Tuesday, November 09, 2010

in which she thinks bourdieu was right about cultural capital


i've been pondering social capital in recent days. pierre bourdieu's distinction lays out the theory and i read it a number of years ago when husband was working on his master's. it comes back to me again and again...basically, we are all born with a cultural, social capital at a certain level and it's very hard for us to change that. it shapes who we are and is not easy to escape.

i had occasion to observe someone trying to overcome their social capital in recent days. and it is a painful sight indeed. because cultural capital is a mysterious beast and it's definitely not easily overcome. the efforts involved are superhuman and if they're not, it ends up somehow sad and pathetic. sad to have reached a mature age and not be able to accept who you are. sad to be trying so hard and so strenuously to so little effect.

society is harsh and it has programmed us not to accept people's attempts to rise above their station. despite all that talk of the american dream and being whatever you want to be, there is still a scent of tastelessness over the nouveau riche. so if the person trying to climb up out of their social layer doesn't actually have the benefits money brings, the attempt is all the more unpretty. a set of strange rituals that are awkward and stilted because they're so unnatural.

i ended up with a kind of perversely fascinated revulsion to the sight and although i wanted to have a more anthropological view on it, i will admit that i was quite disgusted at the sight. a mixture of pity and loathing rose in me. unless you have a special talent, without education and sophistication, it's simply not possible to change your cultural capital. isn't it really just better to be content with who you are?

* * *

if you'd like a bit of a diversion from all this cryptic seriousness, why not try to mad men yourself?

8 comments:

Sandra said...

I'm not sure how to respond to this because I am unclear as to the meaning. Your feelings about this experience are clear, but what you were observing is not.

I have not read the book, but I do understand the theory. I'm not at all sure I agree with it, at least not in entirety. I also know that it seems to be the human condition to be discontented with who you are. At least at various stages of our development. I'm feeling some discontent myself.

Will said...

What you describe is part of why immigrants move to the same neighborhoods. However, societies exert pressure, just by their existence, and various degrees of assimilation will, with time, happen.

Awkwardness with assimilation and misunderstandings by the more indigenous have created some really ugly tensions.

Of course, there will always be fools, mercenaries and confused innocents as they interpret what they think are the rules and manifestos of the society they want to join.

And, no, I personally don't think a person should ever be content - regarding almost anything. Within our DNA is the need to strive and it should not be suppressed.

Oh, and I so enjoy it when you go existential!

The Painting Queen said...

my brain hurts today.... so I opted to go madmen even if I don't watch television. looks nifty fifty....prefer sixties...was fun playing dress up while I wait for head to stop hurting.

Char said...

i've always thought there was a difference in the gauche rich and just trying to better ourselves...but then again, i will probaby never been rich. i need to get on the mad men bandwagon.

Karen said...

What Will said.

Teresa said...

Interesting thoughts.

While I largely consent, I like to think about the exceptions, people, who for whatever reason, are graced with more than their peers. I suppose they fit within the paradigm, but I would have to do more reading to understand.

I do believe that sometimes that climb can produce results in following generations as Will more eloquently stated.

I wonder if these are musings brought about by time spent in the Philippines?

I spend time reminding myself of my mediocrity. Yet when I travel, I remember that I live in such an extravagant way compared to the majority of people on this earth.

Erica said...

If one does not accept oneself while in the constant struggle to redefine our cultural capitol, we would still be carving on cave walls. To the observer, the effort may appear to be sad or pathetic. The "American Dream" is alive and well. Perhaps the struggle is the constant, the generational progress the goal, and the ultimate goal the success of the future generations?

Jude Doyland said...

Oh I love Distinction! Bourdieu's best work! And without a doubt it is hard to leave and learn a new class because of the ways in which class is inscribed in our very selves - your visceral reaction shows this because it is a reaction that is hard to articulate, you only know that a person doesn't fit. That said, I always felt Bourdieu was a little bit hopeful that there were strategies, tactics and that cultural capital could be learned. Largely through formal education but learned nonetheless. But yes in 2010 class matters.