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L’appropriation de l’héritage culturel


In the 1970s Bourdieu and Passeron termed upper-class children who did better at school than others as "heirs." They were thus trying to show the barely visible link between the family and the school and the new privileges enjoyed by some children living in a favourable environment (i.e. one with a culture similar to that recognized by the school). This article takes a critical look at this analogy between economic and cultural wealth. The latter is not passed on in the same way as economic or material goods, but requires work on the part of the "heirs." Academic wealth must be personally amassed by each young person ; being an "heir" does not alone guarantee success. The ideology of a meritocracy is not simply an illusion that masks social and cultural inequalities, but involves a price for everyone: everyone must prove themselves ; everyone must prove to themselves and others that their merit is not only a reflection of their origins and heritage. When this ideology is practised in a society such as France where school is considered important, it fits in with the according of value to schoolwork ; but in other societies it may be more directly influenced by evidence of merit observed in the labour market, thus neglecting the mediatory role the institution of the school plays in the production of individuals.

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