It can be difficult to understand why everyone doesn’t love science! After all, not only is it mysterious, awe-inspiring and completely unpredictable, it helps us answer the big questions in life and provides us with miracle-like solutions to our greatest problems. Yet there will always be people who simply don’t have an interest in science. Why?
Bourdieu explored the question of why some people engage more with ‘high culture’ than others and developed a theory that some people have more ‘cultural capital’. Those who have the right kind of capital, will be more comfortable and accepted within a group or environment (aka the ‘field’) than those who don’t.
You can think of capital like clothing. If you are standing on a swelteringly hot beach while wearing a large overcoat, you’ll probably feel quite uncomfortable and people may find you slightly odd. Similarly, if you were climbing a snowy mountain, you don’t want to be wearing your swimwear! Now imagine you’ve walked into a social situation and realise you are extremely over or under-dressed. How are you feeling? Slightly exposed? A bit like you don’t belong? Wearing the right clothes can affect how comfortable we are and how accepted we feel in any given situation.
Cultural capital is similar to clothing, only it is made up of our characteristics and intrinsic features such as our background, abilities and world views. This includes things like age, gender, education level, wealth, political position, skills and so on. These aspects of ourselves will contribute to whether we feel comfortable in any given environment or ‘field’.
In addition to this is our ‘habitus’. This comprises our habits and ways of behaving, our mannerisms and the way we speak. Our capital (the things we are) combined with our habitus (the way we do things) will determine our success in any field (environment). For brevity, we will refer to both capital and habitus simply as ‘capital’.
The problem with capital is that unlike clothing, it can be very difficult to change. One important question is whether we should be considering trying to change it at all!