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date: 29 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Decades after the publication of his key works, Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology of education remains the object of persistent misunderstanding. A coherent account of this work must distinguish, at minimum, two phases to Bourdieu’s thoughts on education. During the early period, Bourdieu asserted the salience of both self-selection and institutional selection in shunting students into class destinations that echoed their class origins. However, these works were uniformly devoted to identifying the peculiarities of the (then) contemporary French system, considered to be an exemplar of a distinct (“traditionalistic”) institutional form. In contrast, Bourdieu’s later work sought to develop a model of the relation between education and social inequality that had significant cross-national scope. This work de-emphasized the role of self-selection, and developed a substantially more nuanced account of the relation between education and social mobility. What Bourdieu terms the “scholastic mode of reproduction” in this period denotes a system in which children from the upper reaches of the class structure are systematically advantaged in the pursuit of social rewards by virtue of their inherited cultural capital, yet nevertheless face a real risk of downward mobility. For this reason, we term it a theory of “imperfect social reproduction.”

Keywords: Bourdieu, education, inequality, culture, cultural capital, class

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