Migration for Education and Employment: Exploring the impact of Social and Cultural Capital among Indian students

“The point of my work is to show that culture and education are not simply hobbies or minor influences. They are hugely important in the affirmation of difference between groups and social classes and in the reproduction of these differences.’’Pierre Bourdieu


This paper is an analysis of migration of Indian students from their home towns to bigger cities in pursuit of better educational and resultant job opportunities and the role played by social and cultural capital in this process. The basic sorts of Bourdieu’s theory on capital are being viewed with an attempt to prove how education and knowledge are important factors for the transformation of human or social capital into economic capital. This paper will provide a critical analysis of how this can be one of most important factors that promotes the migration of Indian students. It will be argued that how different categories of migrant students adapt to the new environment, variation in their experiences and the importance of academic qualification acts a certificate of embodying cultural capital that ultimately converts into the economic capital.

Keywords: Migration, Education, Job, Social Capital, Cultural Capital

Research Problem  

What is the impact of social and cultural capital on the migration patterns of students for the purpose of education and employment opportunities? Specifically, focusing on the categories of students that migrate for education employment and how does social and cultural capital impact their experiences and outcomes?

Literature Review

Bourdieu in his work, ‘Forms of Capital’ introduced the notion of capital that is works as particular assets and is put to productive use. He mentions three forms of capital namely social, cultural, and economic capital and additionally symbolic capital and how these capital transform into one another. Regarding the academic ability Bourdieu says, the main proportion of the resources that the individual has and the agents or their social classes to which they belong are the main determining factor (Bourdieu, 1986). Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passerson explains the dynamic relationship between the ‘pedagogic action’ and the reproduction of class groups (Passerson, 1977).

Parvanov and Petkova in their article, ‘Transformation of Social Capital into Economic Capital through education’ explains how education and knowledge are important factors for the process of observing and analysing the transformation of human or social capital into economic capital (Petar Lyudmilov Paranov, 2019). Ajantha Subramanian’s work, ‘Making Merit: The Indian Institutes of Technology and the Social Life of Caste’ offers a valuable lens for understanding the migration of Indian students and the role of social and cultural capital in this process (Subramanian, 2015). Karolina Barglowski in her article, ‘Migrant class and parenting: the role of cultural capital in Migrant inequalities in education’ provides insights into how the class-specific parenting, is important factor for the children’s different life chances (Barglowski, 2018).


Pierre Bourdieu is regarded as the most influential sociologist of the 20th century. Bourdieu’s works concerns mainly around the understanding of practical logic of everyday life and the relations of power. His key theoretical concepts include habitus, practice, field, and different forms of capital such as social, cultural, economic, and symbolic capital (Power, 1999).

Bourdieu’s Theory

Bourdieu in his essay ‘The Forms of Capital’ mentions about three different forms of capital- social, cultural, and economic capital and how these capital transform from one form to another.  He says that the Capital is accumulated labor that enables individuals in a society to appropriate social energy in the form of living labor.

As stated by Bourdieu, society was seen as an imaginary universe where there is perfect competition and everyone is given equal opportunity and there is no accumulation of heredity or acquired properties, society is arranged in such a manner that every moment is perfectly independent of the previous one and in accordance with this the reality is that anyone can achieve and can become anything (Bourdieu, 1986).

But Capital is ascertained as something that is objectified or embodied and it takes time to accumulate and tends to produce and persist profits by reproducing itself in similar or more expanded form in a way that everything is not equally possible or impossible. Bourdieu says that this represents the immanent structure of the social world that is neglected by the economic theory which proclaim that economy of practices has been reduced to universe of exchange whose sole purpose is the maximization of profit either objectively or subjectively (self-interest) (Bourdieu, 1986).

Bourdieu says that it is a false assertion that economics deals only with practices that have narrowly economic interest and the goods are immediately convertible into money. As mentioned by Bourdieu, capital can present itself in three fundamental forms firstly as Economic Capital, that directly and immediately converts into monetary value and it can be institutionalised in the form of property rights, secondly as Cultural Capital that exists in three forms i.e., embodied state, objectified and institutionalised state that is seen mainly in case of educational qualification and lastly as Social Capital  that is actual or virtual resources acquired by the individuals or groups through the possession of institutionalised relationships off mutual acquaintances and recognition (Claridge, 2021). This is done when individuals interact and build their communities and commit themselves to each other and as a result it brings great benefit to people.

