After the reform and opening, Chinese society provided a natural laboratory for discussing the dynamic changes of social stratification. The reform and opening up is a watershed that separated “political stratification” from “economic stratification” in Chinese society (Li 1997). After experiencing radical and chaotic revolutions, upper-class culture and lifestyles have almost disappeared (Qiang Li 2011). This provides an excellent opportunity for us to observe the emergence and development of cultural stratification after the reform. Bourdieu’s (1984) emphasis on economic capital, cultural capital, and stratification of habitus provides a good framework for this analysis.
Bourdieu’s class theory: capital and habitus
Bourdieu’s theories of class are scattered among his books and articles (Weininger 2005). In Bourdieu’s view, if one principle exists that applies to various aspects of social life, it is “distinction.” In a divided society, no individual, group, or class can escape the logic of distinction (Bourdieu 1984). Distinctions between individuals or groups mainly occur in material relations and symbolic relationships, namely objective status position and internal ideas and tastes (its different combinations form “habitus”). The former limits attitudes and actions of individuals, and the latter is the individual’s inner experiences and active construction of the living world (Wacquant 2013). Therefore, Bourdieu declares that class is defined by its “being” and “being-perceived” at the same time (1990, 135).
Bourdieu defines class as a group of individuals that shares a common nature and the same external living conditions. He proposes using economic, social, cultural, and symbolic capital to analyze the individual’s external living conditions in the social space, with habitus analyzing internalized personal characteristics. In Bourdieu’s opinion, modern society is a result of different cross-penetrations of “fields” that form the “social space.” Individuals and classes use a variety of forms of capital in the social space to struggle with each other and to defend or take an advantageous social position. The same social position will result in the same or similar living conditions, thus shaping a similar class habitus (Liu 2003). Capital, field, and habitus are three core concepts of Bourdieu’s theory of class. This paper focuses on capital and habitus.
Bourdieu defines capital as “the set of actually usable resources and powers” (1984, 114), including economic capital, cultural capital, social capital, and symbolic capital. In the social space, the three main dimensions of class formation are the amount of capital, the proportion of capital formation, and the evolution of the historical track of status position. During class formation, economic and cultural capitals are considered the most important forms of capital. Bourdieu (1984) mainly uses the share of these two types of capital to locate individuals in the social space. Since labor timeFootnote 1 required to obtain different forms of capital differs, reproducibility is thus different, which means various capitals’ capability of being passed on differ. Thus, different segments of capital have different strengths as class barriers. Compared with economic capital, the transfer of cultural capital is more intimate, riskier, and more difficult to pass on, but once cultural capital is obtained, its role as a class barrier is very strong.
However, the division of classes is generated not only from the economic and social conditions in the external social conditions (capital), it also depends on a unique lifestyle associated with a particular social position, the habitus formation (Bourdieu 1984). Habitus is a system of social disposition internalized in daily behaviors. It is the accumulation of individual cognitive and motivational systems and an internalization of the common objectives of social rules and organizational values. It is reflected in the individual in a less-conscious and sustainable manner, which embodies thinking, perceptions, and actions with cultural characteristics (Liu 2003). Bourdieu’s habitus goes beyond the inherent flaws in objectivism and subjectivism: habitus links social structure and practices, and is shaped by the social structure, as well as regulating practices (Brubaker 2004).
From Bourdieu’s point of view, habitus is acquired as a group thought, behavior, and mode of leisure activities. Obtaining habitus is not necessarily done consciously, but individuals occupying the same economic, cultural, social, and symbolic capital tend to have the same or similar temperament system (see Crompton 2008). Although members of the same class do not have identical experiences, there is no doubt that members of the same class are more likely than members of other classes to encounter similar situations (Bourdieu 1990). Thus, Crompton (2008) argues that a combination of various forms of capital constitutes habitus. Specific class habitus is the product of a series of objective norms, so it produces behaviors that exclude all “extravagances” (Bourdieu 1990, 56). On this basis, Bourdieu points out that due to different economic conditions, there are two basic classes of taste. One pursues luxury and freedom, and the other one pursues necessities. The former is a habitus of the ruling class that has a good economic standing, and the latter is reflected in the working-class habitus (Liu 2003). Lifestyle (status) shows the differences between the classes, and the concept of habitus connects lifestyle and class position. Habitus is reflected in a series of practical activities in such areas as consumption, which gradually forms symbolic boundaries between individuals occupying different positions in the class structure and further legitimates the class structure.
