Health capital: toward a conceptual framework for understanding the construction of individual health

Drawing on Bourdieu’s conceptualization of forms of capital, this article discusses the efficacy, the legitimation, and the positioning of health capital, uncovering its potential for understanding contemporary trends in health practices and health discourse.

Emerging perspectives of health as individualized and privatized capital seem promising to shed light on the construction of individual health in the face of the growing individualization of healthcare. This article reviews extant perspectives of health as capital, reflecting upon how a conceptualization of health capital might be conceived by two of the main contrasting traditions: human capital theory affiliated with the Chicago School of Economics and Bourdieusian concepts of social field and capital. Arguing that a Bourdieusian perspective is potentially more fruitful to capture the importance of social and cultural dimensions in the construction of individual health, this article arrives at a conceptualization of health capital as the aggregate of the actual or potential resources possessed by a given agent that have the capacity to affect the position of agents in the social field of health. Drawing on Bourdieu’s conceptualization of forms of capital, this article discusses the efficacy, the legitimation, and the positioning of health capital, uncovering its potential for understanding contemporary trends in health practices and health discourse.

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