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In sociology and anthropology, symbolic capital can be referred to as the resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition, and functions as an authoritative embodiment of cultural value. A war hero, for example, may have symbolic capital in the context of running for political office. Symbolic capital cannot be converted to other forms of capital (economic, cultural, social). Rather, these latter three can have also symbolic value. For example a car may have both economic and symbolic value. Value of any given object is always a sum of its symbolic and other capital.

Symbolic capital is always defined by the system in which it is valued. Different system value the same object differently: for some, car as economic capital has less symbolic value than for others.

This concept was coined by Pierre Bourdieu, and is expanded in his book Distinction. It is an extension of Max Weber's analysis of status.[1]

Symbolic capital may be embedded in the built environment or urban form of a city as the portion of its exchange value which can be attributed to its symbolic content. For example, landmarks usually have symbolic value & utility. They become landmarks because they have symbolic value.


  1. ^ Calhoun, Craig (ed) Dictionary of the Social Sciences (Article: Symbolic Capital), Oxford University Press, 2002

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