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Australia’s primary and secondary (K-12) public education system does a good job of providing its students with enough social and cultural capital to overcome economic inequalities present within the broad population’. Discuss with reference to Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of capital.

Social unjust societies are common in the contemporary society engineering the spread of social inequality in the various sectors. According to Fane and Ward (2016, p. 222), Australia is one of the regions practising neoliberal approaches in solving these social inequities. In particular, there is the responsibilization model in schools allows the students to contribute to both the current and future characteristics of the society. In the argument of Fane and Ward (2016, p. 222), the education system leads the students to accept social injustices by blaming the individual seeking charity. As such, although education may serve to realise more responsive methods of eliminating inequities, it directly contributes to the acceptance of these occurrences as part of the normalcy. This paper examines the ways in which public education system in both the primary and secondary levels provides social and cultural capital. Using Bourdieu’s theory of capital, it explains how education overcomes economic inequities.

Education System in Social Capital

Based on Tomaskovic-Devey (2014, p. 52), inequality breeds through the relation between people and their positions in the organisation. It is this relation of people relative to position and status in an organisation that generates social inequality. Here, inequality stems through two mechanisms involving either the exploitation of a person or through opportunity hoarding (Tomaskovic-Devey, 2014, p. 52). Although different processes, a common feature include the acquisition of value through unjust ways, especially those described as being unfair to others. According to Tomaskovic-Devey (2014, p. 52), the practice of inequity through the aforementioned methods continues to propagate, engineered by the adoption of people to these inequality methods. Moreover, as it spreads, more personnel including organisation copy these habits and introduce them into their institutions (Tomaskovic-Devey, 2014, p. 52). At this point, inequality becomes part of a social structure, whose practice becomes the capital of the particular establishment.

In reference to the social capital theory of Bourdieu, the size of the network dictates the resources available to the given group, such as that of a learning institution. The imperative in the use of networks in generating resources is the combination of economic, cultural, and symbolic capital as part of the social connection. In the views of Bourdieu, it is the solidarity of the members of a group that allows the gaining of these resources including the capital. Moreover, these organisations such as the learning institutions need to constantly cultivate an environment that produces these meaningful relationships. For Bourdieu, the building of a network involves the application of strategy to invest in the members and involve their individual or collective action towards the course. In particular, these investment strategies aim at transforming dependent relations into a more advanced form of relationships that eliminate inequity. In reference to the education system in Australia, the integration of social justice and its teaching as part of the curriculum identifies with the transitions of relationship (Fane & Ward 2016, p. 224). The engagement of the students on the different aspects of the community including social, civic, and political paradigms enhances their engagement in realising changes about the social inequality.

In support of the importance of the Australian school in managing inequality, is the discussion by Walton et al. (2014, p. 112), presenting the school as a channel for socialising. In particular, through the teacher, students learn of their cultural identity and diversity. Important is that the learning of their background aims at creating a multicultural society. In the discussion, Walton et al. (2014, p. 113) identify the application of the egalitarianism approach in creating equality in the society. The model encourages students to become blind to their differences arising from ethnicity, race or economic status. More nuanced approaches to egalitarianism focus on the ethnic-racial socialisation achievable through either a procedural or a descriptive approach (Walton et al, 2014, p. 113). Of significance to the education institution, is the understanding by the students on the commonality in people and using that to establish networks (Walton et al, 2014, p. 120).

In reference to Sullivan (2002, p. 144), Bourdieu argues that the education system in industrialised communities such as that of Australia function legitimize inequalities. Success or the outcome of the student from these institutions follows their social status and capital. Therefore, the public schools attract more of the low-income students interpreting to a difference in performance compared to those in non-government institutions (Perry & Southwell, 2014, p. 468). In this case, the education system acts to maintain and influence the continuation of social inequality by maintaining the status of those in the dominant position (Sullivan, 2002, p. 145). As it occurs, Bourdieu is critical about the education in these regions associating them with an increase in inequality despite their ability to generate more advanced networks.

Education and Cultural Capital

Bourdieu holds that there are three different forms of cultural capital including the institutionalised, embodied, and objectified states. With cultural capital and its main forms, it becomes possible to identify how the education system in Australia influences these forms of cultural capitals in light of social inequality. According to Sullivan (2002, p. 145), Cultural capital refers to familiarising of the people to the dominant culture. In Australia, similar to other developed nations, cultural capital varies with individual status in the society. Status, in this case, interprets to the economic resources and position in the community. The imperative is the assumption by the education system of its possessing cultural capital leading to an increase in inequality (Sullivan, 2002, p. 145). More importantly, the adversity of the assumption by these institutions generates difficulties in teaching leading to poor academic outcomes in these governmental institutions. As such the high-class student continues to thrive at the expense of the low-income student leading to the maintenance these patterns of inequality through generations.

