUP, Oxford.
Bourdieu, P.(1977b). Outline of a Theory of Practice. CUP, Cambridge.
Bourdieu, P.(1989). Language and Symbolic Power. Polity Press, Cambridge.
164
The Netherlands' Journal of Social Sciences - Volume 38 no. 2- 2002
Bourdieu, P.(1990). In Other Word5.Polity Press, Cambridge.
Bourdieu, P. andBoltanski, L. (1981). 'The Education SystemandtheEconomy: Titles andJ obs'.
InLemert, C., ed, Rupture and Renewal Since 1968. CUP, NewYork.
Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J .-c. (1990). Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. Sage,
London, secondedition.
Bourdieu, P.andSaint-Martin, M. (1974). 'Scholastic Excellence andtheValuesof theEducational
System". InEggleston, J ., ed, Contemporary Research in the Sociology of Education. Methuen,
London.
Cooper, B. and Dunne, M. (1998). 'Anyone for Tennis? Social class differ-ences in children's
responses tonational curriculummathematics testing'. Sociological Review, vol. 46, no. 1, pp.
115-148.
Crook, C. J . (1997). Cultural Practices and Socioeconomic Attainment: The Australian Experience.
Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut.
DeGraaf, N. D., DeGraaf, P.,andKraaykamp, G. (2000). 'Parental Cultural Capital andEducational
Attainment intheNetherlands: A Refinement of theCultural Capital Perspective'. Sociology of
Education, vol. 73, pp. 92-111.
DeGraaf, P.(1986). 'The Impact of Financial andCultural Resources onEducational Attainment in
theNetherlands'. Sociology of Education, vol. 5, no. 9, pp. 237-246.
DeGraaf, P.(1988). 'Parents' Financial andCultural Resources, Grades andTransitiontoSecondary
School intheFederal Republic of Germany". European Sociological Review, vol. 4, no. 3, pp.
409-421.
Delamont, S., Parry, 0., andAtkinson, P.(1997). 'Critical mass andpedagogic continuity: studies in
academic habitus'. British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 533-549.
DiMaggio, P.(1979). 'Review Essay: OnPierreBourdieu'. American Journal of Sociology, vol. 84,
no. 6, pp. 1460-74.
DiMaggio, P.(1982). 'Cultural Capital andSchool Success'. American Sociological Review, vol. 47,
pp. 189-201.
DiMaggio, P.andMohr, J . (1985). 'Cultural Capital, EducationAttainment andMartial Selection'.
American Journal of Sociology, vol. 90, no. 6, pp. 1231-1261.
Dumais, S. (2002). 'Cultural Capital, Gender andSchool Success: The Roleof Habitus'. Sociology
of Education, vol. 75, pp. 44-68.
Egerton, M. (1997). 'Occupational Inheritance: The Role of Cultural Capital and Gender'. Work,
Employment and Society, vol. 11,no. 2, pp. 263-282.
Farkas, G., Grobe, R. P., Sheehan, D., and Shuan, Y. (1990). 'Cultural Resources and School
Success: Gender, Ethnicity and Poverty Groups within an Urban School District'. American
Sociological Review, vol. 55, pp. 127-42.
Floud, J ., Halsey, A., andMartin, F. (1956). Social class and educational opportunity. Heinemann,
London.
Ganzeboom, H. (1982). 'Explaining Differential Participation in High-Cultural Activities - A
Confrontation of Information-Processing and Status-Seeking Theories'. In Raub, W., ed,
Theoretical Models and Empirical Analyses: Contributions to the Explanation of Individual
Actions and Collective Phenomena, pp. 186-205. E.S. Publications, Utrecht.
Ganzeboom, H. (1989). 'International Comparison of Culture Consumption Data: An Elementary
Model'. In Waits, R., Hendon, W., and Davidson-Schuster, J ., eds, Cultural Economics: A
European Perspective. Association for Cultural Economics.
Graetz, B. (1988). 'The Reproduction of Privilege inAustralian Education'. British Journal of
Sociology,vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 385-76.
Halsey, A. H., Heath, A., andRidge, J . (1980). Origins and Destinations. OxfordUniversity Press,
Oxford.
Hammersley, M. (1981). 'Review Symposium on"Origins and Destinations'''. British Journal of
Sociology of Education, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 91-95.
The Netherlands'Journal of Social Sciences - ~'iJ[ume38 - no. 2- 2002
165
Heath, A. (1982). 'Cultural capital andpolitical arithmetic: aresponse tothereviewsymposiumon
Origins andDestinations'. British Journal of Sociology of Education, vo!. 3, no. 1, pp. 88.
