Cultural capital approaching 60

Cultural capital will soon turn 60 (I’m folllowing Johan Heilbron, who in the Dictionnaire International Bourdieu dates the concept to the publication of Les héritiers in 1964). A lot has happened to that concept throught its long life. In a new paper, Mike Savage, Annick Prieur and I discuss some recent studies and reflect on how cultural and capital and distinctions might be transforming. The whole thing is published open access in the British Journal of Sociology.

Is classical high culture losing significance? Many people think so and influential theories argue that distinctions “now” rely less on classical high culture. First of all, it’s a good thing to be wary of the substantialism of hinking that cultural capital refers to any fixed substance. However, we argue that young people rich in cultural capital fuse emergent manifestations of cultural capital with more established versions. According to this line of reasoning, cultural capital today involves capacity for demonstrating deference to canon alongside appropriation of less canonised forms.

Much has been made of the fact that “high status” people now appreciate more stereotypically “pop” culture. Beware of the substantialism of fixed ideas of what actually counts as “popular”. We argue thar people rich in cultural capital tend to shun tastes that are actually associated with low volumes of capital. When they do embrace seemingly “low” forms, it is typically in distinct modes of appropriation. (Shout out to Vegard Jarness).

But isn’t the internet transforming everything? With the incredibly increased access to almost any kind of information, the ability to evaluate information is becoming more significant. Also, as Massimo Airoldi shows, the algorithms tend to reenforce, rather than challenge, patterns of taste (the machine habitus!) Even in the context of more widespread access, cultural capital is shaping digital distinctions.

It’s becoming clear that that cultural capital is associated with liberal leftism. We point to tendencies towards a “radicalision” of these tendencies, evidenced in the rather literal “politics of life choices” of erecting strong symbolic boundaries around ethical consumption. This could suggest that moral-political position-takings are (becoming) an important part of the status-group cultures associated with cultural capital.

All of this suggests an entwining of cultural capital and age, as it involves a combination of symbolic mastery with the capacity to stay alert to new issues where that mastery can be applied. And that’s even more important in an age of increasing wealth disparities, which benefits older people more.

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