Habitus, a product of history, is based on past experiences (i.e., evolving of class position), in particular by experiences at an early age, including gender division of labor, household objects, modes of consumption, and family experiences such as parent-child relationships (Bourdieu 1990). Therefore, habitus is not directly determined simply by the various types of capital. For example, attending a concert does not indicate that all the listeners possess musical culture; only those who are familiar with the internal logic of these musical works are the real occupants (Bourdieu 1984). Capital is like concert tickets, while habitus is the appreciation for music.Footnote 2 Even possessing a ticket does not necessarily mean that the holder can immediately truly enjoy music. In other words, it is possible that there is a dislocation between habitus and capital.Footnote 3
Thus, habitus, together with economic capital and cultural capital, is an element of social groups’ and classes’ construction of the borders between each other. Capital is more involved in the building of social boundaries, while habitus is closely related to the construction of the symbolic boundary (Fan 2012). However, the permeability of the two types of boundaries differs. Habitus needs historical accumulation; it cannot be like Zhao wei tian she lang, mu deng tian zi tang (A peasant in the morning becomes a guest of the emperor by the dawn), which cannot be achieved in a day. Compared with capital, acquiring habitus needs a longer time and has poorer permeability, so it is a more-rigid class barrier that cannot be easily penetrated.
Hence, Bourdieu’s theory of capital and habitus provides a useful perspective for inspecting the formation and changes in the class structure of Chinese society. By analyzing the differences in the dimensions of capital and habitus of the current classes, we can get a glimpse of the current stage of the formation of Chinese class structure. Sun (2008) states that in the late 1990s China began the process of finalizing the class structure, a process marked by four characteristics: the class boundary begins to form, including both tangible and intangible boundaries of living and culture; internal identity begins to form; interclass mobility begins to decline; and the reproduction of classes increases. His “cleavage society” thesis argues that the gaps in culture and many other aspects of social life increasingly emerge. The main cleavage is the wealth gap, which is the root of all kinds of differences and oppositions in Chinese society (Sun 2002). The question is whether the wealth gap has led to a cleavage in culture and lifestyle. In modern society, education has become an important stepping stone for obtaining social status, and is the core element of cultural capital. We therefore explore answers to this question by investigating the similarities and differences in the possession of capital and habitus in the education reproduction process between the middle class and lower class.
Intergenerational transmission of cultural capital
In his research on class reproduction, Bourdieu proposes three aspects to determine individuals’ class status: socioeconomic status, class habitus, and cultural and social capitals (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990). The first and third factors are undoubtedly forms of capital in Bourdieu’s theory and are external conditions; the second factor is habitus, part of individual dispositions.
External living conditions (capital) and internal disposition system (habitus) are the two core dimensions of Bourdieu’s definition of class. However, many consider that habitus cannot be directly observed, and can only be understood explanatorily (Weininger 2005). Bourdieu (1984) mainly observes lifestyles, especially consumer behaviors, to show the habitus behind them but he is also aware that the majority of cultural consumption activities are related to economic costs; for example, going to the theater requires expensive tickets. The first part of this article also pointed out the decisive role of economic capital in determining the political attitudes and consumption patterns of the Chinese middle class. Therefore, a key to using Bourdieu’s class theory in quantitative research is to find variables that measure dispositions and habitus that are not directly affected by capital, especially economic capital. We believe that in the study of educational reproduction, upbringing and parenting orientation is a more appropriate indicator of habitus.
Cultural capital is one type of cultural resources that a person or family possesses. In general, it is associated with the dominant concept or symbol in the society (Jæger 2011), thus individuals or groups with cultural capital can use it to enhance their advantages with better access to social resources and social status. Bourdieu (1986) points out that cultural capital has three forms: the embodied state, the objectified state, and the institutionalized state. While accumulated cultural capital covers the entire socialization process, it is also the most hidden of all forms of capital in the reproduction channels. Applying this concept, scholars have conducted many empirical studies, but the operational definition of cultural capital remains controversial. Most quantitative researchers use the participation of children or their parents in highbrow cultural activities, such as visiting museums, galleries, or concerts, as a common indicator. This measurement is also known as “embodied cultural capital” (Byun et al. 2012). However, other scholars argue that this operational definition is too narrow, and includes reading habits and literary environment, family educational resources, extracurricular activities, and other indicators (Jæger 2011). Studies have shown that these cultural capital indicators have significant effects (see related review Jæger 2011) on children’s academic performance and educational attainment. Among them, the number of books at home is an important indicator of cultural capital. It has a significant positive effect on children’s educational performance and attainment in many countries (Evans et al. 2010; Zhao and Hong 2012). Children in families with higher socioeconomic status are more involved in highbrow cultural activities (Sullivan 2001; Xu and Hampden-Thompson 2012). Some empirical studies in Western countries find that the more advanced the cultural activities a child participates in, the better the child’s academic performance (Jæger 2011); however, the generalization of this relationship to other societies is still questionable (Byun et al. 2012).
