The Triple Helix of Social Hierarchy: Bourdieu's Three Forms of Capital

Jon Anson, Ben Gurion University of the Negev

Demographers are critically aware of the role of social hierarchy and inequality in describing population structure and in explaining mortality differentials. However, hierarchy itself has been poorly conceptualised and measured in many different ways. Bourdieu's tripartite concept of Capital helps understand the composition of social hierarchy and inequality and the way they vary from one society to another. Bourdieu defined Capital as cumulated work that has taken on a substantive form and which enables whoever controls it to expropriate social energy: human work, either their own or that of someone else. Bourdieu identified three types of capital: 1. Economic capital: anything which can be directly translated into money and thus creates a natural hierarchy of people, families and households according to their income and property rights; 2. Cultural capital: Education, and in particular, educational credentials, which create a social identity granting rights and obligations with no further proof of competence required. 3. Social capital: The sum of social resources accessible through network relations Together, access to these three types of capital create a habitus , or social environment, which generates socially conditioned patterns of action and gives a certain degree of control over the life-space. In this paper we discuss, with examples, the meaning of these three types of capital, the relations between them, how they may be measured, and how they may help us understand differences in mortality risks and longevity.

Presented in Session 9: Mortality and Longevity