Interactive Constructivism
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Kersten Reich
last update: 04.03.2018 13:04

Kersten Reich

Surplus Values - A New Theory of Forms of Capital in the Twenty-First Century

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The book explores in depth the impact of diverse forms of capital—economic, social, cultural, body capital and “learning capital” (educational training and learning)—on equity and equality of opportunities in today’s world.  Four forms of the formation of surplus value are elaborated in theory and practice for all forms of capital, thus significantly expanding on Bourdieu’s theory. Equity is examined in respect to the forms of capital. A broad survey of social and individual risks within the vortex of intensifying capitalization is developed. The study also seeks to show why the state and society need to increase equity, and how and why individuals are called upon to achieve or resist capitalization based on their own efforts. A number of key questions are discussed, including:

  • Is economic capital sufficient for a diverse array of opportunities? Or phrased differently: why are the more privileged in society far more successful in transferring better opportunities to their children?
  • Are social connections and networks really decisive for achieving success? Or: how closed or open are elites for new arrivals?
  • Is cultural education still important enough today or is it being supplanted by learning capital?  Or: by their behavior, don’t the upper social strata specifically contribute to a lessening of the importance of cultural education?
  • Why do our bodies cost ever more? Or: why do the rich always meet the beautiful?
  • How does capitalization transform learning? Or: why is school success so heavily dependent on social position?

The basic idea of this book is not only to explore and discuss the capitalization of all life spheres and the associated forms of capital that are utilized to this end, but also to critically examine the following question: What can society and individuals do in order to adequately unfold and develop their opportunities in life given the capitalist conditions? In the wake of John Dewey and my social-constructivist approach, I am certain that this pathway can prove successful largely through the medium of education, and can be attained by augmenting fair equity of opportunity in education. But in particular economic capital as a basis of all forms of capital is already distributed. The gap between the poor and the rich is established and widening. There are apparently only but few windows of opportunity today to arrive at new perspectives. At the same time, it is necessary to discuss for all forms of capital where such windows of opportunity exist, and to what extent social and individual provisions can assist in combining hopes for enhanced democracy and human rights with the ongoing concrete processes of capitalization.



The whole book for free download.

With this research I don't want to gain any surplus values. My research as a university professor was funded by taxes and therefore I feel especially in this case obliged to make an free access available.

You can download parts of the book for specific use. I recommend in these cases Chapter 1 and the References as supplements.

Chapter 1 explains important basic concepts. They provide a concise introduction to the definition of capital, forms of capital, and surplus values. Building on this, it is then possible for the reader to directly move on to any one of the following chapters.

Chapter 2 explores economic capital. This chapter seeks to show that there are different forms of surplus value in capitalism that systematically complement one another. This chapter is especially interesting as an introductory portal for those readers who wish to grasp a grounded derivation of the forms of surplus value in economic capital. This is only possible if economic terminology is re- and deconstructed, and involves a certain effort of theoretical comprehension.

Chapter 3 focuses on social capital. It represents more than just collective binding forces in society; in today’s capitalism, it also manifests forms of selection, demarcation and the realization of opportunity via networking. In particular, I discuss positionings in social space and mechanisms of the formation of social groups, with an eye to strategies of surplus value. I show that this form of capital has powerfully penetrated current life worlds and constitutes a linking element for all forms of capital.

Chapter 4 analyzes cultural capital. Cultural capital in capitalism is hugely multifaceted, but a glance at the surplus values of this form of capital also reveals that profits springing from cultural capital are not always easy to realize. In Bourdieu, education is still largely part of cultural capital, but there are in the meantime sufficient reasons to attribute only a portion of this to cultural capital, and for another segment to propose a new and relatively delimited field, what I term learning capital.

Chapter 5 introduces body capital as a new form of capital. It is becoming ever clearer that the body is increasingly assuming the form of a commodity that can be bought and sold. Investment in the body reveals expected surplus values that can be described. Conversely, the bodies of those persons who are excluded from capitalizable forms because they are deemed “worthless,” ugly or handicapped show how powerfully capitalization still operates even among those who basically present a counter-image.

Chapter 6 centers on learning capital, for me a very important form of capital that today operates between the other forms to strengthen or equalize boundaries. Although learning capital overlaps significantly with cultural capital, in my argumentation it stands as the final form of capital in order to make interaction and reciprocal effects between these forms more comprehensible. With equalization through learning capital, so my thesis, the opportunities of all can be better ensured socially. This form of capital entails the possibility of intervention by the state, employing laws and regulations grounded on enhancing fair equity of opportunity in order to facilitate as great a level of adequate participation by all in democracy. A glance at the history of learning shows that the origin of this form of capital was always already burdened by the other capital forms and remains so today. It also points up that even under capitalism in different countries, the opportunities inherent to this form of capital are utilized in very different ways. I discuss in special detail the resulting social and individual consequences of this.

Chapter 7 discusses briefly the various forms of capital in their interaction. Even if economic capital appears especially powerful in this web of interactions, the circular movements of other forms of capital point at the same time to relative spaces for possibility and degrees of freedom that arise by cooperation and through counter-movements, contradictions and ambivalences. The chapter concludes with thoughts on the relation between capital and democracy..

Kersten Reich (2018): Surplus Values - A Theory of Forms of Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cologne: University of Cologne.





Capital, Forms of Capital, Surplus Values - an Introuction



Economic Capital





Social Capital





Cultural Capital





Body Capital





Learning Capital











Forms of Capital and Equity




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