Capital Composition in Capitalist Social Orders: Examining the Applicability and Variability of Bourdieu’s Model of Class across Nations

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Will ATKINSON, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
This paper reports on efforts to test the contemporary applicability and generalisability of Pierre Bourdieu’s recasting of class as a multidimensional ‘social space’. Specifically, the task is to determine whether a prime vertical principle of stratification based on volume of all pertinent forms of capital (economic, social and cultural) is consistently accompanied by a secondary, horizontal ‘capital composition’ principle distinguishing those richer in economic capital from those richer in cultural capital and, if so, whether there are any national divergences in its strength. Drawing on data from the 2009 International Social Survey Programme’s Social Inequality module and deploying multiple correspondence analysis, separate models of social spaces for twenty mature capitalist countries are constructed. The main finding is that Bourdieu’s model generally holds good for a wide range of nations in the 21st Century, but the strength of the capital composition principle, and thus its likely salience in everyday perceptions of social difference, varies considerably from country to country. While limits of the data encourage caution not to overstate conclusions, the potency of the capital composition principle does seem to correspond with the level of economic inequality and average years of education within nations.