Re: [xmca] Allan Luke on Race and Language as Capital

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Sun Nov 09 2008 - 09:21:25 PST

Thanks for your summary and comments, Steve. I have been finding Allan's
article difficult to grasp as a whole, perhaps because I am insufficiently
schooled i Bourdieu and his relationship to other contemporary thinkers and
Marx. If we could get a joint reading of "Forms of Capital" perhaps it would
help. The use of many hypenated ""-capital that are in the discussions I
participate in often confuse me as to their (often implicit) causal claims.

Two, perhaps, useful small comments.
One, I strongly recognized Allan's comment that the use of colour is "not
the exclusive domain of any particular dominant class or colour of male
patriarch, followed by listing of various forms of domination that occur,
among other ways,
""not just white upon black and brown, but yellow upon white, black upon
In the Liberia of the 1970's, and I suspect now, color was not the
characteristic upon which racism was organized. I was classified along with
President Tubman using the same term, an amalgam of "civilized, rich,
powerful, to be feared, etc."
and people from Monrovia spoke of the people among whom I worked as
aborigines. I have seen similar phenomena in Japan vis a vis Koreans and
from Allan's broad experience, he must have seen every possible combination
of distinction used as a form of essentialized racism.

Second, re school practices that offer solutions. Little to argue with there
other than the manifest inability to get such an ensemble of practices
instituted. I can add on practice, however, at an explicitly anti-racist
school my kids attended. It
was manifested in a producation of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy gets blown
out of Kansas a white girl and appears again in Oz as a black girl, but her
identity has manifestly/symbolically not changed: an explicit,
institutionalize rejection of skin color as a phenotypic marker of a
distinction that makes a difference.

Apropos of the enormous challenges remaining after the election and
Michael's comments earlier today, a story in the NY Times today about the
southern state of Alabama explains that many democrats could not bring
themselves to vote for Obama, although rejecting Bush, as a result of which
a pretty nasty law forbidding adoption of children by non-married couples
passed. A great deal has remained the same (ditto here in California),
including the very important illusion that assembly line workers at Ford
are, and are supposed to be, part of the middle class.

I hope others will help enlighten me and others concerning the important
raised by Allan and your commentary. If you could get folks to follow you
and lead a discussion of forms of capital, that would be great.

On Sat, Nov 8, 2008 at 9:27 PM, Steve Gabosch <> wrote:

> I've been reading over and thinking about Allan Luke's paper, Race and
> Language as Capital in School: A Sociological Template for Language
> Education Reform, which is posted on the lchc site here:
> I heard Allan speak at an AERA conference a few years ago. He gave an
> impressive talk and was well-received. Wikipedia has a little article on
> him here:
> Luke's paper discusses how to view, critique and synthesize a variety of
> existing strategies to end racial and linguistic discrimination in the
> school systems, using Bourdieu's concepts of habitus, capital, and field.
> First, a little on the theory behind the paper. My take on Luke's
> analytical framework goes in two directions.
> On one hand, I like aspects of the way Luke uses the concepts of habitus
> and capital to describe issues of racial and linguistic discrimination, and
> strategies to overcome it in the school setting. He uses these concepts in
> ways that reveal **descriptive** and **analytical* power when looking at
> the the individual and intersubjective levels of racism and linguistic
> repression, and they prove useful to him when he generalizes about different
> strategies to overcome discrimination, oppression and cultural repression in
> the classroom.
> On the other hand, I see problems with the concepts of habitus and capital
> to the extent they are used as more than just metaphors and are mistaken for
> having sociological **explanatory** power. I suppose this is a kind of "the
> emperor has no clothes" kind of perspective on my part, but I'll take the
> risk and be blunt: Bourdieu's theory of social and cultural capital strikes
> me as little more than offering new terms and metaphors to describe things,
> but not explain them. In other words, while his theory about "capital" adds
> some new ideas on how to do the "what does it look like" side of analysis
> and description, it adds little or nothing on the "why does this or that
> happen" side.
> Perhaps Luke's paper and his use of the concept of cultural and social
> capital could spark a discussion of Bourdieu's article "Forms of Capital"
> sometime. I have some thoughts on something I think I see Bourdieu doing.
> I see him **compressing** together different levels of reality, such as the
> socio-economic, the socio-cultural, and cultural-psychological, thereby
> losing a handle on the generative/emergent cause and effect relationship
> between these different integrative levels. These levels operate under
> different developmental dynamics and time frames - while at the very same
> time, they interpenetrate and inter-transform one another. Both of these
> aspects are vital for theorizing, describing, analyzing and intervening in
> any aspect of social reality.
> What I see Bourdieu as doing has similarities to, but is different from,
> reductionism. I call it "compressionism." In some ways, according to a
> view I am developing, compressionism is the opposite of reductionism. Both
> reductionism and compressionism can offer interesting insights and metaphors
> in the short term, but both can also quickly become one-sided and
> obfuscatory if used mechanically and exclusively. These two approaches tend
> to overstate one aspect or the other of the complex relationship between
> integrative levels. The solution must be to see and understand both
> aspects, and all sides of the thing being investigated. Compressionism and
> reductionism (and lots of methodological -isms - structuralism,
> functionalism, relativism, etc.) can be used as helpful tools for thinking
> and asking questions - but are not so helpful, in my opinion, when used as
> methods to draw conclusions with.
> Bourdieu's "Forms of Capital" can be found at:
> Now to some commentary on the content of the paper.
> Luke's articulate and potent discussion of discrimination and oppression
> regarding racism and linguistic repression creates the impression that an
> explanation is being advanced. But on closer examination, I don't see an
> explanation in this paper. Just a description. And a solid, outspoken one,
> may I add, which I appreciate. This is perfectly okay - science is about
> both explanation and description.
> Luke applies his descriptive framework to various strategies that are being
> tried in various schools to overcome aspects of discrimination. He analyzes
> each approach in terms of habitus, which I found interesting. Increased
> descriptive power leads to sharper analysis, which leads to better
> questions, which leads to deeper explanations, so this is a good road.
> Generally speaking, the concepts of habitus and what could be
> metaphorically called "personal capital" seem to help fill a need in our
> language to point to and describe, in precise terms, an individual's
> accumulated and practiced cultural and historical connections. I am
> thinking that once we get clearer on the explanatory limitations of these
> concepts, we can better harness their descriptive strengths. Luke offers
> examples of how to effectively use these descriptive strengths in his paper.
> I'll finish up my little commentary on Luke's paper by quoting snippets
> from his summary of suggested solutions. Luke is offering some interesting
> ideas for synthesizing a variety of approaches into something he calls a
> "whole-school" approach. Many ideas I have heard on xmca, at AERA
> conferences, etc. are contained in this summary.
> a) ... recognise and evaluate the cultural capital that students bring to
> school.
> b) Change the lingua franca of the school field: depending upon community
> and student aspirations, it would provide a balanced program of English as a
> Second Language and/or bilingual program ...
> c) Change the regulative rules of interaction in the school field: ...
> complement and reflect student cultural and community practices of exchange
> and gifting, paralinguistics and gesture and turn-taking.
> d) Revise the curriculum ...
> e) ... engage students with a broad analysis of how social fields
> discriminate, their rules of exchange, and who they historically have
> included and excluded.
> f) Remake teacher habitus ...
> - Steve
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