Re: [xmca] Allan Luke on Race and Language as Capital -- part 2

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at>
Date: Mon Nov 24 2008 - 08:30:21 PST

So, for any of you who are still reading my reactions to Allan Luke's
essay ... I pick up with the question of unified response to oppressive
logics of practice and the practices that implement them, and then with
reactions to Allan's proposals for school-based reform.

Yes, kids move across institutions, including home, school, popular
culture media worlds, etc. And we know from some very old and
disheartening research about kids raised in liberated, pro-feminist
households where daddy did half the cooking and housework, that young
kids still held the same dominant ideological views about sex-role
stereotypes --- because they picked these up outside their own homes, in
the homes of friends, from television and movies, etc. Ideologies are
pervasive in their reach, part of our social realities, and no single
institution can reform in isolation with respect to these.

But Allan does seem to leave the point there. His analyses and
recommendations thereafter deal only with schools, curricula, teachers,
etc. He does not consider how the recommendations would be subverted by
the failure to simultaneously address kids lives in non-school contexts.
Or possible solutions. Once upon a time I think many of us imagined the
solution to be a total political revolution, replacing the policy
makers, and so on down the line to the institutional practices. But as
Allan points out, that was really when it was all about a single
principle of division: replace the ruling capitalist class with the
working class, and voila! But now this logic leads us to consider
working class women, and non-working class oppressed women, and gays,
and non-european peoples, and non-dominant-language speakers, etc. etc.
Today there is no unified anti-dominant interest whose representation
obviously leads to a unified replacement for capitalist policies.

The problem once again, I think, is residual, even if critical,
essentialism. The idea of the nation-state, the ideal of democratically
setting single unified policies for massive numbers of diverse people
and communities ... is itself part of the problem, not a framework for a
possible solution.

And so, finally, to the recommendations.

Accurately and fairly recognise and evaluate the cultural capital that
students bring to school ...

But by whose standards? according to Bourdieu, those standards are a
function of where we sit, and the dominant standards are those defined
by sitting with a lot of money and power. How can there be ANY universal
standards for doing this, no matter how critical or well-intentioned?
not to mention that the value of cultural capital is RELATIVE to a
social field ... change that of the school and the evaluation changes.
Shift to a non-school setting for an internship or apprenticeship, it
changes again.

Change the lingua franca of the school field:
Change the regulative rules of interaction in the school field:

Both are probably better than doing nothing, but which other languages
are to be accepted as legitimate in the school? in many urban settings
throughout the world, there are multiple non-dominant languages in the
same school. And making the change in the school does nothing about what
happens outside the school. Shall we put to a vote to make
discrimination anywhere in society based on language a crime? (I'd do
it, if it would pass.) Think through the consequences. And as to
changing the regulative rules (which means things like how discussions
and learning are socially organized within the school or classroom),
this works well in some case for a specific cultural model, but what
again when the classroom has multiple cultures and their preferred
models of learning and interction represented? You can't change from one
hegemonic practice to another and be ahead inthe long term. (Though it's
nice to make the dominant group kids suffer briefly ... or is it?)

Revise the curriculum:

Yes, let's dump the canon and try not to replace it with another ... and
in the multi-cultural setting (and multi-gender, sexuality, age, class,
etc.) if everyone gets their five minutes of curriculum time, we have
the most superficial and useless possible curriculum. The problem is not
the wrong curriculum. It is having a universal curriculum at all. It
lies in the assumption, which functions to support hegemonic ideologies,
that everyone ought to learn the same stuff, rather than learning some
of what the community needs to have known, and learning how to combine
it with what others know.

Critique social fields:

Well, I can't argue with the goal here. But it's damned hard to do,
because it goes against much of the values, loyalties, identities, and
habitus of the students and teachers themselves. Not to mention that
critique is also socially positioned: there are many critiques, from
many viewpoints. Not the stuff of a planned curriculum, I think.

Remake teacher habitus:

In how long? the 2-3 years of most teacher preparation programs? when
teachers are in their early 20s or older? Or for serving teachers who
are in their 40s or older? Bourdieu's model of habitus argues that core
dispositions, which include those towards values as well as practices,
arise over the lifespan, and if changed, do so on a timescale of
decades. Some of us culturally inherit a belief in Conversion
Experiences, where in a matter of days or minutes, people suddenly see
the Light and are Re-Born with totally changed habitus (Paul on the road
to Damascus). I find Bourdieu's model applies more frequently.

I respect Allan's years of work to improve social justice and valuable
learning in schools, and in research on education. He has accomplished
so much that I take seriously his arguments and recommendations.
Seriously enough that I wanted to respond to those points where I
perhaps see things a bit differently.


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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*Jay L. Lemke*
University of Michigan
(on leave 2008-9)
xmca mailing list
Received on Mon Nov 24 08:34:49 2008

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