What is symbolic power?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The notion of symbolic power or symbolic capital derives from the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bordieu. He expands on Marxist theory to emphasize that there is not only economic capital of the type discussed by Marx, but also cultural and symbolic capital. While cultural capital includes knowledge and skills, symbolic capital is grounded in things like honour and prestige. Thus, for example, if you get a degree from Harvard university, the knowledge and skills you acquire in the process would constitute cultural capital and the name of the degree granting institution and its prestige constitute symbolic capital and give you power within prestige hierarchies. Both confer on you the ability to get a better job than you would as a high school drop out, and thus contribute to your ability to earn economic capital and power.


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