Sociology: Class

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Pierre Bourdieu explains that those who are wealthy (have the highest cultural capital) do not necessarily have the highest social status (highest economic capital). High social status (high culture) versus low social status (low cultural symbols) often relies on values and education, not necessarily on money. Occasionally the new rich (nouveau riche) can be relatively low in social status (culture leading). A good contemporary example is the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies and Donald Trump.

Those that acquire high social status (cultural symbols) in high status groups (old money) will have learned these values and be educated by their families in what is called habitus (habit). This high social status is deeply ingrained in children by their families at an early age so that these habits seem natural (almost inherited or inborn). Bourdieu argues that you can acquire upper-class habits through education but these will always be incomplete. This is because the individual lacks the confidence and natural attitude acquired by those raised with such habits from an early age. One simple example habit is simply saying “please and thank you” at the appropriate time. Indeed, even preschool teachers respond more positively to polite than impolite children, and these simple courtesies are part of the child’s future success in life.

Persons not raised in high social status families and communities may acquire the high social status symbols through education but will fail to master the “comfort zone” of those who were raised with the symbols from birth.

The author contrasts the authentic acquisition of high social status (class symbols) through the family and through the educational system (autodidact).

Unfortunately for those who were born with lower social status all of the various high social status teachings (cultural symbols), high, low, and in between, are constant flux. Indeed, middle class and low social status teachings are in constant flux also.

The upper classes practices high social status "violence" (symbolic violence) on those that do not understand the deep rules of the game. Including against even the new rich.

Certain habitual practices prevail among the upper classes such as not showing off one's wealth or status (ostentatious) and the importance of high culture art, music, and literature.

Family is an important and central part (integral mechanism) of the high social status class structure of any society.

High social status behaviors (cultural symbols) are used to identify the people that would be socially “appropriate” for high economic positions of power and prestige.

Surprisingly, the United States ranks very last of 10 countries in social mobility (Forbes magazine drawn from an OECD report). The three most mobile societies in the world are Denmark, Australia, and Norway, while the last three were Spain, France, and the United States. In otherwords, the last three countries, including the United States, are more rigidly structured and pass on social and economic advantage generation to generation (intergenerationally).

The author argues that elites in developed countries such as the United States are “cultural omnivores" and favor a more sophisticated elitism (more diversified and diffuse).


  • White, J.M., Klein, D.M., & Martin, T.F. (2015). Family theories: An introduction (4th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.