Pierre Bourdieu & Gym Culture

Social Capital

Social Capital refers to connections within and between social networks. These social networks have value and can increase the productivity of individuals and groups. Social Capital in a particular field, such as the gym, could refer to the relationships between members of the same gym and the way in which they interact with each other. As a new entrant to the gym acquires social capital they will be accepted into networks in and around the gym which they can utilise to increase productivity in the gym, be it for slimming or muscle building.

Cultural Capital

Bourdieu's idea of cultural capital refers to the non-financial social assets of those in a particular field or network. Cultural capital can be further understood with the following explanation. All the goods, material and symbolic, without distinction, that present themselves as rare and worth of being sought after in a particular social formation. 

Symbolic Capital

Symbolic capital refers to the resources available to an individual on the basis of honour, prestige or recognition. symbolic capital functions as an authoritative embodiment of cultural value. In the case of gym culture, symbolic capital could take the form of hierarchical relationships between individuals at a gym based on physical recognition. Symbolic capital in a gym setting would be gifted to those who have attained to a certain degree the hegemonic physical body norms that all in the gym aspire to. For women this is often a slim and toned build, for men a muscular and lean body type.


Habitus can be referred to as a structure of the mind characterized by a set of acquired schemata, sensibilities, dispositions and taste. Before one becomes a regular gym-goes one must acquire the necessary sensibilities and dispositions. For starters, one is expected to be unhappy with ones body. A conscious effort is then made to change the undesirable parts of the body through means of constant attendance of a gym.


Bourdieu's idea of 'field' refers to a setting in which agents and their social positions are located. These fields interact with each other and are hierarchical. Fields are constructed according to underlying 'nomos'. These are the fundamental principles of 'vision & division'. This idea of field translates fairly obviously to gym culture as the field is the gym itself, the agents within the field being gym-goers.


Symbolic Violence

Symbolic violence is the tacit, almost unconscious, modes of cultural and social domination. These modes of domination occur within the every-day social habitus maintained over conscious subjects. In terms of gym culture there is a clear split between gendered areas of space, enforced by non-physical symbolic violence. A woman will often feel out of place in an olympic weight room but may feel more comfortable in a cardio-based room.