Cultural Capital in a Transnational Perspective

Conference Paper to be presented by Anja Weiß

Anja Weiß is a Professor for Sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Her theoretical interests in the transnationalisation of social inequality translate into comparative empirical studies on the localization of knowledge, highly skilled migrants, (institutional) racism and legal exclusion, ethnic conflict and anti-racism, and qualitative research design.

In the human capital approach, returns on education are usually assessed within framework of the nation-state. In a transnational perspective, the value of cultural capital (cf. Bourdieu) should be assessed in terms of a plurality of contexts in which it may be recognized and rewarded. In regard to skilled personnel’s access to the labor market, the borders of the nation-state continue to be salient: foreign educational credentials are often seen as having lesser value and migrants are subject to exclusionary legal regimes. At the same time, other contexts, such as professional fields, need not be congruent with nation-state borders and they counteract the impact of the nation-state. In professional fields as diverse as management and legal studies, transnational sub-fields have emerged in which the value of education is determined independently of national systems of education.

Based on findings by the international study group “Cultural Capital During Migration” (headed by Nohl, Schittenhelm, Schmidtke, and the author), the input will focus on the situation of highly skilled migrants and the factors that impact on the validation of their educational credentials in diverse labor markets. These factors include discrimination by employers, but also the emergence of ethnic niches in some professions, such as medicine. Also, and especially among skilled employees, education does not stop at the moment of graduation, but undergoes continued development, fine-tuning, and also devaluation.


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