Cultural capital and economic capital are closely related, and cultural participation is more influenced by economic capital, but participation does not indicate cultural tastes. The latter is more subject to habitus during the process of socialization (Yaish and Katz-Gerro 2012). We use the number of books in the home, children’s participation in cultural activities, and children’s attendance at shadow education as three variables to measure input of domestic capital, and to distinguish them from the parenting orientations mentioned below as an indicator of habitus. Cultural capital investment may be significantly different between classes. We therefore propose:
Hypothesis 1: Chinese parents show obvious class differences in their investment in children’s education capital. Compared to lower-class parents, middle-class parents have significant advantages in the number of books in the home, children’s participation in cultural activities, and children’s attendance in shadow education.
Stratification of parenting orientation
As an indicator of habitus, parenting orientation is less constrained by economic capital.Footnote 4 At the same time, parenting style is closely related to children’s self-esteem, subjective well-being, adventurous spirit, and educational attainment. In psychological research, Baumrind (1971) first proposed common classifications of parenting, namely “authoritative,” “authoritarian,” and “permissive.” Maccoby and Martin (1983) divide Baumrind’s three types of parenting into two dimensions, responsiveness and demandingness; with interaction, this produced four parenting styles: “authoritative,” “authoritarian,” “indulgent,” and “neglectful,” classify parenting into three categories: “parents have the final say,” “children call the shots,” and “mutual decisions.” Pong et al. (2005) add a fourth category, “laissez-faire,” in which the parents and children rarely make decisions. This classification basically corresponds to Maccoby and Martin’s four categories. A large number of empirical studies show that when comparing the authoritarian and negative types of parenting, children from authoritative families are more mature, independent, and have more social responsibility and achievements (Chen 2002). International comparative studies note that the argument that authoritative parenting is more favorable has a certain universality and transcends racial and cultural boundaries (Pong et al. 2010).
Western psychology focuses on individual psychological characteristics, and thus some psychologists claim that the current research on parenting styles focuses too much on individual psychological variables and ignores other important contextual factors of class, and that learning a child’s class origin often better predicts the child’s future outcomes than knowing the child’s early psychological characteristics (Frank 2013). Using Bourdieu’s capital-habitus framework, Lareau (2003) provides a detailed description and analysis of family parenting styles of the middle class and the working class. She finds that the middle class adopts a “concerted cultivation” pattern, arranging activities for children and not hesitating to intervene in children’s activities. In comparison, the working class adopts the “accomplishment natural growth” pattern; they do not arrange activities for children and delegate a good deal of child-rearing responsibilities to schools. Although both parenting styles have strengths and weaknesses within the family, in public life middle-class children showed obvious advantages compared to their counterparts in working-class families because “differences in the cultural logic of child rearing are attached to unequal currency in the broader society” (Lareau 2003, 244).
Lareau’s (2003) binary distinction of parenting is based on three main aspects. First, different classes of parents invest differently in extracurricular activities, and children of the middle class have more opportunities to participate in formal, adult-led activities such as concerts. Second, different classes of people differ in the interaction patterns between parents and teachers. Third, interaction patterns of parents and children differ. Lower-class parents use an imperative tone more frequently, and middle-class parents discuss issues with their children more (Cheadle 2008). The first and second aspects of differences belong to the capital dimensions of education (cultural capital and social capital), and the third aspect belongs to parenting habitus. Using the concerted cultivation model, middle-class parents are more likely to uphold an authoritative parenting style, while lower-class parents are more inclined to use an authoritarian or permissive parenting style under the “accomplishment natural growth” model. Lareau (2003) believes that in many cases, parenting styles are not deliberate but are naturally revealed in everyday life, which she refers to as Bourdieu’s habitus.
Research on Chinese parenting styles is mainly conducted by psychologists. The influence of family socioeconomic status on children’s educational attainment via parenting has received little attention. Theoretical and empirical research studying class differentiation on parenting style is even rarer. Based on the above review, we argue that if China does indeed have a clear-cut class crystallization, then the parents of different classes should show significant differences in parenting orientation. Combined with the above thesis of a cleavage society or class crystallization, we propose:
Hypothesis 2: As an operationalized variable of habitus, Chinese parents show obvious class differences in parenting orientation toward children. Middle-class parents are more likely to utilize an authoritative parenting style, and lower-class parents are more likely to utilize an authoritarian or permissive parenting style.