Home > Concepts > Cultural Captial VS Economic Captial VS Social Capital

Cultural Captial VS Economic Captial VS Social Capital

What is cultural capital?

The Forms of Capital (1986) written by Bourdieu addressed the new concepts – cultural capital and social capital.In Bourdieu’s point of view, cultural capital is something that one acquires for equipping oneself and is reproduced by economic capital.

This definition sounds abstract. Yet, think about it, what things help to equip yourself as a better person in this society? Qualifications? Knowledges? Skills? Ability to speak different languages? All of them are cultural capital which can help you obtain a higher social status in society.

How is cultural capital related to economic capital for Bourdieu?

He thought that when one possess more economic capital, it is likely for their children to obtain more cultural capital. The two capitals are in direct proportion.

The notion of cultural capital initially presented itself to me, in the course of research, as a theoretical hypothesis which made it possible to explain the unequal scholastic achievement of children originating from the different social classes by relating academic success, i.e., the specific profits which children from the different classes and class fractions can obtain in the academic market, to the distribution of cultural capital between the classes and class fractions. (Bourdieu, 1986)

As your parents afford to pay the fee for your language classes, you are therefore able to speak those different foreign languages. By acquiring those languages, you are likely to get a more well-paid job in the future. Your parent’s economic capital “buys” your cultural capital which you can exchange to a higher social status in society. This is how Bourdieu’s capital works.

What is social capital?

As for the remaining one – social capital, Bourdieu refered it as “a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”. In other words, whether or not you are a member of a group which also depends on the possessions of other capitals i.e. economic capital and cultural capital. He mentioned that social capital is not something naturally given but we have to acquired it. It is important to note that we do not simply acquire it for nothing, the network established has to be ‘usable’ for future.

 In other words, the network of relationships is the product of investment strategies, individual or collective, consciously or unconsciously aimed at establishing or reproducing social relationships that are directly usable in the short or long-term, i.e., at transforming contingent relations, such as those of neighborhood, the workplace, or even kinship, into relationships that are at once necessary and elective, implying durable obligations subjectively felt (feelings of gratitude, respect, friendship, etc.) or institutionally guaranteed (rights).  (Bourdieu, 1986)

If you are interested to know more, go and read his work The Forms of Capital.

Or if you want to learn social capital in a more interesting way, see this video.

Relations of the three capital

To conclude, there are actually different relations between forms of capital which will be illustrated in the following.

From the above image, economic capital can be transferred into cultural capital in relation 1. As I have mentioned above, your parents financially supported you to acquire more skills or knowledge which helps you to boost your cultural capital. In return, you are able to get a well-paid job that brings you power, status and a higher salary i.e. increase in economic capital. While in relation 2, by displaying cultural capital, it is more likely for us to gain acceptance and status in society, therefore acquiring social capital. As in relation 3, your social network can provide you more opportunities and therefore obtain economic capital which can be re-invested in cultural capital. This is to illustrate to you that it is a cycle which affect social relationship and interaction.


Bourdieu, P. (1986) “The Forms of Capital”

Grenfell, M. (2008) “Pierre Bourdieu: key concepts”

Grenfell, M. (2011) “Bourdieu, language and linguistics”


Categories: Concepts
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