UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Infusing fundamental cause theory with features of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic power Veenstra, Gerry


The theory of fundamental causes is one of the more influential attempts to provide a theoretical infrastructure for the strong associations between indicators of socioeconomic status (education, income, occupation) and health. It maintains that people of higher socioeconomic status have greater access to flexible resources such as money, knowledge, prestige, power, and beneficial social connections that they can use to reduce their risks of morbidity and mortality and minimize the consequences of disease once it occurs. However, several key aspects of the theory remain underspecified, compromising its ability to provide truly compelling explanations for socioeconomic health inequalities. In particular, socioeconomic status is an assembly of indicators that do not necessarily cohere in a straightforward way, the flexible resources that disproportionately accrue to higher status people are not clearly defined, and the distinction between socioeconomic status and resources is ambiguous. I attempt to address these definitional issues by infusing fundamental cause theory with features of a well-known theory of socioeconomic stratification in the sociological literature – Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic power.

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