Bourdieu and Education: the interplay of social and cultural capital and field and the process of reproduction in the arena of education.

Bourdieu’s theory of Capital has been highly influential and has been successful in generating several theoretical and empirical literature. In his theory of Cultural capital, Bourdieu talks about the unequal achievement and specific profits of children that originates from the different social classes and fractions to which they belong. He says that academic success or failure is seen totally as an effect of natural aptitudes but, it is the different proportions of their resources which different agents or different social classes allocate as educational investment is the main determining factor. There are whole set of educational strategies and the system of reproduction of these strategies that is responsible for the domestic transmission of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986). Academic qualification, acts as a certificate of the cultural competence that confers a guaranteed value with respect to culture and it is the cultural capital that the individual possess at any particular time.  It also acts as one of the ways of transformation of cultural capital into economic capital. For example, in case of competitive recruitment examination that produces sharp and absolute difference between the last successful candidate from the first one and his experience in the job market (Bourdieu, 1986).

Social capital is not a natural given and is obtained through material profits such as investing in all the types of services and relationships that are useful and have symbolic profits and is derived from the association with a rare, prestigious group. The concept of social capital is also related with the concept of human capital (education and training) and their relationships can be put in a way that social capital strengthens the human capital which when acquired education fosters the acquisition of social capital. Therefore, the generation of human capital is dependent on the family’s social and financial capital that ultimately results in better educational outcomes (Tokas, 2016).

Migration of Indian Students and the role of social and cultural capital.

In India, the migration of students from small towns to big cities is a common phenomenon. Students migrate from their hometowns seeking for better educational opportunities, it also allows them to gain exposure to diverse culture and ultimately reaching the main goal that is economic growth. There area many factor that drives the migration of students such as desire to attain a better standard of living and improved career prospects but it not an easy process and there are several challenges that students face. It is necessary to have a deep understanding of these aspects and the role that social and cultural capital plays in building the identity of these migrant students their accessibility to several economic phenomena. According to the theory of social exchange, people enter new relationships and alliances because they hope to be rewarded. Hence, they break association with old associates and expand their network (Petar Lyudmilov Paranov, 2019). Therefore, for students who migrate to other cities this might be one of the motivating factors in tandem with their aspiration for improved and better life. Therefore, there can be mainly two categories of students, one that already possess the social and cultural capital and another who lacks the social capital and migrate in order to gain the cultural capital through academic qualification. As Bourdieu stated, any action can be considered as economic one that enables the individual to have power over the other individual. (Petar Lyudmilov Paranov, 2019).

While looking at statistics, according to 2011 census, a total of 32,96, 340 men and 21, 61, 216 women have migrated in India because of education. In this there are approximately 60.4% men and 39.6% women who and together they constitute 1.2% of the total migrants in India. There is also particular age group that makes up the major chunk of the migrants for example, from both urban and rural areas, the students in the age group 10-19 years contribute to the large portion of the total migrants in India. Since, generally people stop studying at the age of 30 so there is lesser probability of migration of student in that age group (M, 2021). There are several states in India like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Orrisa where there is large concentration of poor but these are also the states that accounts for major part of India’s population. Among all the states, Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Rajasthan are considered as important states from the perspective of migration for education. Out of these, the states that attracts migrants from other states and acts as main destinations are Delhi, Maharashtra, and Karnataka whereas Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Kerela, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan are states that serve as the main source of migrant students (S Chandrasekhar, 2014).

 Therefore, flow of human capital across the country is happening in which there are some states that gain by attracting these migrants’ students at the expense other states. The lack of access to quality education and educational facilities is the reason for the flow of human capital (S Chandrasekhar, 2014). However, there are several factors that motivates this decision that can be easily understood through the concepts of social and cultural capital and how they finally transform into economic capital.

