Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Headline from Quartz...

Brexit changes nothing for the elite and their capital, but ordinary Brits will have no place left to turn.

It has been contended that the referendum was carried by a majority of less sophisticated, less well-educated and older voters. They outnumbered an overly-complacent middle-class and middle-aged cohort who believed that "people like us" would never be so daft, even with a big majority of younger voters anxious to remain. 

With the imbalance and implicit inequality having had such far-reaching and still unknowable consequences, it might well be time to reacquaint ourselves with the thinking of a sociologist and philosopher who happens to be (gulp!) French.

Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002) was born to a working-class family in a small village in southern France. Bourdieu’s father was a small farmer turned postal worker with little formal education, but he encouraged a young Bourdieu to pursue the best educational opportunities his country had to offer. Bourdieu took his father’s advice, eventually gaining admittance to one of France’s most prestigious universities, the École Normale Supérieure in ParisIt is hard to overestimate the influence Bourdieu has had on social theory. Bourdieu’s works have been translated in over two dozen languages and many are already considered classics in disciplines across the social sciences and humanities. Not only sociologists, but also those in anthropology, cultural studies, and education consider Bourdieu required reading for anyone trained in their disciplines.

Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital refers to the collection of symbolic elements such as skills, tastes, posture, clothing, mannerisms, material belongingsand  credentials that one acquires through being part of a particular social class. 

Sharing similar forms of cultural capital with others... the same taste in movies, for example, or a degree from a respected university... creates a sense of collective identity and group position (“people like us”). But Bourdieu also points out that cultural capital is a major source of social inequality. 

Certain forms of cultural capital are valued over others, and can help or hinder one’s social mobility just as much as income or wealth. According to Bourdieu, cultural capital comes in three forms... embodied, objectified, and institutionalized. One’s accent or dialect is an example of embodied cultural capital, while a luxury car or record collection are examples of cultural capital in its objectified state. In its institutionalized form, cultural capital refers to credentials and qualifications such as degrees or titles that symbolize cultural competence and authority.

Habitus is one of Bourdieu’s most influential yet ambiguous concepts. Habitus also extends to our 'taste' for cultural objects such as art, food, and clothing. In one of his major works, Distinction, Bourdieu links French citizens’ tastes in art to their social class positions, forcefully arguing that aesthetic sensibilities are shaped by the culturally ingrained habitus. Upper-class individuals, for example, may have a taste for fine art because they have been exposed to it and trained to appreciate it since a very early age, while working-class individuals have generally not had access to 'high art' and thus haven’t cultivated the habitus appropriate to the fine art 'game'. The thing about the habitus, Bourdieu often noted, was that it was so ingrained that people often mistook the feel for the 'game' as natural, instead of culturally developed. This often leads to justifying social inequality, because it is mistakenly believed that some people are naturally disposed to the finer things in life while others are not.

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