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Bourdieus notion of social capital

How useful is it in understanding the social effects of higher education?

Simon Marginson, 27 October 2004

Work in progress seminar coverage

 Bourdieus notions of social capital, and

social capital in education  Summing up, and some issues and problems  Applications to understanding higher education 1: hierarchical degree markets 2: institutions as producers of social capital  Concluding remarks

According to Bourdieu capital is

 Inherited from the past and continuously

created  Accumulated labour in a materialised, embodied (incorporated) or immanent form, which when appropriated on a private, i.e. exclusive basis, by agents or groups of agents, enables them to appropriate social energy in the form of reified or living labour  In fields, the positions of actors (individual or institutional) are defined by the distribution of capital and the rules that govern this

Bourdieus forms of capital

 Economic capital  Cultural capital: embodied (in persons),

objectified (e.g. art), institutionalised (e.g. university degrees)  Social capital: resources grounded in durable exchange-based networks of persons  Symbolic capital: manifestation of each of the other forms of capital when they are naturalised on their own terms

Conversions of capital
 Bourdieu argues the different types of capital

can all be derived from economic capital. These transformations are not automatic but require effort, and the benefits often show only in the long term. Profits in one area are necessarily paid for by costs in another (e.g. wealthy parents purchase cultural capital/ social capital in independent schools)  The other three forms of capital are not entirely reducible to economic capital they have their own specificity but economic capital is at their root.
- Bourdieu, The forms of capital, in Richardson (ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, 1986

Bourdieu on social capital

 Social capital is the sum of the resources,

actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.
- Bourdieu and Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, 1992, p. 119

Note durable - and the emphasis on immanent social capital, on potential benefits/ capacity as well as actual, visible, realised benefits (as woulkd be preferred by, say, economics). Bourdieus concept of capital is distinctive

Social capital provides a

credential which entitles them to credit

 Social capital provides each of its [the

groups] members with the backing of the collectively-owned capital, a credential which entitles them to credit
- Bourdieu, The forms of capital, in Richardson (ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, 1986

Suggestive of the role of education

In social groups held together by mutual self-interest

 The profits which accrue from membership in

a group are the basis of the solidarity which makes them possible.

Quantification of social capital

 The volume of the social capital possessed

by a given agent thus depends on the size of the network of connections he/she can effectively mobilise and on the volume of the capital (economic, cultural or symbolic) possessed in his/her own right by each of those to whom he/she is connected.
Note that greater network size is positive but the quality of the nodes is crucial

The value of social capital is derived from prior inequalities/ exclusions

 The structure of the field, i.e. the unequal

distribution of capital, is the source of the specific effects of capital.

Bourdieus social capital is constituted by the socially powerful and depends on the normality of practices of inequality and social closure

But must be continually created and reproduced

 The existence of a network of connections is

not a natural given, or even a social given it is the product of an endless effort at institution

To them that hath shall be given (1)

 The social capital accruing from a

relationship is much greater to the extent that the person who is the object of it is richly endowed with capital they are sought after for their social capital..
The profitability of this effort rises in proportion to the size of the capital

To them that hath shall be given (2)

 an investment in sociability is necessarily


and therefore is costly

Centrality of education in reproducing forms of capital

 Because the question of the arbitrariness of

appropriation arises most sharply in the process of transmission particularly at the time of succession, a critical moment for all power every reproduction strategy is at the same time a legitimation strategy aimed at consecrating both an exclusive appropriation and its reproduction.
Education a principal instrument of legitimation

The scope of the educational system tends to increase

 As an instrument of reproduction capable of

disguising its own function, the scope of the educational system tends to increase, and together with this increase is the unification of the market in social qualifications which gives rights to occupy rare positions.

Though education can also enable the retrieval of pre-modern forms of social power
 The closures provided by certain kinds of

institutional educational structure, such as select schools, enable families and kinship networks to reassemble and reassert their social power

Distinguishing Bourdieus social capital from Putnam, Coleman etc (1)

 A more precise notion of particular social

relationships the mainstream concept seems to take in any and every association  Theorisation in terms of inequality, hierarchy. Putnams arehorizontally formed networks  Class and caste, not neighbourhood  Closure/exclusivity not open-ended association: Bourdieus focus is on the dark side of networks (dark, unless you benefit!)  Emphasis on access to resources

Distinguishing Bourdieus social capital from Putnam, Coleman etc (2)

 Understanding of social capital as potential

benefits not just realised benefits (tends to conflate group membership, intra-group exchange, the benefits of membership)  Emphasis on long-term investment in durable networks not weaker associationality  Stronger emphasis on groups themselves, less on social capital as individual attributes, though acknowledges both I & S dimensions  Norms not isolated from power and practices

Some issues and problems

 Convertibility of forms of capital

(commensurate, homogenous value)?  Social capital/ cultural capital overlap  Expansionary networks?  Social networks that are always homogenous where does structured diversity fit in, e.g. bridging relationships?  Social networks that always exclude? What role for a democratising social capital, rather than a conspiracy of the oppressed?

