InQuery: Why isn’t cultural capital valued as highly as economic capital?

Within a capitalist system, the most commonly thought of form of capital is economic – essentially the net worth of an individual or entity, consisting of money, property, stocks, etc. There are, however, many forms of capital beyond this. I use the term cultural capital here to refer to things like skills, knowledge of all sorts, networks and affiliations, experience, etc. that can also be referred to as capital. The supremacy of economic capital can be seen in the way in which various forms of cultural capital are defined by how they affect and are affected by economic capital. Some take economic capital to develop (as in the skills at ITP, “bought” with tuition $$$), most enhance the ability of an individual or entity to generate economic capital, and for many both are true.

There are other ways in which we can see economic capital being prized over cultural capital. One is the discrepancy of salaries between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors; staff at organizations that work to build cultural capital on both a micro and macro scale are expected to work just as hard for less pay than those performing similar roles at organizations looking to sell products and provide a payday for investors. Embedded in this is the notion that economic capital increased in value via a transformation to cultural capital is an inferior investment when compared to economic capital used to generate additional economic capital. It is valued so highly that we generally don’t bat an eyelash at economic capital used to fund ventures that have a decent chance of losing money, but a nonprofit must have a nearly risk-free program idea with solid outcomes and returns in order to even think about finding funding.

In many ways, we are all affected. Innovation is just as important to organizations involved in the development of cultural capital as it is to those devoted to the generation of economic capital. When an organization is forced to take the less risky path in order to secure funding, we all lose out on whatever may have come from a more adventurous solution. Consider Majora Carter’s conversation about coding workshops vs. her work with StartupBox, and how much easier it would have been to find support for the less effective but safer solution. Continue reading