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

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at>
Date: Thu Dec 04 2008 - 13:16:04 PST

Going back over some recent posts, I found I'd missed this one from Steve.

I think we all feel inspired by the impulse towards altruism in Luke and
on xmca, including anti-racism, and generally efforts to get past the
pervasive ideologies of our places and times that seem to make some
kinds of people count for more than others, or justify denying them
opportunities and even life.

But I also read sci-fi and watch Trek and a lot of the popular culture
media that present this issue of what it means to be human ... or
unfortunately, I think, its ideological version: who counts as human.

And the choices offered to us seem too often to be only (a) some more
than others, (b) some do and some don't, or (c) all do equally.

All of these presuppose that it makes sense to have a category of human
in the first place, and/or for it to be possible to say what the
criteria are for membership. Once we accept that, then it is always
possible for someone to propose, or insist, on their criteria ... even
if those criteria are as liberally broad and inclusive as possible.

It is the very possibility of defining the category that I think is
dangerous, and does not really make sense.

And is not equivalent to the traditional humanist meaning of "what is it
to be human?". Because this humanist question is, I think, more or less
Romantic in its intent (even if we can say Socrates/Plato began with a
version of it). It is to ask us to value and inquire into the oddity,
the perversity, the painful and joyful madness of being "truly human".
Which does not mean by category, or by degree, but in terms of a
phenomenology of experience. It is asking what it feels like to be human.

Racism, and scientific or moral homo sapiens universalism, belong
instead to the categorial ways of looking at human-ness. Simplistic,
reductionist, inevitably normalizing, and always potentially oppressive.
There is no human race. There is no white or black race. There is no
male or female gender. There is no straight or gay orientation. There
are no Americans or Chinese. There are no Christians or Muslims. There
is no English Language or Spanish Language. There is no working class or
ruling class. These are all dangerous fictions.

There is human diversity, and diversity of belief, and physiology, and
ways of speaking and desiring. Definable at best by thousands of
gradable features that can and do combine in almost all possible ways,
except insofar as the Category Police try to force some combinations to
dominate over all others. And some features to matter more than others.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, cultural, linguistic, or religious
intolerance are all forms of our cowardice in the face of the complexity
of real human diversity. And so, I think, also is liberal humanist


Steve Gabosch wrote:
> 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 human?
> 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
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

*Jay L. Lemke*
University of Michigan
(on leave 2008-9)
xmca mailing list
Received on Thu Dec 4 13:20:27 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Jan 06 2009 - 13:39:38 PST