Bourdieu and social class within the educational system

Topics: Sociology, Pierre Bourdieu, Social stratification Pages: 5 (1471 words) Published: December 6, 2013
The subject of social class within the educational system seems to be the elephant in the room. Issues of race, gender, discrimination and making safe places are addressed constantly within the pedagogy yet we ignore the realities of social stratification, especially when it comes to the classroom and the curriculum we are expected to teach. According to Bourdieu, the education systems of western societies function in such a way as to legitimatize class inequalities (Bourdieu, 1977). Success in the education system is enhanced by the possession of cultural capital (which is determined the dominate culture) and Lower-class pupils do not, in general, possess these traits. Bourdieu then supposes that the failure of the majority of these pupils is inevitable. This, he postulates, explains class inequalities in educational attainment., For Bourdieu, educational credentials help to reproduce and legitimatize social inequalities, as higher-class individuals are seen to deserve their place in the social structure. Place in the social structure is not pre determined and education often is a factor in the upward mobility in SES. Muller and his team describe cross-national similarities and differences in the two steps in which education intervenes in the process of intergenerational class mobility: the link between class of origin and educational credentials attained, and between these credentials and class position allocated to (Muller et al., 1989).   They conclude that the patterns of association between class origin and education, and between education and class destinations are similar across the nine nations. However, the strength of these associations demonstrates cross-national variations.  This paper is one of the first comparative studies of social mobility, which used the data sets collected in the early 1970s from nine European countries investigated in Comparative Analysis of Social Mobility in Industrial Nations (CASMIN) project.   Nevertheless, this article supports FJG hypothesis which argues that class origin inequalities in relative mobility chances will be roughly constant across nations . Social mobility, class and education is further explored through a longitudinal study conducted by Johnson, Brett & Deary (2009). They proposed that social class of origin acts as ballast, restraining otherwise meritocratic social class movement, and that education is the primary means through which social class movement is both restrained and facilitated, thereby giving weight to Bourdieu’s theory of Cultural Reproduction.   They conclude that parental social class attainment contributes to educational attainment, which in turn contributes to participant social class attainment, suggesting that educational attainment contributed to social class stability.   Education is important to social mobility and, thus, appears to play a pivotal role in the association between ability and social class attainment.

When looking at the relationship between ability and social class attainment, it is useful to also look at the different types of culture capital. Andersen and Hansen (2011), for example, distinguish between two interpretations of cultural capital: “narrow” and “broad.”  The narrow interpretation refers a child’s exposure to ‘high cultural’ products or activities (Bourdieu’s concept of objectified capital): for example, having objects of art at home, or a ‘tastefully’ furnished home, visits to the theatre or art museums, or playing the piano (p. 608). These signs of high culture may not improve a student’s work in any objective way, but they are rewarded through subjectivity involved in assessing academic performance. The same is true of the broad interpretation of cultural capital, which is “general linguistic skills, habits, and knowledge, including cognitive skills,” which are “used in a strategic manner by individuals, who thereby may receive advantages or profits” (p. 608). This kind of cultural capital is passed from...

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