Playing the triangle: Cosmopolitanism, Cultural Capital and Social Capital as intersecting scholarly discourses about social inclusion and marginalisation in Australian public policy debates

Andrew Jakubowicz


A constant challenge for scholarly research relates to its impact on and integration into public policy. Where the policy issues are ‘wicked’, as are those concerning intercultural relations and social cohesion, social science research often becomes implicated in real-world problem solving which occurs within everyday political manoeuvring. This paper takes three empirical problems, and three conceptual approaches, and explores what happens when they are pressed together. In particular the paper explores how together they can enhance the social value of the concept of ‘social inclusion’. Cosmopolitanism has a myriad of possible definitions, but is perhaps best addressed in anthropological fashion, by trying to capture the space formed by its presumptive antagonists: nationalism, prejudice, localism, parochialism, and ‘rootedness’ (as in ‘rootless cosmopolitan’). Cultural capital, as developed by Bourdieu, concerns a disposition of mind and body that empowers members of those particular groups that have the resource in socially–approved abundance to operate the cultural apparatus of a society and therefore the power system, to their mutual and individual benefit. Social capital, removed of the vestiges of Marxist class analysis that lurk in Bourdieu’s explorations of education and social power, harks back to another sociological forebear. Emile Durkheim, whose vision of modernity as a constantly incipient catastrophe that could only be held off by a reinvigoration of collective consciousness, has influenced through the Talcott Parsons school of social systemics Robert Putnam (and Australian politician and academic Andrew Leigh’s) focus on ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital. Having examined these concepts the paper applies them sequentially to three cases of state/civil society relations, through the February 2011 People of Australia multiculturalism policy, the place of young Muslims in Australian society, and the place of Chinese Australians in the Australian polity. Finally it is argued that the concepts are most useful when they are applied to analyses that reveal rather than conceal hierarchies of social, cultural, economic and political power, through an examination of the possibilities of democratic inclusion.

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