Elaine Hayes on

"The Forms of Capital"

In the "Forms of Capital" Bourdieu expands the notion of capital beyond its economic conception which emphasizes material exchanges, to include "immaterial" and "non-economic" forms of capital, specifically cultural and symbolic capital. He explains how the different types of capital can be acquired, exchanged, and converted into other forms. Because the structure and distribution of capital also represent the inherent structure of the social world, Bourdieu argues that an understanding of the multiple forms of capital will help elucidate the structure and functioning of the social world.

The term cultural capital represents the collection of non-economic forces such as family background, social class, varying investments in and commitments to education, different resources, etc. which influence academic success. Bourdieu distinguishes three forms of cultural capital. The embodied state is directly linked to and incorporated within the individual and represents what they know and can do. Embodied capital can be increased by investing time into self improvement in the form of learning. As embodied capital becomes integrated into the individual, it becomes a type of habitus and therefore cannot be transmitted instantaneously. The objectified state of cultural capital is represented by cultural goods, material objects such as books, paintings, instruments, or machines. They can be appropriated both materially with economic capital and symbolically via embodied capital. Finally, cultural capital in its institutionalized state provides academic credentials and qualifications which create a "certificate of cultural competence which confers on its holder a conventional, constant, legally guaranteed value with respect to power." (248) These academic qualifications can then be used as a rate of conversion between cultural and economic capital.

Throughout his discussion of cultural capital, Bourdieu favors a nurture rather than a nature argument. He states that the ability and talent of an individual is primarily determined by the time and cultural capital invested in them by their parents. Similarly, Bourdieu argues that "the scholastic yield from educational action depends on the cultural capital previously invested by the family" (244) and "the initial accumulation of cultural capital, the precondition for the fast, easy accumulation of every kind of useful cultural capital, starts at the outset, without delay, without wasted time, only for the offspring of families endowed with strong cultural capital." (246) Based upon these assertions, it appears that cultural capital regulates and reproduces itself in a similar fashion as habitus. According to this model, families of a given cultural capital could only produce offspring with an equal amount of cultural capital. This approach strikes me as too inflexible. How does Bourdieu account for those individuals who elevate their social status or increase their cultural capital from what they inherited. I am probably reading Bourdieu too literally and missing his point, but I still do not understand how a given group with a specified cultural capital, such as the "New Class," could increase in size if, as Bourdieu claims, it simply regenerates itself.

Bourdieu defines social capital as, "the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition." (248) An individual's social capital is determined by the size or their relationship network, the sum of its cumulated resources (both cultural and economic), and how successfully (quickly) the individual can set them it in motion. According to Bourdieu, social networks must be continuously maintained and fostered over time in order for them to be called upon quickly in the future.

Finally, in his discussion of conversions between different types of capital, Bourdieu recognizes that all types of capital can be derived from economic capital through varying efforts of transformation. Bourdieu also states that cultural and social capital are fundamentally rooted in economic capital but they can never be completely reduced to an economic form. Rather, social and cultural capital remain effective because they conceal their relationship to economic capital.

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