The late Pierre Bourdieu, one of the leading French social thinkers of the twentieth century, developed the concept of “cultural capital” to explain the ability of elite managers and professionals to transmit their privileged status to their children, a process he referred to as “social and cultural reproduction.” By “social and cultural reproduction,” Bourdieu referred not only to the intergenerational reproduction of family status but also to the reproduction, first, of larger systems of social inequality and, second, of systems of cultural hierarchy (for example, the prestige of high-culture genres such as ballet and classical music compared with chorus lines and hip-hop).

Bourdieu was an abstract thinker with a gift for concrete social analysis. Like his other concepts, cultural capital has both a general definition and ...

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