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Science capital gives us research-based insight into what influences and shapes people’s attitudes, engagement and relationship with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Scientific discoveries and new inventions influence our lives every day. Despite this, a lot of people feel alienated from STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths.

Figures show that although many people like and enjoy science at school, relatively few aspire to continue with science-related study or careers, or feel comfortable in places where science is presented or discussed.

To address these challenges, King’s College London, University College London and the Science Museum Group undertook a five-year research and development partnership called Enterprising Science. From this emerged the science capital approach which aimed to tackle inequalities in STEM participation.

What is science capital?

Science capital is derived from the work of Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist who voiced the notion of cultural capital which recognised that the different social and cultural experiences that people have affects how they get ahead in life.

It recognises the significance of what you know about STEM, how you think about it, what you do and who you know in shaping your attitude and relationship with science and maths.Backpack with patches that say: What you know, how you think, who you know, what you do

A simple way to imagine it is like a bag that collects and carries all the STEM-related experiences you have had throughout your life.

Each of us has a different amount of science capital; it is not fixed and can change across a lifetime. Every experience that you have can influence your relationship with STEM both positively and negatively.

The more science capital you have, the more likely you are to feel that STEM is useful and important in your life, something you have a stake in and which is ‘for you’.

Equity and SOCIAL JUSTICE

Equity and social justice are integral to the concept of science capital, enabling and empowering everyone to access the opportunities and wonders of STEM.

By taking a science capital-informed approach we can understand and challenge inequalities, enabling us to create content that is accessible, and spaces, both physical and virtual, where everyone can feel they belong.

Through greater science literacy and a more diverse workforce bringing a broader range of perspectives and solutions to world challenges, we all benefit.

Science capital in the UK

Recent figures show that among 11–15 year olds, five per cent have high science capital, meaning they are actively engaged in STEM; 68 per cent have medium science capital, meaning that they are interested but not engaged; while 27 per cent have low science capital and feel science is not for them [1]. This data, collected with young people, likely reflects their family’s science capital levels – which in turn influence many of the choices encountered throughout life.

By taking a science capital-informed approach we can understand and challenge inequalities – and find important new audiences for our work.

[1]Archer et al… “Science Capital: A Conceptual, Methodological, and Empirical Argument”. 2015

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