Faculty of Social Sciences
The concept of cultural capital refers to the role that distinctive kinds of cultural tastes, knowledge and abilities play in relation to the processes of class formations in contemporary societies. It has been particularly influential in sociological accounts of the ways in which the middle classes distinguish themselves from the working classes through their distinctive cultural tastes, knowledge and competencies. It has also played a significant role in accounts of differences within the middle classes (between culturally 'rich' professionals and managers, for example).
These accounts of cultural capital and its role in the organisation of class differences now also inform cultural policies concerned to mitigate the effects of social exclusion. In all these respects, the concept of cultural capital constitutes a promising starting point for understanding how social inequalities are organised in 'culture-drenched' societies like our own. At the same time, however, the concept has been extensively criticised in the literature that has been developed in the wake of its original elaboration in the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
The problems that have been identified bear on i) conceptual and technical difficulties concerning how cultural capital is to be identified and measured; ii) the explanatory value of the concept when compared with alternative accounts of class-based forms of social stratification and iii) how the functioning of cultural capital is to be understood when gender and ethnically-based forms of social stratification are taken into account alongside those based on class.
The inquiry proposed here will seek to resolve these questions and provide the first ever systematic survey of cultural tastes in the UK. It will do so by means of a national household-based survey of cultural tastes, knowledge and activities correlated with a wide range of social variables (class, education, gender, ethnicity, occupation etc.) This will be supplemented by a qualitative study of the subjective aspects of the relations between culture, class, gender and ethnicity on the part of a selection of the respondents to the national survey. The relevance of the household to such concerns will figure prominently.
The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Award No. R000239801) for three years from March 2003 to March 2006. It was conducted in association with the work of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC) located at The University of Manchester and jointly managed by The Open University.