Anti-Capital: Human, Social and Cultural
Tittenbrun’s book is an endeavour to debunk the concepts of human, social, and cultural Capital. His project is presented in three sections, beginning with human capital and moving on to social and cultural capital. The author’s main aim is achieved through careful engagement with each of the ‘capitals’. A key critical theme of the book seems to be that said capitals are neither coherently defined, nor accurately measured. Tittenbrun conveys this message through detailed discussions of the works of key academics of human, social, and cultural capital, introducing and engaging with the work of critics of these notions in his discussion, and supplementing these with his own extensive range of critical contributions.
Human capital receives the largest share of rebuttal in the book. The author’s subsequent engagement with social and cultural capital are structured along very similar lines of argument. author’s passionate tone in writing is supplemented throughout the book with an impressive diversity of concepts and works with which he engages. While the engagement by no means prioritizes breadth over depth, due to Tittenbrun’s extreme attention to detail, it must be said that the literature on human, social, and cultural capital is too large for any book to engage comprehensively with it all.
For Tittenbrun, human capital is, in essence, just another way of referring to labour power and as such, is a misnomer. To develop this argument, he meticulously unpacks the relationship between human capital and investment in education, and then moves on to discuss human capital narratives within business circles. He examines the discrepancy between the degree to which it is stressed by CEOs in public presentation and, on the other hand, the virtual absence of human capital indices from company reports. If human capital is so important to the firm, he asks, how and why is it still not well measured and documented? As an example, he relates this to the lack of clarity over how much companies actually spend on employee training and development. An overarching theme of this final, and longest, discussion of human capital as a misnomer is ownership: who owns human capital (as in labour power)?
Attention then turns to social capital as a misnomer. The author first takes issue with Putnam’s work: what is the point, he asks, in giving civic participation a new name? His discussion draws upon a range of criticisms – by Tittenbrun and many others – of Putnam’s concept of social capital, but also of Putnam’s methodology. Moreover, while Putnam receives the most criticism in the Social Capital section of the book, other key theorists such as Coleman, Granovetter, and Fukuyama are also heavily critiqued. It is evident that the author has certainly made sure that his critique is comprehensive.
The book closes with its discussion of cultural capital as a misnomer, and here Tittenbrun engages most with Bourdieu. His criticisms are direct, unforgiving and relentless. He argues, for example, that Bourdieu’s concept of class is an “eclectic mixture of concepts belonging to a variety of theoretical frameworks, or indeed having no theoretical status whatsoever,” (p. 214). This type of criticism is made against all theorists engaged with in the book, after rigorous discussions of the concerned theories and their critiques.
It is worth taking some time to pay tribute to the potency of Tittenbrun’s critique. A significant chunk of the book is dedicated to picking out and engaging with blocks of quoted paragraphs and extensively unpacking their weaknesses. Human, social, and cultural capitals do not have much in common with capital in an economic sense, they are all loosely defined, ‘loosely’ measured, and refer to an array of concepts that have their own operational names, Tittenbrun argues. While this is potentially a difficult pill to swallow for proponents of said concepts of capital, it must be said that the book does a wonderful job in getting its readers to stop and give the utility and merit of human, social, and cultural capitals a real hard think. The book aims for a readership somewhat knowledgeable of these concepts, but it will inform heavily – and critically – anyone who is interested in them. A rigorous engagement that is passionately written, Tittenbrun’s book certainly touches the core of theoretical debates over human, social, and cultural capital.
University of Edinburgh