Dane Morace-Court portrait

Written by Dane Morace-Court

Education Leader, Sociologist and PhD Candidate at the University of Chichester. Research explores the intersection of class, gender and ethnicity in the formation of identities. Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Teaching Academy. Member of the British Sociological Association.

Narratives around developing students’ Cultural capital is en vogue in contemporary education. Few educators, however, have had the opportunity to explore the term in its relation to social-class, education and, in particular, working-class underachievement in schools. 

The term cultural capital was coined by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, to describe the education levels, hobbies and interests of individuals within a particular social group and, in turn, how these experiences conflate to create a schema (or habitus) through which the individual interprets and navigates their social world. Cultural capital is, then, a conduit through which working-class underachievement in schools can be considered and explored. 

As a sociologist, and one who identifies as a ‘working-class academic,’ my research focuses on the construction of identities for white, working-class boys within the neoliberalised (secondary) education system. Accordingly, I often have the opportunity to share my work with a range of educational professionals, academics and researchers. In doing so, I can usually count on the following two questions being asked of me: ‘how do you define social class?’ and ‘what can I – a white, heterosexual male (with all of the obvious privilege that comes with this) – contribute to discussions on diversity in education?’ Both fair questions. 

Before I answer them, however, allow me to set out my stall with the following statement: any exploration into students’ experiences in education, be they based on ethnicity, gender, disability, religion or sexuality, must consider social-class as part of its framing. To dismiss social class (or any other characteristic that could impact on an individual’s perception-of-self) from discussions around equality and diversity is to argue for a homogenous experience of any and all members of a social group. Thus, social-class should, as Block & Corona (2014) note, be one of multiple intersecting factors considered when looking to understand the educational experience of any and all social groups. 

So how are we to define and contextualise social class? this complicated, mercurial term, which seems to paradoxically explain so much and nothing at all. Indeed, the history of academia is littered with researchers offering us definitions, models and paradigms through which to offer clarity to the term. Marx and Engels (1848) famously offer us examples based on ownership of economic production. Goldthorpe (1992), meanwhile, directs us towards a schema (unsurprisingly known as the Goldthorpe Schema) which asks us to consider social positions in relation to occupation. More recently, Savage (2015) fractures the issue further, arguing for a model of no less than seven different social classes. Meanwhile, some postmodern scholars, such as Beck (2004, cited in Atkinson, 2007, p.354), argue that class, as a concept, is no longer relevant (Beck famously described class as a ‘zombie characteristic… the idea lives on even though the reality to which it corresponds is dead.’)

It is, however, Bourdieu to whom we can once again turn, in order to offer us the critical lens through which to consider social-class in relation to educational experiences and achievement. For Bourdieu, class can be considered as the intersection of three different types of capital: economic (wealth and assets), cultural (education level, hobbies and interests) and social (who one interacts with socially and the advantages this may offer). When conceptualised in such a way, the notion of social-class becomes intrinsic in informing not only students’ educational experiences but also their opportunities for success. 

Because, of course, students are not operating within neutral classed territory. As Archer et al. (2010) argue, the education system values, above all else, a middle-class habitus, middle-class culture and middle-class aspirations. In doing so, many working-class students are operating within an education system in which they are not valued and their own culture is not reflected back at them. This, argues Archer et al. (ibid), is an act of symbolic violence. 

So, to our second question, what can I, as a white, heterosexual male offer in relation to discussions on diversity in education? The answer is simple, let us not dismiss social-class as a lens through which to consider the experiences of students. Let us consider students in all of their intersecting complexities and in doing so, offer classed-identities the same gravitas we offer to more prominent conversations around protected characteristics. It will be to the benefit of all stakeholders in education; teachers, leaders, researchers and, most importantly, the students we serve. 

Class dismissed? Not for me. 




Archer, L., Hollingworth, S. and Mendick, H. (2010). Urban Youth and Schooling. McGraw-Hill Education.

Atkinson, W. (2007) Beck, Individualization and the Death of Class: A Critique. British Journal of Sociology 58, 349–66.

Block, D. and Corona, V. (2014) Exploring class-based intersectionality. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 27(1), pp.27-42.

Goldthorpe, J.H. (1992). Individual or family? Results from two approaches to class assignment. Acta Sociologica, 35(2), pp.95-105.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1848). The Communist Manifesto. Selected Works by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. New York: International Publishers.

Savage, M. (2015). Social class in the 21st century. Penguin UK.

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