Cultural Capital- Hypothesis


  • Schools reward students on the basis of their cultural capital, defined as "instruments for the appropriation of symbolic wealth socially designated as worthy of being sought and possessed" (Bour-dieu, 1977).
  • Teachers, it is argued, communicate more easily with students who participate in elite status cultures, give them more attention and special assistance, and perceive them as more intelligent or gifted than students who lack cultural capital”
    • If, indeed, participation in prestigious status cultures represents a kind of cultural capital, we would expect to find the following:
      • Hypothesis 1: Measures of cultural capital are related to one another in a manner that suggests the existence of a coherent status culture of which they are elements.
      • Hypothesis 2: Cultural capital is positively related to school success, in particular, to high school grades.


  • Status cultures are seen as resources used to promote intergenerational status persistence; cultural capital is passed down from upper and upper-middle parents to their children.
    • If this is the case, then:
      • Hypothesis 3a: Cultural capital mediates the relationship between family background and school outcomes
    • What is more, if, as Bourdieu has argued, cultural capital is inculcated in early childhood and the response of others to cultural capital is predicated in part on the social position of its possessor, then:
      • Hypothesis 4a: Returns to cultural capital are highest for students from high status families and least to students from low status families.


  • It may be more accurate to speak of status culture participation than of status group membership, and to think of status as a cultural process rather than as an attribute of individuals.
  • A person who is "at home" in a prestigious status culture can display tastes, styles, or understandings that serve as cultural resources, making communication easier and indicating status group membership (see Goffman, 1951; Collins, 1981).
  • In such a fluid world childhood experience and family background may only partially and modestly determine a person's stock of cultural capital. Active participation in prestigious status cultures may be a practical and useful strategy for low status students who aspire towards upward mobility.
  • By contrast, both high status students (who, presumably, receive cultural resources in the home) and non-mobile low status students may prefer to participate in adversarial youth subcultures while in high school.
    • If this is the case, we would expect the following:
      • Hypothesis 3b: Cultural capital's impact on school success is largely net that of family background.
      • Hypothesis 4b: Returns to cultural capital are highest for students who are least advantaged.


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