Emerging Forms of Cultural Capital: Keynote, Opening Session: "Distinction and its international reception"

Annick Prieur, Mike Savage

Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalPaper without publisher/journalResearch


This paper reviews recent European studies to assess whether cultural capital now has the same characteristics – or may be rather the same functions - as when Distinction was written. The paper will examine empirical applications of the concept of cultural capital in leading European studies in order to see whether researchers attribute the same or different meanings to the concept and to suggest a framework for future analysis. These studies are especially important to consider since they use the same methodological approach – multiple correspondence analysis – as used in Distinction – and hence are highly appropriate for direct comparisons with that study.

This paper will begin by raising general issues regarding the meaning of the concept, and about how one may make assessments and claims about cultural capital. Here we consider how the legitimacy of certain cultural competencies or preferences can be demonstrated, and how the move can be made from observing structured oppositions in cultural consumptions to claims about the existence of cultural capital? We note that current research frequently lack a clear argument about how the cultural forms possessed by the culturally privileged that are labelled as cultural capital actually play a role as legitimate culture or are linked to practices of domination. We note the value of MCA in addressing these issues, but also note that it needs to be interpreted carefully to avoid proliferating oppositions and clusterings. We will make a critical assessment of the arguments made, including those made in the studies we have been involved in ourselves (the study of cultural capital and social exclusion in the UK, and the study of the Danish city Aalborg).

Secondly, the paper looks into the different claims that are made in empirical studies after Distinction about the significance and content of emerging forms of cultural capital in different Western societies. Among the claims to be discussed are the following:

- the claim about a decline in the adherence to traditional highbrow or classic high culture

- the claim about increased omnivorousness and/or tolerance as characteristic traits of the culturally privileged

- the claim about the distinguishing principle residing in the ways of relating to culture rather than in the choice of cultural products themselves

- the claim about level of participation as more distinctive than the activities themselves

- the claims that there are forms of emotional, subcultural or national cultural capital at work

- The claim about cosmopolitanism or an international orientation as a distinctive feature of the culturally privileged classes

The paper responds to the first theme announced in the call for this conference: “Cultural legitimacy and its metamorphoses”.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date4 Nov 2010
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2010
EventThirty years after "Distinction" - Paris, France
Duration: 4 Nov 20106 Nov 2010


ConferenceThirty years after "Distinction"

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