Reading THE FORMS OF CAPITAL -Pierre Bourdieu
Chapter 1. Richardson, J., Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (1986), Westport, CT: Greenwood, pp. 241–58
When we continually heard about a book, a concept, an author, an indirect link is created with it, which makes us believe the direct connection with the source is useless. We are satisfied with having the cultural reference to it, to be able to reuse it just in case.
However, re-reading the authors at their source is beautiful: the style makes us know the person; the chosen words (if it is not a translation) opens up spaces for subtle interpretation.
Following an online reading group, Bordieu was chosen in the readings.
“Capital is accumulated labour”: The author defines capital as a material and historical anchor that denies the existence/ghost of “world without inertia, without accumulation, without heredity or acquired properties, in which every moment is perfectly independent of the previous one”.
The reified dimension of capital, embodied in a house, in a branded dress or an expensive night face cream, has a temporal dimension and forces us to objectivity where “everything is not equally possible or impossible”.
“Capital can present itself in three fundamental guises: as economic capital, which is immediately and directly convertible into money and may be institutionalized in the form of property rights; as cultural capital, which is convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the form of educational qualifications; and as social capital, made up of social obligations (“connections”), which is convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the form of a title of nobility.”
In a binary and rigid view, as a teenager, I saw wealth as a privilege of the rich (superior to me) and a form of reproach towards the poor (the incapable). That is a poor man who failed in the self-made dream, in founding a successful company, of having created an application or an intelligent software, of having just tried to be rich: Is my father a manual worker only because he didn’t want to study? And all his colleagues too?
A colleague, one day, speaking of the cleaning lady — “who come to disturb during work hours” with her cloth, bucket and broom — expressed this vision by saying: “she is only capable of doing nothing, remaining parked there, never wished to study or do better”. For me, the cleaning lady — of obvious lower-middle-class, of Algerian origins, of a quite attitude of a mother — entering an office of ambitious and privileged French upper-class researchers, in the full management of their day and career, was a special moment where the different forms of capital were confronted each other in a unique intersection of space and time. And of which I was a witness of the non-dialogue and not mutual understanding.
The social, economic and cultural embodied condition should remind us about the dialogue between the multiple spheres in which capital has been transformed and recycled: we need “a break with the presuppositions inherent both in the commonsense view, which sees academic success or failure as an effect of natural aptitudes and in human capital theories”.
Having a small room to study, the tranquillity of a heated house, a nutritious meal and a time dedicated to studying and doing homework is a privilege that all children do not enjoy: “The accumulation of cultural capital in the embodied state, i.e., in the form of what is called culture, cultivation, Bildung, presupposes a process of embodiment, incorporation, which, insofar as it implies a labour of inculcation and assimilation, costs time, time which must be invested personally by the investor”. Allowing space for study becomes a capital that parents offer and which children consume, appropriate and transform.
“But the most powerful principle of the symbolic efficacy of cultural capital no
doubt lies in the logic of its transmission”.
The “birth lottery” conditions an unfortunate truth: a person’s opportunities can be partially tethered to their socioeconomic status at birth. The top of world social mobility is Denmark, where it would take two generations to reach from a low to a median income. International data on social mobility should shape a critical vision on curriculum, pedagogical rhetoric and teacher education: “It follows that the transmission of cultural capital is no doubt the best-hidden form of hereditary transmission of capital”.
Sadly the conditions of disadvantage, of delay, of weakness, of loss, invite inappropriate comments and judgments, not contextualized, and not informed: a negative comment arises from the need to defend interests, privileges, and narcissistic reassuring certainties about own mediocrity.
The text is complex, technical, with critical content in a sustained language and form. I probably don’t have all understand.
Paradox, a simplified schematization reading is needed to become an easily lecture by those who lack the different forms of capital.
The author shapes a diffractive interpretation of the own personal or generational (failure or success) history and, at the same time, invite a diffractive representation toward a more comprehensive understanding of the cleaning woman in the office or of the worker father.