Class specific parenting is also one of the determining factors in the migration of students because it is the socio-economic position of the parents that allows them to migrate easily and dictate their life chances and outcomes as adults (Barglowski, 2018). This is because, as stated by Bourdieu, different students are differently endowed with institutionalised and embodied cultural capital that shapes the educational opportunities that they will get in future. Also, according to Bourdieu, different agents have different economic and cultural means to fulfil their children’s education beyond a minimum threshold for the reproduction of the labour power (Bourdieu, 1986). This is important to consider in case of migrant students since it uncovers the reasons of inequalities in educational opportunities due to caste and class differences between the migrants in India (Barglowski, 2018).

As Bourdieu states, embodied knowledge, and the way in which an individual think and speak display their class position and it acts as an important mechanism of the reproduction of social stratification. Therefore, the successful navigation of the migrant’s students in a foreign education system depends very much on the knowledge and position of the parents who ultimately enforce their aspirations on their children that furthers helps them in fighting with the discriminatory practices of the structures of the education in a foreign space (Menon, 2019).

Therefore, the importance of pre student identities and how they perform in accordance to their position are the important factors that cannot be neglected. Bourdieu’s theory of social capital is useful in decoding this pre student identity and the function they perform. This is because, social capital plays a crucial role in the migration process. The social network that the students have in their hometowns can help can help students in finding suitable accommodation, jobs, and additional security that they might need while migrating to other cities (Menon, 2019). There are several examples of migrant students that students who have good and strong social network usually follow and migrate to the same city as their family and friends. Additionally, these students with strong social network act as backup are more stable and secure emotionally and they can adjust better in the new environment.

This makes us to think that, why do most migrant students underperform in India? The internal migration and degree of centralisation, their ethnic background or home town related factors, class specific conditions can be the reasons behind it.

When student come to new and big cities the way in which they act and think is the reflection of the variety of interaction that they have with their peers and surrounding. In this process they are also in regular contact with their family and friends therefore they are subject to multiple institutional and cultural conditions. All these factors have an influence on how students make use of their cultural capital (Menon, 2019).

The different categories of migrant students and their experiences.

Therefore, the migrant students can be put into two categories, one that belong to upper class or caste for whom the integration in the new environment and position in the job market is comparatively better and easy because of the social capital they have in terms of their social network. Whereas the second category of student who belong to low caste or class have hard time situating themselves in the new space and environment that somehow act as a barrier and as a result affect their experience in the job market also. For example, it is commonly seen that working class students are more hesitant in asking for help and they tend to submit to the authority of the educational professionals. In Bourdieu’s words, the unequal scholastic achievement of children originates from different social classes and that decides the fate of their academic success. Hence, it reflects the symbolic dimension of cultural capital. Cultural capital can help students is many possible ways. Bourdieu in his concept of cultural capital mentions about the ‘domestic transmission of cultural capital where he explains the relationship between the academic ability and academic investment and says that the ability or merit itself is the product of an investment of time and accumulated cultural capital’ (Bourdieu, 1986) when students migrate to new bigger cities, the language, dialect, etc are different from their own. But adopting to this new environment becomes easier to the first category of students as mentioned above as they are easily able to mix up with the native population because of the backing of their social capital. Therefore, the cultural capital helps the students in building their identity in the new city and integrating in the new culture through the accumulation of cultural capital in the embodied state (Bourdieu, 1986).

The symbolic dimension of cultural capital and differences of the condition of the working-class migrant student can be further understood through, Ajantha Subramanian’s Making Merit: The Indian Institutes of Technology and the Social Life of Caste. In her book she offers a valuable lens for understanding the migration of Indian students and role played by social and cultural capital in this process. She examines the creation of the correlation between the ‘general category’ and caste lessness within the educational domain and why it is considered as an alternate term for the merit-based admission. This is seen in contradiction with the reserved category students (Subramanian, 2015).

