When I read this post, I was reminded of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his “Four types of capital”. It is taught in most sociology introductions because it is so fundamental to how sociologists explain the existence of “social structure”. Social structure is a fancy word for describing who is socially successful (or not).
Bourdieu’s types of capital describe different kinds of resources that enable people to do things they want to do:
Economic capital is what we commonly understand as capital – property, savings, income and similar things that directly convert into money.
Cultural capital exists in three kinds:
- Incorporated (tacit) cultural capital, which comes from education, knowledge and “good breeding”/socialisation
- Objective cultural capital such as books, paintings, musical instruments which can be transferred but only used by sufficiently educated people
- Institutionalized cultural capital, which refers to certificates, diplomas and academic degrees
Social capital refers to being part of networks and groups that provide access to information and opportunities. This term has become more mainstream recently.
Symbolic capital refers to the prestige or reputation of a person. It is a bit meta in the sense that is indicates how legitimate other people consider the three other kinds of capital a person possesses
All these types of capital can be converted into each other, but only within limits, with dedicated effort and with loss during the transformation.
According to Bourdieu’s empiric studies of French society of the 1960s, conventionally successful members of that society (he calls them the “ruling class”) were either rich predominantly in cultural (artists, academics) or economic capital (business owners), or both (doctors). (I am surprised that politicians don’t get a mention in his analysis!)