School of Electrical & Information Engineering,

University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

ELEN4019A – Engineers in Society

Symbolic Violence


Accepting the Status Quo

ELEN4019A – Engineers in Society

Marissa van Wyngaardt (719804)

Lecturer: Jessica BreakeyDate: 19 March 2019

Since the end of apartheid, several policies have been put into place in an attempt to address the inequalities that were brought about. Land reform policy and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) have contributed to closing the poverty gap []. There are, however, less apparent effects of apartheid which have persisted despite affirmative action.

Oppression does not only leave a long-lasting impact on one’s economic standing, but has also been shown to have lingering effects on one’s psychological state, frequently extending to later generations. Transgenerational trauma has been observed in descendants of the Holocaust victims[], an event which

Symbolic violence is the domination over a group of people through the use of certain ideologies, and is reliant on the internalisation and acceptance of these ideas as superior by the oppressed collective.

The effects of symbolic violence and its contribution to race and class oppression has been studied worldwide, and seems to be most prevalent in the education system. Addressing these issues in the fundamental phases of childhood (i.e. early schooling) will ideally ensure that people grow up with knowledge of the structural inequalities working against them, and will disrupt the status quo, rather than maintain it.

Shackles of the mind institutional racism

To quote the 1986 musical film Little Shop of Horrors “Better ourselves? You heard what he said – better ourselves? Mister, when you’re from Skid Row, ain’t no such thing.

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Croizet et al (2017) state that the education system is fraught with unwritten cultural norms, biased towards the middle-class student. Students entering the system with a familiarity of the arbitrarily dominant language use, behaviours, and assumed knowledge have the advantage of cultural capital. Students with this capital are usually perceived as intellectually superior. Working-class students are made to feel as though their performance is due to a lack of academic ability, rather than poor accessibility caused by a system catering to the dominant culture. Informing these disadvantaged students of the pre-existing cultural capital fellow students have may be enough to prevent “upward social comparison and a corresponding sense of intellectual inadequacy” (Croizet et al, 2017, p. 108).

In many cases, divisions of race and class overlap, particularly when the matter of symbolic violence is considered. Minority groups usually comprise a large portion of the working-class, and in South Africa, the vast majority of black citizens form the working class, a result of the apartheid era which has yet to be resolved.

The authors of the above literature are in agreement that symbolic violence works to reproduce social inequalities.

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