Subramanian says that IITs have played a significant role in transforming the caste capital into modern capital. According to the IIT Act of 1961, IITs are deemed as ‘institutions of national importance’ and they have created a brand out of themselves as ‘Brand IIT’.  The proof can be seen in the emergence of numbers of coaching industry that train students for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE). For example, the emergence of Kota as the education destination in the country where thousands of students migrate from their hometown in aspiration of better life chances and educational opportunities. The emergence of coaching institutes for IITs has further accentuated the difference between the rich (mostly high caste) and poor (mostly low caste) students. Socio-economic factor of the parents has a major impact on the performance of students. For migrant students who come from the wealthy families, they do not face financial burden while attending these coaching and easily embody the cultural capital needed to sustain there. In contrast those migrant students who belong to low caste and poor background, often rely on academic achievement to gain reputation, and build their cultural capital because of the reputation (Subramanian, 2015).

Subramanian argues that the majority of the IITians come from the upper caste families of bureaucrats, school teachers a d academics. Reason being their capital has been invested in educations for the long time. Therefore, here the accumulation of capital is most easily discernible and this reflects the internal stratification. As Bourdieu stated that, society is seemed as ‘‘imaginary universe of perfect competition or perfect equality of opportunity, a world without inertia, without accumulation, without heredity…’’ but only by focusing on the historical production of caste and the way it has intersected with the colonial and postcolonial political economies, we can understand the reality behind the making of IITians as superior intellect (Subramanian, 2015). Therefore, the insights from ‘Making Merit’ are relevant to understand the situations of different category of students particularly those who come from the low caste and working-class backgrounds.

Therefore, as stated by Bourdieu the academic qualification acts as a certificate of cultural competence and the individuals who acquire it gains constant, legally guaranteed value with respect to the culture. Therefore, the cultural capital that he gains produces a sharp, absolute, and lasting differences. This academic qualification also enables the holder to exchange them in the labor market and give an edge over other qualification holder. Furthermore, in this way the cultural capital is converted in to the economic capital. This can be seen as an example of why more and more students are going abroad these days. It is considered that foreign countries are not just about the international degree because it gives advantage to get job opportunity and even to settle in those countries (PTI, 2023)


Social and cultural capital plays a significant role in the migration of Indian students who migrate from the small towns to big cities in pursuit of better life chances through getting better educational opportunities and ultimately entering the job sector. There are different categories of migrant students and social networks and relationships that students form in their hometown and the socio-economic background of their parents acts as the essential support and resource while migrating to new cities. As a result, this also influence their experience, adaptability, identity and finally how easily they are able to grab the opportunity in the job market.


Barglowski, K. (2018). Migrants Class and Parenting: the role of cultural capital in Migrants inequalities in education. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 1-18.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The Forms of Capital. In P. Bourdieu, Handbook of Theory and Research (pp. 241-258). New York: Greenwood Press.

Claridge, T. (2021, octuber 21). Bourdieu on Social Capital – theory of capital. Retrieved from www.socialcapitalresearch.com: https://www.socialcapitalresearch.com/bourdieu-on-social-capital-theory-of-capital/

M, P. K. (2021). 1 out of every 100 migrants in India move for Education. Retrieved from www.factly.in.

Menon, P. (2019, May). Migrant University students in Delhi: A Study on Identity Formation, Cultural Capital and Space.

Passerson, P. B.-C. (1977). Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage Publications.

Petar Lyudmilov Paranov, N. E. (2019). Transformation of Social Capital into Economic Capitall Trough Education (By the exmaple of th European Union and Bulgaria). International Conference on Innivation in Science an Education.

Power, E. (1999). An Introduction to Pierre Bourdieu’s Key Theoritical Concepts. Journal for the Study of Food and Society, 48-52.

PTI. (2023, Jan ). Studying Abroad not just about degrees but stepping stone for migration for many.

S Chandrasekhar, A. S. (2014). Internal Migration for Education and Employment among Yiuth in India. Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR).

Subramanian, A. (2015). Making Merit: The Indian Institutes of Technology and the Social Life of Caste. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 291-322.

Tokas, s. (2016, December). Education and Social Capital. Learning Community, 257-265.

Share on:

I am a dedicated sociologist with a passion for unraveling the intricate threads that bind our society together. Holding a Masters degree in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics, my academic journey has honed my empirical research, writing and analytical acumen as well as enabled me to cultivate a deep understanding of social nuances. I have passionately engaged in an array of research projects spanning a diverse spectrum of subjects.