Bourdieu’s Theory of Social Class

Social class is a concept that has been explored by many sociologists throughout history. One prominent scholar in this field is Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist who developed a theory of social class that has become widely recognized and influential in academic circles.


Bourdieu was born in France in 1930 and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He went on to earn a doctorate in sociology from the University of Paris and became a professor at the University of Lille. Throughout his career, Bourdieu wrote extensively on a variety of topics, including education, culture, and power.


Bourdieu’s theory of social class centers around the idea of cultural capital. Cultural capital refers to the knowledge, skills, and cultural assets that individuals possess that give them social status and power. According to Bourdieu, cultural capital is not evenly distributed throughout society but instead is concentrated among certain groups.

These groups are what Bourdieu calls social classes. Social classes are defined not only by their economic status but also by their possession of cultural capital. The more cultural capital an individual or group possesses, the higher their social class.

Types of Cultural Capital

Bourdieu identified three types of cultural capital: embodied, objectified, and institutionalized.


Bourdieu also introduced the concept of habitus, which refers to the set of dispositions or ways of thinking and behaving that are learned through an individual’s socialization. Habitus is influenced by an individual’s social class and cultural capital. It is a set of unconscious habits that shape how individuals perceive and act in the world.


Bourdieu’s theory of social class has important implications for understanding inequality in society. The concentration of cultural capital among certain groups means that they have greater opportunities for success and social mobility compared to those with less cultural capital. In this way, social class perpetuates itself, creating a cycle where those who are born into privilege have greater access to resources that help them maintain their status.


Despite its influence, Bourdieu’s theory has not been without criticism. Some argue that it overlooks other factors that contribute to inequality, such as race or gender. Additionally, some critics argue that Bourdieu’s theory is too deterministic and does not leave room for agency or individual choice.


In conclusion, Bourdieu’s theory of social class provides a valuable framework for understanding how cultural capital shapes social hierarchy in society. By examining the distribution of cultural capital among different groups, we can better understand why certain individuals or groups are more successful than others.