"Men's Circle": Education-Mediated Capital Conversion and Its Inconvertibility in Elite International Student Mobility

Hong Jin Jo, University of Chicago

Social mobility scholars have studied the convertibility of economic capital into other forms of capital since Bourdieu and identified education as a primary locus of the capital convertibility process. This study demonstrates that capital convertibility is not a universally seamless process in practice. International student mobility is a good example of the inconvertibility of various forms of capital because its transnationality highlights both facilitators and hindrances in the domestic social mobility project. I find several pathways in the capital conversion mechanism as well as some unexpected inconvertibility issues through archival analysis and 29 interviews with elite students from a nascent developing country, South Korea, from the 1950s to the 1980s. With their academic credentials obtained abroad, high-achieving male elites easily pass the credential pathway and achieve domestic upper-class status with academic positions. Female elites, on the other hand, face a number of "gender" impediments in their capital conversion processes, despite their more privileged class background. The home society's gender barrier prevents them not only from enrolling in graduate programs abroad but also from returning to their home academia like their male peers. This study identifies variegated credential pathways in the Bourdieusian capital conversion process and highlights gender inequality trumps ascribed class advantage and achieved socioeconomic status by demonstrating how these processes differ along gender lines and result in the "men's circle."

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 Presented in Session 172. Making Reputations: Credentials, Metrics and Stratification in Organizational Fields