This paper explores the potential of Bourdieu's approach to capital as a way of understanding class dynamics in contemporary capitalism. Recent rethinking of class analysis has sought to move beyond what Rosemary Crompton (1998) calls the 'employment aggregate approach', one which involves categorizing people into class groups according to whether they have certain attributes (e.g. occupations). Instead, recent contributions by Pierre Bourdieu, Erik Wright, Aage Sorensen, and Charles Tilly have concentrated on understanding the mechanisms that produce class inequalities. Concepts such as assets, capitals and resources (CARs) are often used to explain how class inequalities are produced, but there remain ambiguities and differences in how such terms are understood. This paper identifies problems faced both by game theoretical Marxism and by the rational choice approach of Goldthorpe in developing an adequate approach to CARs. It then turns to critically consider how elements of Bourdieu's approach, where his concept of capital is related to those of habitus and field, might overcome these weaknesses. Our rendering of his arguments leads us to conclude that our understanding of CARs might be enriched by considering how capital is distinctive not in terms of distinct relations of exploitation, but through its potential to accumulate and to be converted to other resources. This focus, we suggest, sidesteps otherwise intractable problems in CAR based approaches. © London School of Economics and Political Science 2005.
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Socio-cultural Change and Social Class: Influencing Organisational, Public and Policy Understandings of Participation and Inequality
Impact: Technological impacts, Societal impacts