Cultural Capital of Literature

“The weight of items of legitimate culture can also be analyzed by looking at the importance attached to purchasable signals in contrast to culturally acquired ones….In the U.S., in contrast to France, access to goods…is more important than modalities of consumption…This trait might be becoming more pronounced, as exemplified by the recent rapid diffusion of the expensive yuppy culture, and the simultaneous decline of cultural literacy” (page 163).

Lamont and Lareau are very critical of the ways in which cultural capital as a theory has been distorted by U.S. sociology into a much narrower and exclusive theory that focuses primarily on high culture. In opposition to this phenomena, they offer a modification of this approach that would actually look into all forms of American cultural capital. “Legitimate capital” is of particular interest to Lamont and Lareau, as it seems to have become something focused more on items’ material values than on the value of their consumption and the ways in which we can mobilize them. I feel this idea can be applied to the culture of literature, as we often see literature as simply physical texts that are produced and reproduced in order to be possessed. Extending the ideas of Lamont and Lareau, literature becomes less of a tool that we can put into use and instead is reduced to something we are only interested in creating and obtaining. The status that U.S. society has assigned to literature is largely superficial; we put texts on a pedestal as if some sort of prize to aspire for (and not necessarily to aspire to), but we fail to remove the prize from the pedestal to actually comprehend their internal value. It’s as if literature itself (and thus, literacy and literary circulation) have simply been reduced to status symbol.