Summary of “The Forms of Capital” (Pierre Bourdieu) by Roxanne Pouliot-Naud


As we have been reading and analysing several pieces of work reP.-Bourdieu©-D.-Mordzinskilated to education and schooling, I chose to summarize the theoretical paper on education written by Pierre Bourdieu in 1986 entitled The Forms of Capital. In this paper, two main types of capitals are described, but I will be only focusing on cultural capital. Cultural capital is mainly linked to concepts of fields and habitus; in fact, much of one’s cultural capital can be derived from an individual’s habitus.
Pierre Bourdieu mentions that this type of capital “explains the unequal scholastic achievement of children originating from different social classes by relating academic success” (Bourdieu 47). This type of capital is known to be the forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages that a person has, which give them a higher status in society. It is divided into three states: embodied state, objectified state, and institutionalized state (Bourdieu 47).

The first one being the embodied state is declared by Pierre Bourdieu to be “long-lasting dispositions of the mind and the body” (Bourdieu 47). More specifically, it is “the accumulation of cultural capital in the form of culture, cultivation, presupposes a process of embodiment, incorporation- implies a labour of inclination and assimilation, cost time” (Bourdieu 48). This state of cultural capital can be consciously acquired and passively inherited from family over time through socialization of culture and traditions. However, this state of capital cannot be transmitted instantaneously; “this embodied capital, external wealth converted into an integral part of the person, into habitus, cannot be transmitted by gifts or bequest, purchase or exchange” (Bourdieu 48). It must be acquired over time depending on the period, the society, and the social class. Pierre Bourdieu also infers that cultural capital is the best-hidden form of heredity transmission as it has a lot of influence on a person when it comes to reproduction. He also delivers that compared to direct visible forms of transmission; cultural capital is less censored and controlled (Bourdieu 49). When an individual can prolong this transmission process, it is due to the time for which his family can provide him with goods or economic necessities.

The second state is named the objectified state. It is related to “cultural goods which are the trace or realization of theories or critiques of these theories, problematic, etc” (Bourdieu 47). More precisely this state of cultural capital refers to material or physical objects and media such as writing, paintings, monuments, and instruments, which are transmissible, “thus cultural goods can be appropriated both materially – which presupposes economic capital – and symbolically – which presupposes cultural capital” (Bourdieu 50).  Basically they are cultural goods transmitted for economic profit. However, an individual can only posses it if that individual has the proper foundation of conceptuality or historically prior cultural capital. Pierre Bourdieu emphasizes that if an individual is not a possessor, he will be classified among the dominated groups, on the other hand, if that individual draws his profits from the use of a particular form of capital he will be classified among the dominant group (Bourdieu 50). This being said, this state of cultural capital consist of individuals who hold strengths and obtain profits from them depending on the value of their objectified capital potentially leading to their embodied capital.

Finally the third state of cultural capital that Bourdieu describes is called the institutionalized state. He mentions, “it is a form of objectification which must be set apart because it confers entirely original properties on the cultural capital which it is presumed to guarantee” (Bourdieu 47). Moreover it is the institutional recognition in the form of academic credentials or qualifications held by an individual. As Pierre Bourdieu states, “cultural capital in the form of academic qualifications is one way of neutralizing some of the properties it derives from the fact that, being embodied, it has the same biological limits as its bearer” (Bourdieu 50). The academic cultural capital often guarantees an individual’s qualifications even if there is a difference between guaranteed competence and simple cultural capital. In addition “it makes it possible to establish conversion rates between cultural capital and economic capital by guaranteeing the monetary value of a given academic capital” (Bourdieu 51). Consequently it eases the conversion of cultural capital to economic capital that salesman can use to describe their capital and buyers to describe their needs for that capital.

To conclude, parents furnish their children with cultural capital by transmitting them knowledge, goods, and attitudes that are needed or desired to attain success as they will be educated in schools and elsewhere. Cultural capital is established depending on the time needed for the transmission and acquisition of these states. As previously mentioned, cultural capital can be directly drawn from one’s habitus. Character, the way of thinking, gender, and race all have an important influence on cultural capital.

Work Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Forms of Capital: Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood, 1986. Book.