James Hale is the lead author of “A systematic review of cultural capital in U.S. community development research” that has been published in the Journal of Rural Studies. Hale is a Research Scientist II in Sociology and CSU’s Food Systems Institute for Research, Engagement, and Learning. Co-authors include Michael Carolan, Becca Jablonski, and colleagues from Ohio State University and the University of Missouri.
Development research and practice often use a capitals framework to study and encourage community improvement (Flora et al. 2015; Pender et al., 2014; Scoones 2009). This includes capitals such as human, social, natural, infrastructural, political, economic, and cultural. Despite robust scholarship on a variety of capital types, the conceptualization and use of cultural capital in community development remains unsettled and often underdeveloped. To help address this, we have conducted a systemic literature review of peer-reviewed community development scholarship in the United States employing the concept of cultural capital between 2001 and 2021. We find that the various ways cultural capital is understood and deployed are reflective of disciplinary and practitioner assumptions and norms. Though cultural capital is often not well defined, our review suggests that it tends to be viewed as creative industries and amenities; a distinct social group; knowledge, values, attitudes, norms, and beliefs; place-based characteristics; and/or an exercise of power. A number of methodological trade-offs are discussed as well as the symbolic foundation of the concept. We posit that cultural capital might be better understood as a meta-capital, as a resource that only registers through the other capitals as opposed to something separate from them. Reflexivity on the part of researchers and practitioners is vital to deploying cultural capital for community development due to the impact such characterization can have on determining which culture matters or not, and how this can shape how other assets are mobilized. Due its place-based, symbolic, and meta qualities, cultural capital may need to be understood differently from the other capitals which has important implications for research and practice – namely the importance of community participation in determining what matters.