The acquisition of cultural capital and habitus and their impact on the academic achievement : a revised theory

Faculty/Professorship: University of Bamberg  ; Fakultät Sozial- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften: Abschlussarbeiten 
Author(s): Goßmann, Frank
Publisher Information: Bamberg : Otto-Friedrich-Universität
Year of publication: 2021
Pages: XI, 193 ; Illustrationen, Diagramme
Supervisor(s): Schindler, Steffen  ; Kleinert, Corinna  
Language(s): English
Dissertation, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, 2021
DOI: 10.20378/irb-50390
Licence: German Act on Copyright 
URN: urn:nbn:de:bvb:473-irb-503908
Even though it is well established that academic achievement is influenced by social origin, there are still open questions regarding the underlying mechanisms of this relation. In the quantitative sociology of education, cultural capital theory is often used to narrow this research gap. The cultural capital theory describes factors that mediate and thus explain the effect of social origin on academic achievement. However, there are different interpretations of the theory that are subject to some criticism. Bourdieu's works, although they serve as the origin of many approaches to solutions, are criticized for unclear definitions and hypotheses as well as insufficient empirical evidence. The further developments and interpretations of the theory that are meanwhile in common use are also subject to considerable criticism as empirical applications show limited explanatory power, the theoretical focus on high culture is too narrow, and the interrelated concept of habitus is ignored. Although the different readings of the theory give rise to different criticisms, they offer, together and in complement with related disci-plines, the elements of a more comprehensive theory. This thesis specifies such an integrating theory that is testable with quantitative empirical methods. This is not achieved by developing a precise interpretation of Bourdieu's work or other existing theories. Rather, this revised theory consists of elements of different interpretations of the cultural capital theory, but also from psychology and educational research. The aim of the thesis is to derive a theory with a higher explanatory power than the common theory and to demonstrate this in direct empirical comparison. The theory referred to as common theory describes the elaboration based on DiMaggio (1982) and the extension by Crook (1997) and de Graaf et al. (2000).
First, a theory is specified based on the answers to three basic questions. (1) How can the central terms of a useful theory of cultural capital and habitus be defined? (2) How are cultural capital and habitus acquired? (3) How does cultural capital and habitus affect academic achievement? The answers to these questions result in the revised theory. On this basis, hypotheses are formulated on the acquisition of cultural capital and habitus and their effect on academic achievement. The theory explains the effect of social origin on academic achievement via social differences in skills, knowledge, and motivational factors. They have distinctive effects or affect the ability to learn and follow school lessons or serve as explicit assessment criteria. In the common theory, social inequalities in academic achievement are accounted for by differences in high cultural characteristics and reading activities. High cultural characteristics function as means of social distinction of the upper classes, whereas reading furthers learning.
Second, the hypotheses derived from the revised theory of cultural capital and habitus are tested empirically. The re-specification of the concepts is complemented by adapted operationalizations. Multiple-group path analyses using NEPS Starting Cohort 3 data are applied to test the hypotheses. Maximum likelihood estimators with robust standard errors are used and sampling strata and clustering in schools are accounted for. To avoid biased results due to item-nonresponse, multiple imputation by chained equations is utilized, creating 100 imputed data sets. Cultural capital and habitus are conceptualized as mediators of the social origin effect on academic achievement. Hence, the following question arises: (4) Do the postulated causal pathways make a significant contribution to the explanation of social inequalities in academic achievement? Based on the multiple-group path analyses, these indirect effects are tested.
Third, the explanatory power of the revised and the common theory are compared regarding social inequalities in academic achievement. The underlying claim is that only if the revised theory performs better than the common theory, it is legitimate. Thus, the following question has to be answered: (5) Does the revised theory show a higher explanatory power with regard to social inequalities in academic achievement than the common theory? Therefore, the standardized indirect effects of social origin on academic achievement are compared. Moreover, the squared semi-partial correlations of social origin and academic achievement are contrasted when the mediating variables of the respective models are controlled.
Summarized, the revised theory explains the effect of social origin on academic achievement considerably better than the common theory. The higher explanatory power of the revised model is based on the consideration of passive and active linguistic skills. Moreover, social distinction measured by high cultural activities does not explain the effect of social origin on academic achievement when linguistic skills are considered. Future research could address alternative characteristics that might serve as means of social distinction, for example high cultural knowledge or language use. Another field of future research could be the social differences in parenting practices that account for social differences in skills, knowledge, and motivation that affect academic achievement.
GND Keywords: Kulturelles Kapital; Habitus; Schulleistung
Keywords: Cultural Capital, Habitus, Academic Achievement, Social Inequality
DDC Classification: 370 Education  
RVK Classification: MS 7300   
Type: Doctoralthesis
Release Date: 30. September 2021

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