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

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Sun Nov 09 2008 - 23:52:37 PST


Firstly I think Allan Luke has a pretty powerful set of
tools with Bourdieu supplemented with bits of people like
Friere, Nancy Fraser and some cultural-historical
psychology, and I don't agree with your assessment of
Bourdieu. But let's leave a discussion about Bourdieu for a
separate thread, because although I don't think you can
maintain your criticism of Bourdieu, Allan Luke may be
vulnerable to criticism nonetheless.

Firstly, I agree with Luke's aim of a non-determinist
reading of Bourdieu. The question is: has he managed to
achieve this? Most people take Bourdieu as a
ultra-objectivist, inasmuch as he sees individuals as having
their innermost feelings and perceptions determined by
structural pressures beyond their horizon, but like Luke, I
think there is a reading of Bourdieu in which individuals
can be seen as capable of "messing" with the field in which
they are trapped by virtue of their capital and hexis.
However, I think Luke presumes that a non-structuralist (or
non-determinist) reading of this kind is easy. I can't agree.

For example, it is quite normal for subjects (if not
individuals) to promote the value of their labour, with the
aim of upping its market value. EG whenever a professional
association takes measures to improve regulation of their
profession or runs a publicity campaign.

But Luke talks as if, for example, the headmaster of a
school or a teacher as "an established epistemic authority
and elder in the social field of the school" (we wish!) can
determine the value of a form of cultural capital. This is
sort of like saying a bank teller can determine the value of
the US dollar. And that's Bourdieu's point; the value of a
form of cultural capital can no more be determined by the
"players" than can the value of economic capital.

So how is it done? Luke holds that agents can vary the
economic/cultural/social field on which they move, but how?
And I think Luke really fails to tackle the hard questions
here. I am not an educator, but for example, how can
teachers use both a democratic/critical pedagogy, and
reflect cultural practices of a community, which may for
example be decidedly undemocratic? Children that come from a
home where critical and democratic relations are the norm
will (probably) not have problems at school.

All the things that Luke suggests a teacher or school
administrator ought to do, I think any liberal-minded
educator would agree with and want to do. A teacher can
value a youngster's facility with rap and her command of
Creole, but that doesn't solve the problem that future
employer will not.

I think Luke has named and framed all the problems well in a
Bourdieuian problematic, and this is a good framework, but I
don't see any solutions here yet.


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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Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 
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Received on Sun Nov 9 23:53:23 2008

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