DSOC invitee Prof. Thomas Abel lectured on „Cultural capital and health“

Is health a priority to you? How do you perceive health risks? Questions like these are what interests Prof. Thomas Abel when researching health inequalities. The Department of Social Sciences (DSOC) hosted the professor as a guest speaker on Wednesday, 20 October 2021 for a lecture on “Cultural Capital and Health”. In his presentation, Professor Abel addressed strengths and weaknesses of the concept and discussed opportunities for future applications. Find the complete set of presentation slides here!

A cultural-capital approach to health – an asset for youth research

In his talk, Professor Abel introduced his latest works on the theory of cultural capital. Put forward by Bourdieu initially, many scientists have contributed to forming this complex network of theoretical ideas, concepts and assumptions. For Luxembourg’s youth researchers, the theory on cultural capital has served as a key theoretical concept in writing the Youth Report 2020.

According to Professor Abel, health researchers apply cultural capital theory in cases where the conventional indicator ‘socio-economic status’ (SES) fails to explain persisting social differences in health and illness as well as health-related practices. Notions of cultural capital, next to economic capital and social capital, may help to explain the nature of interactions within various aspects of healthcare systems.

Picture of people buying medication in a pharmacy.
Photo by Tbel Abuseridze via Unsplash.com

The Dark Side of the Moon? Researching social inequality through cultural capital

Being an eloquent presenter already, Professor Abel’s lecture, was an engaging event to attend: Referencing Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”, he emphasized the grave contrast between rich and poor, leading him to the question: there must surely be problems on the “bright” side as well – how are they intertwined with the “dark” side?

With an eye towards policy making, Professor Abel advocated for a sufficient provision of material and non-material resources and to “empower the disadvantaged to become active agents for their health” (Abel, 2021). In this regard, his slides never failed to make their point: depicting at one point how, for example in São Paulo, a disadvantaged neighborhood borders an extraordinarily affluent one. In his later slides, graphs showed the various theoretical models of interactions between different cultural capitals.

Picture showing a dense urban area in front of blue sky with one-story buildings on the left and a set of high-rise buildings on the right.
Photo by Danilo Alves via Unsplash.com

Enriching discussions amongst the scientific community

Scientific exchange among researchers is crucial to developing any kind of theory. Cultural capital theory is no exception: continuous discussions and feedback helped shaping it the way it currently presents itself to scientists.

Professor Abel demonstrated that reassessing empirical benchmarks for operationalizations of theoretical concepts is a very hands-on thought process: in surveys, cultural capital is often measured by question such as “How many books do you have at home?” or “Do you collect art?”. However, would young people express cultural capital (still) by having a “Monet” on their wall?

No wonder also, that the subsequent Q and A triggered many interesting questions on the use of cultural capital theory for future research angles by colleagues from various areas of the Department.

Picture showing a woman looking at a museum wall with Monet's painting "Girl in the Garden"
Photo by Diane Pichiottino via Unsplash.com

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