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Understanding Science Capital


‘Science Capital’ is a useful concept pioneered by Professor Louise Archer at Kings College London 

Although originally conceived in relation to Science, Engineering, Maths and Technology, the concept has implications for all subject areas, and how you might plan interventions within schools.

This guide aims to summarise the concept, provide links to further resources and to help you think about how you might apply the concept when working with schools.

The information used in this guide is taken from Kings College London’s Guide

What is Science Capital?

A person’s Science Capital is like a holdall or bag that they carry around with them. Into which they put all their science related knowledge, skills, and experience. This Capital is informed and developed throughout life, through exposure to different experiences at school, at home and in their everyday lives. A person’s Science Capital is made up from four key parts:

  • What you know
  • How you think
  • What you do
  • Who you know

People have different levels of Science Capital and this in turn affects their interaction with Science. Whether for example, they believe yes, Science is for me, or no, Science is not for me. It will affect their interactions with Science and Science related media, and their experiences at say a Science venue such as the Science Museum.

Professor Louise Archer and her team have identified eight dimensions of Science Capital; these are:

  • Scientific literacy: Knowledge, understanding and confidence of science and how it works.
  • Attitudes, values and dispositions: The extent to which science is ‘seen’ by the young person as part of their everyday life.
  • Knowledge about the transferability of science: Understanding about how Science can be used in personal and professional life.
  • Science media consumption: The extent to which someone engages with science-related media.
  • Participation in out-of-school learning contexts: Participation in clubs, museums, fairs, exhibitions etc.
  • Family science capital: The extent to which a young person’s family have science capital.
  • Knowing people in science related roles: The family, friends, peer and community circles that the young people have access to.
  • Talking about science: How often the young person engages with or is encouraged to engage with science.

Although focused on science, how might these eight dimensions apply to your own subject areas?

How the concept can help you design and deliver your interventions?

Many children underperform throughout school and grow increasingly less visible and more marginalised as they progress through the system. Although not exclusively the case, these children are more likely to come from areas of social deprivation and there is a strong association between low family income and poor educational outcomes.

In a recent study by Kings College London it was found that young people do not have a poverty of aspirations, in fact many have relatively high aspirations for professional, managerial and technical careers. We know therefore that there is a gap between aspiration and attainment and that gap is generally larger for young people from areas of disadvantage.

Science Capital is therefore a useful framing device for interpreting young people’s access to science, both in relation to their disposition, their resources and also the system in which they are located and whether there are certain ‘rules of the game’ which may exclude some and benefit others.

It is quite common for researchers to design interventions which focus on ‘what students know’ as opposed to looking at other dimensions of Science Capital. It is important to reflect on for example:

  • How might your intervention change how students think about your subject? Will it help them see the resonance within everyday life? Will it connect the subject with role models, and people they aspire to?
  • How might you democracrise your specialism? Where can it lead?
  • What is your own unconscious bias, how have these informed the intervention? What assumptions are you making about your audience? How can these be challenged?
  • How might your intervention support interactions at home with families and carers?

These videos provided by Kings College London develop this advice further with practical tips and advice for teachers and other professionals working in the classroom.