Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital and its implications for the science curriculum


Correspondence to: Stephanie Claussen; e-mail:


This paper argues that Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital has significant value for identifying the “worth” of a science education. His notion of “embodied,” “objectified,” and “institutionalized” cultural capital is used as a theoretical lens to identify both the intrinsic value of scientific knowledge and its extrinsic value for future employment. This analysis suggests that science education misses three opportunities to establish its value to its students and the wider public. First, science education commonly has a poor understanding of the nature of embodied capital that it offers, failing to communicate the cultural achievement that science represents. Second, it fails to see itself as a means of developing the critical dispositions of mind, which are the hallmark of a scientist but also useful to all citizens. Third, given the policy emphasis on educating the next generation of scientists, it fails to exploit the one major element of cultural capital that science education is currently seen to offer by scientists, the public, and its students—that is the value that science qualifications have for future employment. Bourdieu's concept that the primary function of education is to sustain the culture and privilege of the dominant groups in society offers a lens that helps to identify how and why these apparent contradictions exist. Drawing on Bourdieu's ideas, we develop a perspective to critique current practice and identify the possible contributions science education might make to remediating social injustice.