What does it mean to be rich?

We often think of ‘rich’ as meaning those who have an abundance of capital – at least relative to to others in society. Most of us are probably familiar with the use of the word ‘capital’ to mean financial assets such as cash.

But Bordieu defined four types of capital:

  • economic (cash and other assets)
  • cultural (knowledge, skills and education)
  • social (connections and group memberships)
  • symbolic (prestige and honour)

Those with lots of capital (from the above four types) control the ‘symbolic marketplace’. This control is established in a variety of ways, including through language – think of the jargon that makes finance, law and other areas virtually impenetrable for the average person. Other means include modes of dress or forms of transport – think of the ‘must have’ luxury brands flaunted by those with lots of capital which come to be considered desirable, or the type of clothing or car one ‘must have’ in certain careers. Such considerations penetrate all of our decisions – from buying a Coke to investing in CocaCola shares.

I believe that definitions of ‘financial literacy’ which focus solely on economic capital without addressing the related cultural, social, and symbolic aspects of money are insufficient.

John Lanchester, author of How to Speak Money, argues that a ‘shared language’ is necessary in order to make certain kinds of conversations, such as financial conversations, possible. Without access to the ‘language of money’ it is difficult to talk about money, research money, or even think about money.

In order to be able to talk about money, and to make effective decisions about money, we need knowledge, skills, and education. These aspects of cultural capital are often obtained through connections and group memberships, self-confidence and an understanding of the deeply symbolic nature of money – that is, the role of social and symbolic capital.

Yet many people, Lanchester says, feel as if they don’t have ‘permission’ to understand money, and the need the ‘linguistic tools to join the conversation’. Once we learn to ‘speak money’, the world starts to look different. Through Enrichmentality, I want to increase your confidence, invite you to connect with finances, and learn the language of money.

But Enrichmentality isn’t just about money – it’s about enrichment in all areas of life – all four areas of capital. And importantly, seeking abundant growth in cultural, social, and symbolic capital can be sustainable and equitable for everyone – there’s no limit to the number of books and artworks and films and games and other creative works we can create, to the number of quality relationships we can foster, to the respect we can show one another and ourselves.

In writing his novel Capital, John Lanchester comments that he became increasingly preoccupied by the question ‘what’s the thing behind the thing?’ The answer, he found, often turned out to be money. But to take a step further, what is behind the money? In the next post, How is money like language?, we’ll explore some of the meanings that money has.

06SpeakThis post is the second of a 10 part series over 10 days introducing Enrichmentality.

What does being rich mean to you? Find out how rich (in terms of economic capital) you are.

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