by Joan Forbes, Gaby Weiner, John Horne, Bob Lingard

[this is a response to a previous post What are the capital benefits of boarding schools?]

An interesting post today, Mark, on the new article by Bass (2014) which applies a capitals frame to understand boarding schools: we share your surprise regarding ‘the lack of any sustained discussion of how forms of capital (in particular economic capital) buy you access to such schools in the first place’.

Readers of Social Theory Applied may be aware of the Scottish Independent Schools Project research by Bob Lingard, Gaby Weiner, Joan Forbes and John Horne which has emerged from the Applied Educational Research Scheme, Schools and Social Capital network (SSCN) studies. Located alongside other SSCN projects, which were  interested in how social capital might be used to help schools, families and young people overcome disadvantage, the SISP series of studies explore how social and other capitals work in and through fee-charging schools to produce and reproduce advantage (see e.g. Forbes & Weiner 2008; Lingard et al 2012). The SISP studies apply the analytic of social capital and, following Bourdieu’s work on the crucial intersection of economic, cultural and social capitals in educational attainment, other capitals, cultural, economic, symbolic (including in the form of reputation), national, cosmopolitan and emotional (Bourdieu, 1986, 1991, 2003; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992).

An important finding in the SISP series of studies to date has been not only that in these schools ‘most … students enjoy the advantages of familial economic surety, that is [they] come from well off families, and as such they experience the associated freedom to think and learn’ (Forbes & Lingard 2013, p51), but also that in fee-charging boarding – and day – schools ‘the economic capital and economic surety of students and their families are manifested in school space in multiple ways: physical social and intellectual’ (ibid. 2013, p55).

Indeed one headteacher confided ‘that the quality of schooling available at the school should be available to all young people, including those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds attending state schools in poor communities. She concluded, however, that the cost of provision of such schooling was the “elephant in the room” here, and that this in some ways challenged her own political commitments to real equality of opportunity for all’ (ibid. 2013, p57).

So, of course, the evident tension is the reality that these schools produce distinctions academically – and socially – thus producing future advantage for their young people. Perhaps then not so surprising that the initial economic capital advantage of fee-charging schools’ students remains unspoken and unexamined?

Interestingly, other SISP studies have found ‘gender’ to be another ‘elephant…’ in the fee-charging case study schools (see e.g. Horne, Lingard, Weiner & Forbes 2011; and Forbes & Weiner 2013). Comment on that for another time…


More information on the The THEORY SPACE initiative can be found here, while click here for the Teacher in Public project:


Bourdieu, P. (1986) The forms of capital. In J.G. Richardson (Ed.) Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education. Pp241-258. New York: Greenwood.

Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (2003) Firing back against the tyranny of the market. London: Verso.

Bourdieu, P. & Wacquant, L.J.D. (1992) An invitation to reflexive sociology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Horne, J., Lingard, B., Weiner, G. & Forbes, J. (2011) Capitalizing on sport: Sport, physical education and multiple capitals in Scottish independent schools. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 32.6, 861-879.

Forbes, J. & Lingard, B. (2013) Elite school capitals and girls’ schooling: Understanding the (re) production of privilege through a habits of ‘assuredness’. In C. Maxwell & P. Aggleton (Eds.) Privilege, agency and affect: Understanding the production and effects of action. Pp50-68. London/New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Forbes, J. & Weiner, G. (2008) Under-stated powerhouses: Scottish independent schools, their characteristics and their capitals. Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education, 29.4, 509-525.

Forbes, J. & Weiner, G. (2013) Gendering/ed research spaces: insights from a study of independent schooling. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26.4, 455-469.

Lingard, B., Forbes, J., Weiner, G. & Horne, J. (2012) Multiple capitals and Scottish independent schools: The (re)production of advantage. In J. Allan & R. Catts (Eds.) Social capital, children and young people: Implications for practice, policy and research. Pp181-198. Bristol: Policy Press.