In considering the role of education Bourdieus notions of cultural capital and social capital overlap (1)
 Educational credentials represent

institutionalised cultural capital. But they also signify/ enable membership of certain networks, e.g. communities of professionals, communities of elite graduates (e.g. Melbourne Grammar Old Boys) i.e. they are also instrumental in social capital in Bourdieus sense of the term  Both concepts used to explain inequalities

In considering the role of education Bourdieus notions of cultural capital and social capital overlap (2)
 The economic and social yield of the

educational qualifications depends on the social capital, again inherited, which can be used to back it up
NB. though upwardly mobile acquisition of credentials takes place, acquisition of social capital follows less often

Broader networking or narrower networking?

 The profitability of building social capital is

enhanced by the range of networking connections but Bourdieus argument suggests an inevitable trade-off between breadth on one hand, and exclusivity (which enhances value of social capital) on the other. As competition intensifies, the benefits of breadth appear ever more diffuse.  Note that nevertheless, many IT networks have an expansionary logic. If this is not building social capital, then what is it?

Does education have potential as a universalising democratic instrument?

 Social networks that always exclude? What

role for a democratising social capital/ network, rather than a conspiracy of the oppressed?  If this is not capital in Bourdieus sense (his notion of capital is privatised and exclusive, with good grounds), then what do we call it?  Or is the implication of Bourdieu that this function is incompatible with (or at least constantly undermined by) the credentialing role of education?

Applications to understanding higher education: 1. degree markets (1)

 As Bourdieu suggests, students compete for

access to the scarce cultural and social capital (degrees, networking opportunities) gained in elite universities/ courses  Economisation of the competition (fee-based market) assists the socially powerful groups to mobilise economic capital to create social capital, and creates greater exclusion (and hence more valuable SC) in universities

Applications to understanding higher education: 1. degree markets (2)

 Note the different social roles of generalist

credentials (Arts, Business), mass professional degrees, exclusive credentials  Differential opportunities to secure social capital via education are field of study based, and also institution-based. The classical differentiation was always field-based (different cultural attributes enabling mutual recognition, and social networks). But market stratifications puts institution-based differentiation on the agenda

Applications to understanding higher education: 2. institutions as producers of social capital

 Universities are creators of social capital,

enablers of its formation outside their walls (and sometimes foster its critique!)  Mass education brings institution stratification in place of exclusion from education  Mass universities a limited capacity to create valuable social capital. Largely confined to high elite institutions, especially at the overlap with formation of the professions. Alumni association looser than Bourdieus SC

Analysing university networks

Exclusive (closing out) Bounded field of Medicine? study/ profession Generalist field of study Cross-field structure All fields (instituional) Academic unionism? Student unionism? Inclusive (reaching out) Education? Open (no border)


Concluding remarks 1
 Perhaps it is more helpful to talk about the

different forms of capital creating the possibility of the formation of each other, not transferring (zero-sum transference between capitals only part of the time)  Not all networks are social capital, unless we can define capital in collective terms. (The notion of capital as all good things, every public good etc. is analytically useless)  Volume of networks less important in constituting social value, than extensity and intensity of the interactions that take place

Concluding remarks 2
 Bourdieu draws attention to group practices,

the continuous work of network formation.  More rigorous definition of networks in terms of mutual recognition and acquaintanceship, not just any de facto association  Every network can be understood in terms of inclusion/exclusion. Crucial variable  Exclusive networks protect their members from internal competition, and individualised forms of external competition, but enhance the external competitiveness of the group

Concluding remarks 3
 Universites are themselves institutional

agrregators of social capital, and also (inefficient) site of its production by others  The credentialing role of education is sometimes uppermost and sometimes not  Much depends on (1) how social groups use education and reproduce themselves via education, (2) how education is politically (economically) structured as a field, in its institutional and credential structures