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

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Mon Nov 10 2008 - 19:02:25 PST

MIke, your comments about "essentialized racism" got me thinking about
what is racism, and what is meant by "human race."

I like to listen to audiobooks while driving and exercising, and
happen to be currently listening to an old "hard" sci fi classic from
1940, Slan, by AE van Vogt. I loved that book as a teenager. A new
"race" of super-smart human telepaths emerges out of the gene pool,
and centuries-long wars, prejudices and misunderstandings ensue. At
the root of this book is that age-old question, asked so often on Star
Trek and in much of the science fiction genre: what does it mean to be

In terms of "racism," that same age-old question is turned inside out
and put divisively: who truly "belongs" to the human race, and who
doesn't? Who are the full, legitimate citizens, who are the marginal?

Racism in this sense is asking who has the right to be considered
fully human, who doesn't; who has the right to impose such
discriminations, and who the obligation to submit to them. The
answers I believe in are rooted in humanism: everyone is fully human,
no one is not; no one has the right to impose otherwise, and no one
should have to submit to that. And the revolutionary in me believes
no one **should** submit to that.

A phrase like "human race" seems natural enough at first glance, but
it contains within it the implication that there are other, not-so-
human kinds of races, whatever they might be. In doing so, it offers
a choice. On one hand, there is racism - discriminating membership
status in terms of a "human" race. Ultimately, it implies, if not
openly advocates, eradicating what is not fully human. On the other
hand, there is humanism, the belief in unconditional human
solidarity. It does not merely imply, but openly states its intention
to eradicate racism.

 From the humanist perspective, as I see it, it is not just that there
is only "one" human race. There is no "race" at all. There is one
and only one "humanity" - be it telepathic, non-telepathic, racist,
humanist, and otherwise.

This is my way of putting it, anyway. Others have perhaps better ways
of expressing such sentiments. I very much see a thorough-going
humanist, anti-racist spirit in Allan Luke's paper, and throughout the
xmca and iscar-etc. world, always a cause of inspiration for me.

- Steve

On Nov 9, 2008, at 9:21 AM, Mike Cole wrote:

> 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
> black."
> 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
> issues
> 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.
> mike
> 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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