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Cultural, Social, and Economic Capital in Development and the UN SDGs

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

In the pursuit of global progress, international development initiatives have increasingly enhanced the pivotal role of education in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While the SDGs encompass a broad range of targets, education stands as a powerful catalyst for change, facilitating socio-economic development, reducing inequality, and fostering sustainable societies. To fully grasp the complexities of education and its potential to drive positive change, we must delve into the concepts of cultural, social, and economic capital. This blog aims to shed light on these concepts and explore their significance within the context of international development and the SDGs.

CC: Frontiers in Energy Research by Barbara Olfe-Kräutlein

Cultural Capital

Cultural capital refers to the knowledge, skills, and social attributes that individuals possess as a result of their upbringing, education, and exposure to various cultural experiences. It encompasses aspects such as language proficiency, cultural awareness, and familiarity with different customs and traditions. In an educational context, cultural capital plays a vital role in shaping students' experiences and opportunities for learning. It influences how individuals perceive and engage with educational institutions, impacting their academic achievement and future prospects.

In the pursuit of the SDGs in education, cultural capital assumes great significance. Recognising and valuing diverse cultural backgrounds fosters inclusive learning environments, where students from different ethnic, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds feel respected and represented. Incorporating culturally relevant pedagogies can enhance student engagement, promote intercultural understanding, and empower students to become active global citizens.

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Social Capital

Social capital refers to the networks, relationships, and social resources that individuals possess within their communities. It encompasses trust, social cohesion, and collective action. In the realm of education, social capital is crucial for fostering cooperation and collaboration among various stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents, and community members. It strengthens the foundation for inclusive educational systems and supports sustainable development.

Investing in social capital within educational settings can yield transformative outcomes. When schools actively engage parents, community leaders, and local organisations, they create opportunities for collective problem-solving, resource-sharing, and knowledge exchange. This collaborative approach not only enhances the quality of education but also facilitates community-driven initiatives that address socio-economic disparities, promote gender equality, and improve access to education for marginalised groups.

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Economic Capital

Economic capital refers to the financial resources and assets that individuals possess, which enable them to access opportunities, goods, and services. In the context of education, economic capital significantly influences access to quality education and educational outcomes. Disparities in economic capital contribute to educational inequalities, limiting the prospects for social mobility and perpetuating cycles of poverty.

Addressing economic inequalities in education is a central tenet of the SDGs. To achieve this, governments and international organisations must prioritise equitable distribution of resources, ensuring that all children have access to quality education regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. Scholarships, subsidies, and targeted interventions can help bridge the economic gap and empower disadvantaged students to unlock their full potential.

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What now?

Cultural, social, and economic capital are essential lenses through which we can understand the complex dynamics of education within international development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. By knowing about the influence of cultural capital, promoting social capital, and addressing economic inequalities, we can foster inclusive and equitable education systems that propel sustainable development.

To advance the SDGs in education, it is vital for policymakers, educators, and stakeholders to collaborate, share knowledge, and implement evidence-based strategies. By harnessing the power of cultural, social, and economic capital, we can create transformative educational environments that empower individuals, bridge societal divides, and contribute to a more just and sustainable future for all.


Fowler, B. (1997) ‘Pierre Bourdieu and Cultural Theory: Critical investigations’, Sage Publications, UK

Meissner, M. (2021) ‘Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘Theory of Practice’’ In: Intangible Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development, pp. 51-56, Heritage Studies, Springer Nature Switzerland AG

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). (2023). Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from

UNESCO. (2017). Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives. Retrieved from

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