J enkins, R. (1989). 'Language, Symbolic Power and Communication: Bourdieu's Homo
Academicus'. Sociology, vo!. 23, no. 4, pp. 639-645.
J enkins, R. (1992). Pierre Bourdieu. Routledge, London.
J onsson, J . O. (1987). 'Class Origin, Cultural Origin and Educational Attainment'. European
Sociological Review, vo!. 3, no. 3, pp. 229-242.
Kalmijn, M. and Kraaykamp, G. (1996). 'Race, Cultural Capital and Schooling: An Analysis of
Trends intheUnitedStates'. Sociology of Education, vo!. 69, pp. 22-34.
Katsillis, J . and Rubinson, R. (1990). 'Cultural Capital, Student Achievement and Educational
Reproduction: The Caseof Greece' .American Sociological Review, vo!. 55, no. 2, pp. 270-279.
King, A. (2000). 'Thinking withBourdieuAgainst Bourdieu: A 'Practical' Critiqueof theHabitus'.
Sociological Theory, vo!. 18, no. 3, pp. 417-433.
Lamont, M. (1992). Money, Morals and Manners: The culture of the French and American upper-
middle class. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Lamont, M. andLareau, A. (1988). 'Cultural Capital: allusions, gaps andglissandos inrecent theo-
retical developments'. Sociological Theory, vo!. 6, no. 2, pp. 153-168.
Lareau, A. (2000). 'Social class and the daily lives of children: A study fromthe United States'.
Childhood, vo!. 7, no. 7, pp. 155-171.
Lareau, A. andHorvat, E. (1999). 'Moments of social inclusionandexclusion: Race, class andcul-
tural-capital infamily-school relationships'. Sociology of Education, vo!. 72, no. 1, pp. 37-53.
Marshall, G., Swift, A., andRoberts, A. (1997). Against the Odds? Social Class and Social Justice
in Industrial Societies. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
McLeod, 1. (2000). 'Subjectivity and Schooling ina Longitudinal Study of Secondary Students'.
British Journal of Sociology of Education, vo!. 21, no. 4, pp. 501-521.
Mohr, J . and DiMaggio, P. (1996). 'The Intergenerational Transmission of Cultural Capital'. In
Wallace, M., ed, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, volume 14, pp. 167-199. J A!
Press, Greenwich.
Nash, R. (1990). 'Bourdieu onEducationandSocial andCultural Reproduction'. British Journal of
Sociology of Education, vo!. 11, no. 4, pp. 431-447.
Reay, D. (1995). "'They Employ Cleaners to doThat": habitus intheprimary classroom'. British
Journal of Sociology of Education, vo!. 16, no. 3, pp. 353-371.
Reay, D., David, M., andBall, S. (2001). 'Making aDifference? Institutional Habituses andHigher
Education Choice'. Sociological Research Online, vo!. 5, no. 4, pp. 126-142.
Robinson, R. and Gamier, M. (1985). 'Class Reproduction Among Men and Womenin France'.
American Journal of Sociology, vo!. 91, no. 2, pp. 250-258.
Roscigno, V. andAinsworth-Damell, J . (1999). 'Race, Cultural Capital andEducational Reources:
Persistent Inequalities andAchievement Returns'. Sociology of Education, vo!. 72, pp. 158-178.
Savage, M. andEgerton, M. (1997). 'Social Mobility, Individual Ability andtheInheritanceof Class
Inequality'. Sociology, vo!. 31, no. 4, pp. 645-672.
Shavit, Y. and Biossfeld, H.-P. (1993). Persistent Inequality: changing educational attainment in
thirteen countries. Social inequality series. Westview, Boulder, Colorado.
Sullivan, A. (2000). Cultural Capital; Rational Choice and Educational Inequalities. PhD thesis,
Oxford University.
Sullivan, A. (2001). 'Cultural Capital andEducational Attainment'. Sociology, vo!. 34, no. 4, pp.
893-912.
Waquant, L. (1989). 'Towards a Reflexive Sociology: A Workshop with Pierre Bourdieu'.
Sociological Theory, vo!. 7, pp. 26-63.
Willis, P.(1983). 'Cultural ProductionandTheories of Reproduction'. InBarton, L. andWalker, S.,
eds, Race, Class and Education. CroomHelm, London.
166
Tire Netherlands 'Journal of Social Sciences \'hlume 38 - 110. 2 - 2002