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

From: Beth Ferholt <bferholt who-is-at>
Date: Mon Nov 24 2008 - 22:43:10 PST

SO much to think about here, obviously -- thank you!Just on one point that
is vexing me right now, as I apply for jobs to teach teachers:
Have you encountered any teacher preparation/professional development that
does remake teacher habitus, despite your apt observations on this
recommendation of Alan Luke's?

On Mon, Nov 24, 2008 at 8:30 AM, Jay Lemke <> wrote:

> 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.
> JAY.
> 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*
> Professor
> University of Michigan
> (on leave 2008-9)
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Received on Mon Nov 24 22:43:40 2008

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