Cultural reproduction

Cultural reproduction is the transmission of existing cultural values and norms from generation to generation. Cultural reproduction refers to the mechanisms by which continuity of cultural experience is sustained across time. Cultural reproduction often results in social reproduction, or the process of transferring aspects of society (such as class) from generation to generation.

  1. Groups of people, notably social classes, act to reproduce the existing social structure to preserve their advantage
  2. The processes of schooling in modern societies are among the main mechanisms of cultural reproduction, and do not operate solely through what is taught in courses of formal instruction.

Reproduction as it is applied to culture, is the process by which aspects of culture are passed on from person to person or from society to society. There are a number of different ways in which this has happened. Historically, people have moved from different countries taking with them certain cultural norms and traditions. For centuries cultural reproduction has occurred in a profound way through a hidden agenda. Cultures transmit aspects of behavior which individuals learn in an informal way while they are out of the home.

Examples of Cultural Reproduction

An example of cultural reproduction is enculturation which one sociologist describes as "a partly conscious and partly unconscious learning experience when the older generation invites, induces, and compels the younger generation to adopt traditional ways of thinking and behaving". Although, Enculturation in many ways duplicates and copies many similar norms and traditions of previous generations it does not always replicate everything that is the same. Enculturation is the reason why, for example, people born in the U.S. drive on the right side of the road while people in England drive on the left. Parents and educators continue to be two of the most influential enculturating forces of cultural reproduction.

Another example of cultural reproduction is diffusion. Diffusion, the act of spreading out occurs when dependable cultural behaviors or norms are passed from one society to another. Diffusion is the reason why U.S. citizens enjoy the Japanese delicacy Sushi, and make everyday use of words like “boutique”, a common French word.


The concept of cultural reproduction was first developed by the French sociologist and cultural theorist Pierre Bourdieu in the early 1970's. Initially, Bourdieu’s work was on education in a modern society. He believed that the education system was used solely to ‘reproduce’ the culture of the dominant class in order for the dominant class to continue to hold and release power. Bourdieu’s ideas were similar to those of Louis Althusser's notion of ‘ideological state apparatuses’ which had emerged around the same time. He began to study socialization and how dominant culture and certain norms and traditions effected many social relations.

One of Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron main concepts on Cultural Reproduction was in their book Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction. Bourdieu’s main focus was the structural reproduction of disadvantages and inequalities that are caused by cultural reproduction. According to Bourdieu, inequalities are recycled through the education system and other social institutions . Bourdieu believed that the prosperous and affluent societies of the west were becoming the “cultural capital”. High social class, familiarity with the bourgeois culture and educational credentials determined one’s life chances. It was biased towards those of higher social class and aided in conserving social hierarchies. This system concealed and neglected individual talent and academic meritocracy. Bourdieu demonstrated most of his known theories in his books The Inheritors and Reproduction in Education, Culture and Society. Both books established him as a progenitor of “Reproduction theory”

Bourdieu also pioneered many procedural frameworks and terminologies such as cultural, social, and symbolic capital, and the concepts of habitus field, and symbolic violence. Bourdieu's work emphasized the role of practice and embodiment in social dynamics. Bourdieu’s theories build upon the conjectures of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl, Georges Canguilhem, Karl Marx, Gaston Bachelard, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Norbert Elias, among others.

Debate Over Cultural Reproduction

Bourdieu is best known for his theoretical principles, conceptual devices and political intentions. He theorizes that what is taught to younger generations is dependent on the varying degrees of social, economic, and cultural capital. Those cultures have gained cultural capital and are considered the dominant group among the rest. However, in order to acquire cultural capital one must undergo indiscernable learning and these cultural norm must be used in the earliest days of life.

Through Cultural Reproduction, only those members of the dominant culture can acquire knowledge in relation to the way it is taught from within this cultural system. Therefore, those who are not members of the dominant culture are at a disadvantage to receive cultural information, and therefore will remain at a disadvantage. Capitalist societies depend on a stratified social system, where the working class has an education suited for manual labor: leveling out such inequalities would break down the system. Therefore, schools in capitalist societies require a method of stratification, and often choose to do so in a way in which the dominant culture will not lose its hegemony. One method of maintaining this stratification is through cultural reproduction.

Bourdieu Central Issues

Bourdieu's sociological work was dominated by an analysis of the mechanisms of reproduction of social hierarchies. In opposition to Marxist analyses, Bourdieu criticized the premises given to the economic factors, and stressed that the capacity of social actors to actively impose and engage their cultural productions and symbolic systems plays an essential role in the reproduction of social structures of domination. What Bourdieu called symbolic violence (the capacity to ensure that the unpredictability of the social order is ignored—-or misrecognized as natural—-and thus to ensure the legitimacy of social structures) plays an essential part in his sociological analysis.


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