In this essay, Bourdieu lists the three “guises” of capital and elucidates how they collect, operate, and exchange in the process that determines an agent’s position in the social structure. The first, economic, is readily converted into money and sometimes institutionalized in the form of property rights. The second, cultural capital, can occur in three forms: the embodied state (i.e. “long-lasting dispositions of the mind and body” [p. 47]); the objectified state (e.g. books, instruments, tools indicative of education and training); and the institutionalized form (i.e. educational qualifications which confer “entirely original properties on the cultural capital which it is presumed to guarantee” [p. 47]).
While capital is always accumulated labor, there are different types. Embodied capital’s exchanges are more hidden than economic capital’s, it is likely to operate as symbolic capital (indeed, it cannot be transmitted from one to another), not recognized as true capital at all, but “legitimate competence” (p. 49). There is a hereditary component to cultural capital; the attainment of a certain level of education mandates a previous cultural capital investment by a family. The link between economic and cultural capital is the time necessary to acquire each; the time necessary to attain the latter depends on one family’s ability to sponsor such endeavors. By contrast, the objectified state of cultural capital is very transmissible. The institutionalized state conveys value in the labor market, though it is not an absolute value.
The third form of capital, social capital, is the “aggregate of the actual or potential resources” (p. 51) associated with a strong social network of personal relationships and memberships in groups, which themselves convey “credit in the various senses of the word” (p. 51). Social capital is not reducible to an agent’s economic or cultural capital but it linked to both based on its exertion of a “multiplier effect” (p. 51). All groups have institutionalized forms of commission, which enable them to select delegates to speak on the group’s behalf. This can be a paradoxical relationship should the delegate over “embezzle” power, either by exercising control over or acting against the group. Those in power, faced with losing institutional protections of their capital interests and determined to keep their capital, will resort to reproduction strategies that privilege cultural capital in one’s valorization in the social structure.