Lareau, A and Weininger, E.  (2003)  'Cultural capital in educational research: a critical assessment', in Theory and Society, Vol 32, Nos 5/6: 567 - 606.

Bourdieu developed the concept of cultural capital in his work in the sociology of education, but it has come to take on a particular meaning in subsequent research: (a) knowledge of highbrow aesthetic culture; (b) something separate from and additional to skills, ability and achievement -- as a result, the relative influence of technical ability and cultural knowledge has been compared builds to explain social inequality. The authors think that cultural capital means more than this, however, and is about coping with 'institutionalised standards of evaluation' (569).

The dominant traditions using the concept are therefore limited. [A number of specific works on mentioned, pages 569 - 77. Most of them seem to be American, and devoted to explaining how it is that the education system reproduces status distinctions]. A return to Bourdieu's own work, including Distinction, does indicate interest in social status groups and their tastes, but in that work education is not specifically examined as a transmission mechanism. An essay specifically on educational reproduction (in Karabel's and Halsey's 1977 collection) stars refer to possible indicators of cultural capital such as  'museum visits, theatre attendances, classical music appreciation' (578), but also refers to the ability to impose certain criteria of evaluation relating to style and appearance, for example  [surely best developed in Homo Academicus, which curiously is not cited in this article]. The links with museum visits and so on may simply reflect a combination specific to France. Another essay on the forms of capital [in Richardson J ed  (1986) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, New York: Greenwood Press] stresses the notion of suitable competence to appropriate the cultural heritage rather than a specific connection with highbrow culture.

In this sense, cultural capital is not a distinct factor compared to technical ability and skill -- ability and talent itself is defined according to the deployment of cultural capital [the argument here is similar to the one in Distinction suggesting that philosophical categories are not universal but the product of the cultural capital of bourgeois groups].  [Apart from a general sociologism], specific groups come to take on the ability to define competence. Bourdieu analyses the role of credentials in his The State Nobility: credentials are not simply indicators of real levels of knowledge and skills, nor are they just a restrictive practice, but are about both technical and social competence. They indicate  'a sense of dignity on the part of the holder  (and a corresponding capacity to set herself apart from others)' (581). The technical and the social are therefore linked in credentialism, although different emphases are possible according to the strategies actually used by specific social groups in the labour market.

Some less well-known works in the sociology of education preserve this better sense of the term [listed pages 583 - 71]. For example, McDonough shows how 'parental cultural capital' helps particular parents manipulate college admissions policies. Reay shows how some parents were able to deal with teachers by displaying various kinds of knowledge and expertise in discussions with them. Blackledge showed how schools were able to reinterpret Bengali parenting skills as inadequate compared to their own standards. Lareau and Howat shows how the parental cultures of American black people were similarly reinterpreted as indicating their inappropriateness as parents [very old theme in the sociology of education here, at least in the radical versions in Britain and the US  from the 1970s]. These applications show that everything turns on how standards are defined, covering not just knowledge of elite arts or the whole notion of ability and suitability.

Cultural capital is therefore best redefined as  '"institutionalised, ie widely shared, high-status cultural signals  (attitudes, preferences, formal knowledge, behaviours, goods and credentials) used for social and cultural exclusion"' (quoting some of their earlier work, 587). The resources to impose these standards as criteria of evaluation are unevenly distributed.

The concept of cultural capital might be used in research in two directions: 

(a) Finding out which standards and expectations are found in concrete situations and appraisals. This would involve investigating professionals' beliefs: they have changed recently, for example, in order to shift the responsibility for children firmly on to parents. This has led to a requirement for active and involved parents, but in their own terms. Middle-class parents are able to interact much more in accordance with the views of academic professionals, so they simply seem a much more effective. They possess relevant  'micro-interactional skills' especially  (590). For example, in one case study, a middle-class Afro-American family was able to negotiate access for their child to a gifted child programme by acquiring a more favourable private evaluation from a private tester [a similar technique is used to launch appeals against 11 plus failures]. In another case, parents passed on the skills they possessed to their children, by demonstrating them in action. For example they defended their children's low performances when they attended gymnastics, made a case for individualised treatment, trained their children to have a story ready. More generally they instilled a sense of entitlement in their children.

(b) A working-class family studied tended to leave it to the mother to liaise with the school. All the adults in the extended family helped the children with homework, showed interest, bought teaching materials, and knew they had to fight for their child -- but they were not so good at it. For example, they were less assertive, and did not ask 'detailed substantive questions, or probe, test or challenge the teacher' (595). They were assertive enough in other contexts, but not with teachers. They were put off by teachers long words and technical vocabulary (such as  'word attack skills'), realised that they had to help their child with mathematics but did not ask how to. [The poor buggers have got no chance here, because they are routinely told that their ways of teaching mathematics are inadequate and wrong and will only confuse and hold back the child]. They believed that teachers were the experts, and treated them with deference. They possessed insufficient education resources to question or analyse [no private opinion for them].

An outstanding research question that remains is 'how markets for cultural capital are constructed' (598), how values get institutionalised in schools in the first place.

[Very little is added here, it seems to me, there was not already foreshadowed in radical sociology of education in the 1970s. Michael Young himself had asked how particular kinds of education and selections of knowledge came to be called schooling. Keddie had studied successful pupils and noted that they were the ones who tried to take over the vocabulary of their school teachers. Sharp and Green critically analysed the notion of  'reading readiness' and noted that this gave middle-class kids a flying start, not only because it corresponded to their existing values, but also because middle-class parents were rapidly able to negotiate a  'ready' status for their particular child]

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