It’s been a while since I did a blog but I do have what people will see as a good reason. As part of my dissertation at university I have to do a literature review of any relevant literature and it’s not as easy as it sounds! Reading through pages and pages of academic literature takes its toll on your brain and your sanity. Making endless notes and re-reading to make sure you haven’t missed the all-important word that could make a difference strains not only your brain but your eyes too. But having said all that it is very interesting and rewarding on many levels.
For many students the word dissertation strikes fear into them. It is the same for many employees who are asked to compile a report on their competitor’s latest product or last week’s sales figures. Where do I start! At the beginning. Sounds easy enough and for some reports it is. You will have a start point already made for you. For other reports and for a dissertation it is not so easy. My advice is to find a significant point in time to focus on and to remember that you can go back before this point as well as forwards after it too. The point provides a reference for you to focus on and to start your dissertation or report from.
As part of my dissertation I have to apply a sociological theory to my work. This is because I am studying sociology and my dissertation needs to reflect that. The theory I have chosen is that of habitus and capital from the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. I have chosen Bourdieu’s work because I am interested in how power is controlled and maintained within society and within certain groups. Some groups appear to have a lot of power, others none at all. But who decides who has the power and how it is distributed amongst society? How do the powerful maintain their power? What are the subtle signs within society that many of us are exposed to from an early age that influence our perceptions of power? There are many signs that influence our decision on who are powerful and why. Bourdieu classed them as Social Capital, Cultural Capital, Economic Capital and Symbolic Capital. We are exposed to these forms of Capital from the day we are born and continue to be exposed to them till the day we die.
Many of them are so familiar to us that we don’t even notice them anymore. Statues looking down at us from on high signifying power in one form or another. If you do as well as me you may too get a statue made of you they seem to tell us as we walk by. This signifies power and who has it. If you read the plinth it may tell you why they earnt this power, in battle, in politics or maybe for writing or painting. Either way it signifies what constitutes power in society and why. Are we meant to bow down to this form of power, aspire to it or both? Either way it tells us who are the powerful and why on a daily basis.
Every day we are exposed to Economic Capital with endless news reports of sporting superstars earning vast amounts of money, companies making billions of billions of pounds of profit while still increasing prices but telling us that we should be grateful to them for providing us with energy, housing, food and other commodities at vastly inflated prices. We get told that these sporting superstars are worth every penny but is that for their talent or for the immense revenue and profits they generate from companies around the world?
Speaking of brands they enter into our Symbolic and Cultural capital unnoticed. Just think of McDonalds, Adidas, Ford and Apple to name a few. They and many others have entered into our Symbolic and Cultural society naturally and now all we have to do is see a product of theirs and we immediately know who made it, how much it cost, where it was made and based on this information we make assumptions about people. If we take the example of Ford we may assume that this person is at the lower end of the economic scale and so doesn’t have much spare cash. Compared to someone who is driving a Porsche or a Ferrari we would assume that they are at the other end of the economic scale and are very wealthy. Both examples could be wrong. The Ford driver could be rich but likes to save his pennies whilst the Porsche driver could have hired it for the day just to experience what it is like to own one.
But the point still stands that we give these products such Symbolic and Cultural capital and this is so ingrained within our natural psyche that we don’t even register the assumptions we are making about the people who use these products. We have subconsciously given these products and by association the people who use them Symbolic and Cultural capital and therefore power. With regards to this power we may position ourselves above them if we feel we have more power than them or below them if we feel we have less power than them.
This power is then transferred into where we stand within society. Someone viewed with low power will have a low social standing within society and viewed as not making much of a contribution to the running of society. On the other hand someone viewed as having high power will have a high social standing within society and viewed as having made a greater contribution to the running of that society. High power also brings more opportunities to maintain and exploit this power to the full. Once people have this power they do not want to give it up and will keep it for themselves only transferring it to their next of kin. This then maintains the status quo of the elite and any new members must have sufficient Social, Cultural, Symbolic and Economic capital of their own in order for them to join the club.
I will stress now that these are my thoughts and I am probably repeating the thoughts and ideas of many who have gone before me. This is also a very complex branch of sociology to get to grips with and a blog such as this does not have the space or scope needed to explore Bourdieu in sufficient depth and breadth. I just hope I’ve given you something to think about next time you look around at all the cultural symbols that surround you in your life.
Thanks for reading and take care 🙂