Julia Roberts acquires cultural capital in Pretty Woman
Tags: class, culture, inequality, knowledge, theory, bourdieu, cultural capital, economic capital, social capital, symbolic capital, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: This video clip combines two scenes from the film Pretty Woman (1990). In the first scene, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), a working class sex worker, is given dinner etiquette lessons from a newly befriended hotel manager in preparation for a fancy dinner she is attending with Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), a rich business man who has hired Vivian to attend social events with him throughout the week. The second scene depicts Vivian at dinner with Edward and his business affiliates, trying to apply her recently acquired etiquette knowledge. Taken together, these scenes are useful for illustrating various dimensions of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's understanding of capital. For Bourdieu, capital refers to goods or resources, and he distinguishes between four different types of capital. Economic capital refers to money, property, and other assets. Social capital refers to networks of influence or support based on group membership (such as family), friends, or other contacts. Cultural capital refers to forms of knowledge, educational credentials, and skills. Symbolic capital refers to socially recognized legitimization such as prestige or honor. Bourdieu links these various forms of capital by illustrating how social, cultural, and symbolic capital convert back into economic capital. The film clip from Pretty Woman is useful for discussing and distinguishing among all four types of capital. Vivian's lesson in dinner etiquette, such as knowledge about which fork to use at dinner, illustrates cultural capital. Edward's relationship with his business affiliates illustrates social capital, and his ability to afford an expensive setting for his business meeting (not to mention hiring a person to accompany him all week to social events) illustrates his economic capital. Bourdieu's concept of symbolic capital is more difficult to grasp, and it's closely related to cultural and social capital. However, viewers might consider the ways in which Vivian lacks symbolic capital, as sex work is socially stigmatized and associated with the loss or absence of prestige or honor. Indeed, throughout the film Vivian is frequently looked down upon by others—such as hotel staff, boutique salespeople, and the young businessman depicted in this clip—who suspect she is a sex worker. Consistent with Bourdieu's theory, viewers might consider examples of how social, cultural, and symbolic capital can convert back into economic capital, and therefore maintain class inequality.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp
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