Cultural capital

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Cultural capital is a term introduced by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu . Bourdieu uses the term educational capital for the partial form of incorporated cultural capital. By coining these terms, Bourdieu conveys the insight that material property ( economic capital ) can be converted into money (converted), but is not the only criterion for social inequality .

Bourdieu tied the division of society into classes to the different dispositions of the four types of capital - economic capital, cultural capital, social capital and symbolic capital - as well as to differences in taste and lifestyle .


The French word “culture” has retained the original meaning of education. Thus Bourdieu can "grasp the chances of validity granted by this as cultural capital".

The cultural capital thus includes education, which brings benefits in the network of social relationships . This segment of cultural capital is bound to the body and is passed on to the children in families, which have different amounts of cultural capital. In addition, there is the transfer and possession of cultural goods and the exercise of power through the acquisition of titles and positions .

Cultural capital is conditionally transformable or convertible into economic capital, for example spending money on a course or a salary increase after successful further training. The forms of capital can also be transformed when it is passed on, for example if parents invest a lot of money in the education of their children.

In determining cultural capital, like the other types of capital, Bourdieu ties in with Max Weber's distinction between “class position” (economically defined according to “market opportunities”) and “class position” (the “position” in the hierarchy of honor and prestige ). Weber describes as “estate situation” “every typical component of life's fate, which is conditioned by a specific, positive or negative, social assessment of honor that is linked to some common characteristic.” (Max Weber: Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft ). This class honor is shown in the respective "conduct of life" that allows or sanctions certain actions.

In addition to the economic differences, symbolic distinctions also play a role here, which are not only about the possession of goods, but about the way in which they are used and used as a means of distinction .

Bourdieu distinguishes three forms of cultural capital:

Incorporated cultural capital

Internalized cultural capital presents itself in the form of permanent dispositions of the organism. Most of the properties of cultural capital can be traced back to this physical bond. The acquired education, i.e. the accumulation of culture through primary family upbringing and the subsequent secondary upbringing, becomes part of the person as incorporated capital. This type of capital cannot therefore be passed on in the short term through gift, inheritance, purchase or exchange.

In relation to this capital, the time factor is significant for Bourdieu. He differentiates time gained for children of the educated middle class and time lost twice for children of the working class. Time has to be invested again to correct the negative consequences.

This form of capital is particularly valuable because of its rarity, for example the only illiterate reader would make extra profit. Hence this form of capital is also characterized by inequality, i. H. not all families can “invest” the same amount of capital in the education of their children. The winners of this process enforce their rules of the game and determine which culture is legitimate and which is not.

The incorporated cultural capital is the most opaque of all types of capital. The resulting aspects of social inequality are obscured ( illusio ) because they appear natural. The family socialization authority mediates legitimate, i.e. H. hegemonic or non-legitimate culture, with the position of individuals and classes being determined between the extremes.

Objectified cultural capital

Objectified cultural capital , according to Bourdieu, exists “in the form of cultural goods, images, books, encyclopedias, instruments or machines in which certain theories and their criticisms, problems, etc. have left traces or have been realized”.

These forms of capital are materially transferable. For example, a picture can be sold. However, this only transfers the legal title to the image. The purchase requires economic capital. In order to still be able to appreciate the “real meaning” of the picture, the buyer must also have internalized cultural capital.

In the empirical social sciences, cultural capital is often measured by the number of books in a respondent's household. Past and present cultural capital are in a considerable, but not perfect, relationship to one another (ρ = .52). Past cultural capital has a high retest reliability , but has only low to moderate correlations with socio-economic status , skills in the areas of reading and writing skills, and cultural and literary activities. It is therefore not just a correlate of these factors, but an independent phenomenon.

Institutionalized cultural capital

Institutionalized cultural capital exists in the form of legitimate titles and positions such as school or university degrees. Titles have to draw a line the property, for example, between "self-taught" whose cultural capital is under permanent proof of coercion, and the cultural capital of the formally educated who have certificates and other qualifications as well as cultural competence and "collective magic" equipped are.

Acquiring a title means a kind of increase in the exchange rate between cultural and economic capital. In his main work The Subtle Differences (1979) Bourdieu examines the strategies of the rulers to replace educational titles, which are “devalued” by more open university access, with the subtle exclusion of people from ruled classes.

One of the most common methods of accumulating a great deal of cultural capital is to delay entry into the labor market in order to obtain legitimate titles and incorporate knowledge through school education and training. The economic capital available in the family plays a very important role. The conversion of this economic capital into cultural capital requires an expenditure of time, which is made possible by the disposal of economic capital. Later, this strategy pays off through higher income and other privileges. There is thus a reconversion of cultural capital into economic capital in the form of a profit.


  • Pierre Bourdieu : Economic Capital - Cultural Capital - Social Capital. In: ders .: The hidden mechanisms of power. VSA, Hamburg 1992, ISBN 3-87975-605-8 . Pp. 49-80.
  • Pierre Bourdieu: economic capital, cultural capital, social capital. In: R. Kreckel (Ed.): Social inequalities. Soziale Welt, special volume 2. pp. 183–198
  • Pierre Bourdieu: The subtle differences . Critique of social judgment. (French 1979), Frankfurt a. M. 1982. ISBN 3-51828-258-1 .
  • Jörg Rössel , Claudia Beckert-Zieglschmid: The reproduction of cultural capital. In: Journal of Sociology. Volume 31 (2002), pp. 497-513.

Web links


  1. Pierre Bourdieu, Luc Boltanski u. a .: Title and position. About the reproduction of social power . Frankfurt am Main 1978, ISBN 3-43400-496-3 (French 1970)
  2. ^ Pierre Bourdieu: Economic capital, cultural capital, social capital. In: R. Kreckel (Ed.): Social inequalities. In: Soziale Welt, special volume 2. pp. 183–198 (line 220)
  3. Swen Sieben, Clemens M. Lechner: Measuring cultural capital through the number of books in the household . In: Measurement Instruments for the Social Sciences . tape 2 , no. 1 , January 30, 2019, ISSN  2523-8930 , p. 1 , doi : 10.1186 / s42409-018-0006-0 .