Pierre Bourdieu developed the cultural deprivation theory. This theory implies that higher class cultures are better when compared to working class cultures. Because of this perceived superiority, people from upper and middle classes believe people who are working class are themselves to blame for the failure of their children in education. Bourdieu also believed that Marx influences cultural capital. Bourdieu also believes that people should not assume that the higher class is better that the working class. Bourdieu argues that working class failure in schools if measured by exam success, is the fault of the education system, not working class culture.bourdieu_01


Cultural reproduction – the major role of the education system, according to Bourdieu, is cultural reproduction. This is the reproduction of the culture of the dominant classes. These groups have the power to impose meanings and to impose them as legitimate. They are able to define their own culture as worthy of being sought and possessed and to establish it as the basis for knowledge in the education system.  However, there is no way of showing that they are any better or worse than other subcultures in society.


Bourdieu refers to possession of the dominant culture as cultural capital because with the education system it can be translated into wealth and power. Cultural capital is not evenly distributed throughout the class structure, and this largely accounts for class differences in educational attainment. People who have upper class backgrounds have a built in advantage because they have been socialised in that dominant culture. Bourdieu says that success in life depends on the earlier accomplishments in life, e.g. primary schools were the best time to succeed. Children from the dominant classes have internalised these skills and knowledge during their junior years. The educational attainment of social groups is therefore directly related to the amount of cultural capital they possess. Thus middle-class students have higher success rates than working-class students because of middle class subculture are closer to the dominant culture.


Bourdieu is somewhat vague when he attempts to pinpoint the skills and knowledge required for educational success. He bases his studies on the style the children present themselves rather on the content. He suggested that the way a student presents him/herself counts for more than the actual scholastic content of their work. He argues that “in rewarding grades, teachers are strongly influenced by the intangible nuances of manners and styles”. This means that you are more likely to succeed, because you are closer to the dominant class. The emphasis on style discriminates against working – class pupils in 2 ways:


i)     Because their style departs from that of the dominant culture, their work is penalised.


ii)    They are unable to grasp the range of meanings that are embedded in the grammar, accent, tone, delivery of the teachers. Since teachers use “bourgeois parlance”, as opposed to “common parlance”, working-class pupils have an in-built barrier to learning in schools.



The habitus – this refers to the lifestyle, the values, the dispositions and the expectations of particular social groups. A particular habitus is developed through experience. Individuals learn in the best way by what they see in life and how to expect life. Because different social groups have different chances and experiences in life, the habitus of each group will be different. People control values but they are not, in total, captives of the habitus. They are free to act and choose what to do but this will lead them to making certain choices such as behaviour. The point of view of Bourdieu says “Individual have to react in particular events, many of which are novel, but they tend to do so in terms of behaviour that they have come to see, as reasonable, common sense, behaviours. This means that the habitus is an infinitive capacity for generating product. This includes the idea of thought, perceptions, expressions and actions-whose limits are set by the historically and socially situated conditions of its products. Taste, class and education.


Bourdieu uses a survey for his study; he claims that peoples taste is related both to upbringing and to education. The taste could include art, films, music and food.  He claims to show that there is a very close relationship linking cultural practices to educational capital and secondary, to social origin. Different tastes are associated with different classes, and class factions have different levels of prestige Legitimate taste has the greatest prestige and includes serious classical music and fine art. According to Bourdieu, the education system attaches the highest value to legitimate taste and people find it easier to succeed in the education system and are likely to stay in it for longer. Once you have acquired a certain amount of legitimate taste through upbringing and education, then you can start to cultivate your own. However, good taste on its own does not guarantee a well –paid job, but it does help in some cases.


The social function of elimination – Bourdieu says that a major role of the educational system is the social function of elimination. This involves the elimination of members of the working class from higher levels of education. It is accomplished in two ways: by examination failure and by self-elimination.


Working class students already know what they have to do in school. They know that if they work around working class boys, they don’t have a big chance of succeeding.


To conclude, Bourdieu says the role of education in society is the contribution it makes to social reproduction. Social inequality is reproduced in the educational system and as a result it is legitimate. The education system help maintain to dominance of the class.

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex

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