The discussion by Fane and Ward (2016, p. 223) agrees with the views by Bourdieu. In particular, Fane and Ward (2016, p. 223) mention that pedagogic practice in schools functions to reinforce the dominant culture. The mechanism of these teaching is under the facilitation of the teachers and the students whose interactions enhance the cultural capital of the dominant society (Fane and Ward, 2016, p. 223). Consequently, there is the acceptance of this habitus as the right practices enabling the reproduction of the same outcomes within the education sector (Fane and Ward, 2016, p. 224). Here, the education significantly fails to address the social inequalities but acts to lead the students to accept these practices as fit for the progress of the society. Further insight includes the Gonski report discusing the imbalance of equity with quality in the Australian education (Kenway, 2013, p. 288). Moreover, Fane and Ward (2016, p. 225) believes that although the inclusion of social justice as part of teaching, there is a need to involve students in teachings that address social inequalities. In this case, the application of service learning techniques may help alleviate the situation at the education sector.

In summary, the public education system avails social and cultural capitals to the students. Although availabilities of this capital may assist in managing the economic inequities currently in the community, the significantly contribute to the maintenance of these practices in the society. On the social perspective, the education system in Australia generates a network of relations that surpass the ethnicity of racial status. Nevertheless, these social relations legitimise inequality by promoting the dominant society. Similarly, the assumption of cultural capital by the learning institutions resulting to a pedagogic practice that only promotes the dominant culture.


Fane, J & Ward, P 2016, ‘How can we increase children’s understanding of the social determinants of the social determinants of health? Why charitable drives in schools reinforce individualism, responsibilisation and inequity’, Critical Public Health, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 221- 229.


Tomaskovic-Devey, D 2014, ‘The relational generation of workplace inequalities’, Social Currents, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 51- 73.

Walton, J, Priest, N, Kowal, E, White, F, Brickwood, K, Fox, B & Paradies, Y 2014, ‘Talking culture? Egalitarianism, color-blindness and racism in Australian elementary schools’, Teaching and Teacher Education, vol. 3, pp. 112- 122.

Perry, L & Southwell, L 2014, ‘Access to academic curriculum in Australian secondary schools: A case study of a highly marketised education systems,’ Journal of Education Policy, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 467- 485.

Kenway, J 2013, ‘Challenging inequality in Australian schools: Gonski and beyond,’ Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 286- 308.

Discuss how whiteness is related to one or more type of social inequality.

The contemporary society in Australia divides into a racial structure with the white populations dominating over other minorities (Willis, 2012, p. 81). In a similar approach, Green (2005, p. 480) identifies that being white in Australia entitles one to privileges in the community including material and psychological benefits. Here, the emphasis is on the colour with respect to the availability of resources interpreting to social inequality. According to Green (2005, p. 480), whiteness defines the continuation of dominance practices over subordination. It also entails the choosing of normalcy over marginalisation and being on the privileged side rather than the disadvantaged community. Acknowledging the need for a shift in the privileged positions according to the whites of Australia, Willis (2012, p. 82) suggests that the shift will create room for equality in Australia. The suggestion is already employed in the political and education sectors with an aim to eliminate social inequities directed to the aboriginals communities.

National Identity and Whiteness

Australian culture speaks of the white dominance and the alienation of the indigenous people who occupy the minority position. It is important to realise that the indigenous communities who are the aborigines are not blind to the whiteness of the society (Willis, 2012, p. 82). As a fact, aboriginals since history are aware of the power accorded to the white populations of Australia and how these communities continue to tap into the whiteness to gain power and position in the society. Based on Willis (2012, p. 83), the Australian identity focuses on the white ascribing non-white populations as others. In particular, the issue of identity is well presented in the political context such as the much ignorance of the minorities by the Howard government. Howard administration chose to ignore the violence on these indigenous communities engineered by the whites. Here, the political support for the white Australian national identity explains on the extent of whiteness in these regions.

The Northern Territory intervention as an example identifies the subjection of the aborigines to social inequality, especially their recognition as part of the Australian people. Willis (2012, p. 86) explains that these minorities face political, emotional, and physical disposition since the coming of the white man. The manifestation of the striping the aborigines of their identity as Australians takes different forms. An example is during the colonial era, where massacre and violation became characteristic suffering to this society (Willis, 2012, p. 86). Moreover, their alienation from ancestral land into reserves broke their cohesion leading to cultural and population loss. Of significance is the use of these indigenous people as servants interpreting to total disregards of their position and national identity (Willis, 2012, p. 86). At this point, the exercise of a biopolitical control and its enforcement in the society cemented white superiority entrenching whiteness in Australia.

Examining the argument by Green (2005, p. 480), the whiteness of the Australian community subjects the aborigines in social and economic suffering. Examples of these sufferings include the heightened low living standards, access to education, diseases, unemployment, incarceration, mortality, and poverty. The population do not equally compare to other regions of Australia identifying with the progress of the whiteness ideology in the contemporary society. Similarly, Willis (2012, p. 87) agrees on the presence of whiteness in the contemporary society through the examples of the re-segregation of the Northern territories. The re-segregation exercise about these lands point to un-Australian consideration of the aborigines. In particular, through the segregation, the minorities face different citizenship rights, racist laws, and policies from the whites leading to their underprivileged treatment in the society (Willis, 2012, p. 87).

It is through the Northern intervention that the aborigines become more alienated from Australia occupying an un-Australian territory. The imperative in the case is that much as the un-Australian territory denies the people their rightful Australian identify as the founders, their position in the region is still under the control of the white man (Willis, 2012, p. 90). Surprisingly, the state is aware of the level of inequity progressing under these particular conditions yet it still works to maintain these conditions for the purpose of the continuation of the state and the maintenance of a social order. As such, it remains difficult to eliminate inequality in these societies, especially since the dominant communities and the government already adopt into its practice (Willis, 2012, p. 90). Further analysis on the challenges mentions that the change from social inequality to equality of the minorities will end the white identity in Australian, particularly as the historical accounts mentions the aborigines as the indigenous occupants of Australia (Willis, 2012, p. 91). Such intervention will alter the whiteness of the society that is already ingrained in the Australian national identity and power structures.

Whiteness and Relations in Australia

Bennett (2015, p. 19) present the case of social workers and their plight based on race and the whiteness in the society. In particular, the marginalised communities are denied access to the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) following inequality barriers present in the society. According to Bennett (2015, p. 19), these marginalised people experience alienation in the professional sphere with the example of few and unknown number of social workers from these communities. Of importance is that the AASW advocates for social justice through a change in the social and policies structures. It also aims to enhance the social inclusion of the disadvantaged people (Bennett, 2015, p. 20; Taylor, Vreugdenhill & Schneiders, 2017, p. 47). At this point, it is of significance to recognize the efforts of the association in generating awareness of the indigenous communities through developing a Reconciliation Action Plan, publishing editions of these communities in recognition of their culture, revised the code of ethics, and apologized for the past treatment of these communities (Bennett, 2015, p. 20). Nevertheless, the association fails to actively involve the collaboration of the aborigines to its exercises with most of its aboriginal designated positions remaining inactive or vacant.

Based on Bennett (2015, p. 23), the inactiveness of the aboriginal presence in the AASW is an outcome of the progressive whiteness in the society. In particular, available reasons against the indigenous participation in the association include finances, value and identity. Concerning finances, Bennett (2015, p. 23) explains that the cost of membership failed to consider the disadvantaged position of the aborigines that follows the economic dominance of the whites. It is important to reflect the aforementioned conditions as characteristics of the reserves in relation to understanding the financial position of this community.

Reflecting on value, Bennett (2015, p. 23) includes that the aborigines participants failed to place value of their position and influence to the association. As it stands, their marginalisation since historic times generated a low self-opinion of these individuals relative to their white counterparts. Consequently, they failed to realise what benefit they could add or obtain from associating with the AASW (Bennett, 2015, p. 23). Further discussion on value develops an understanding of the poor education and understanding of their significance in the membership. Here, through their participation, it is possible that matters on inequality, especially about their culture and social life would improve.

Concerning identity, the association failed to provide descriptive roles for the members (Bennett, 2015, p. 23). For the aborigines, identity as a concept carries more weight considering their social position and alienation from the dominant community. As previously mentioned, not only was there their shift from ancestral land and dispersion of their communities through the reserves but also the Northern Territory intervention further identifying them as un-Australian people. It is for these reasons that the aboriginal member’s sort to understand their identity in the association. Moreover, Bennett (2015, p. 24) includes that the internal environment of the AASW exhibited whiteness pointing the need for the indigenous people to change. In this case, the association failed to acknowledge the much-needed change in perception of the white to influence positive equality in the region.

In addressing the aforementioned reasons of the impacts of whiteness in human relations, particularly as evident from the examples of the AASW, Bennett (2015, p. 25) includes the need for the Australian community to address racism in the modern times. The ignorant approach practised by policy makers and the government only acts to enhance social inequality to the marginalised people. Other suggestions include the inclusion of more indigenous members in the association and the employment of the said strategies right from the organisation itself.

The concept of whiteness in the Australian society continues the exercise of social inequalities, especially around the cultural and social positions. Through the observance of whiteness as part of the Australian national identity, the indigenous people including the aborigines become alienated from the nation. Currently, the Northern Territory intervention is a significant example of the extent of the plight of the marginalised people who are the minority in this case. Further exploration on the topic identifies the professional and social extensiveness of whiteness denying equality to the minorities. Therefore, it is important to address the various inequality practices present in the education, social, economic, and political spheres in Australia through a collective effort to realise equality of people.


Bennett, B 2015, ‘Stop deploying your white privilege on me! Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement with the Australian Association of Social Workers,’ Australian
Social Work, vol. 68, no. 1, pp. 19- 31.

Green, M & Sonn, C 2005, ‘Examining discourse of whiteness and the potential for reconciliation’, Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, vol. 15, no. 6, pp. 478- 492.

Willis, J 2012, ‘Tangled up in white: The perpetuation of whiteness in Australian national identity and the Northern Territory Intervention,’ Macquarie Matrix, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 81- 94.

Taylor, S, Vreugdenhill, A & Schneiders, M 2017, ‘Social justice as concept and practice in Australian social work: An analysis of Norma Parker Addresses, 1969- 2008,’ Australian Social Work, vol. 70, no. 1, pp. 46- 68.