Examining Cultural, Linguistic, Familial, and Resistant Capital in Education

Whose Culture Has Capital?

The concept of cultural capital is a longstanding one in sociology. Popularized by Pierre Bourdieu, it refers to a person’s innate abilities, values, knowledge, and skills that promote social mobility in stratified societies.

In this article, Yosso proposes a Critical Race Theory (CRT) challenge to traditional interpretations of cultural capital that perpetuate a deficit view of Communities of Color.

Cultural Identity

Cultural identity is the sense of belonging a person has towards their cultural heritage, values, traditions, and beliefs. It is shaped by various factors such as ethnicity, language, religion, food, music, and other social norms.

Examples of cultural identities include community identity, linguistic variation identity, and historical trauma identity. Community identity is based on common geographic or social communities, such as a neighborhood, religious group, or club. Individuals who participate in community activities and volunteerism often share a strong sense of community identity. Linguistic variation identity is based on differences in speech or accent, such as a Southern accent or Jamaican patois.

Globalization, immigration, and interethnic or interfaith marriages are increasing the cultural diversity of individuals worldwide. Individuals with biracial or multicultural identity have a unique perspective on the world and may identify with multiple cultures. They also have a deeper understanding of their own heritage and can draw on the different aspects of their cultural identity to guide their behaviors.

Linguistic Capital

Linguistic capital is a sociolinguistic concept introduced by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It refers to an individual’s leveraging of language resources for various social, cultural and economic purposes. These resources are positioned in relation to other linguistic assets and can be used to access higher education or other forms of social advancement.

This empirical study tests hypotheses based on a theoretical discussion of the notion of linguistic capital in a multilingual context and, in particular, examines proficiency in national and foreign languages. It combines national and migrant characteristics in a unique data set from Zurich to study how this type of capital is related to social class.

Results show that linguistic capital, along with familial capital, mediates the reproduction of social class in education. In addition, migrant language skills are disproportionately associated with the number of foreign languages in one’s repertoire. This has multiple implications for policy and research. In particular, a more plurilingual approach to universities could help address the issue of educational inequalities.

Familial Capital

The familial aspect of community cultural wealth involves family structure and how marginalized groups maintain strong communal bonds that give them strength. For example, Yosso’s research finds that Latina women are more likely to stay employed despite juggling responsibilities at home because they have the support of family and community members.

Likewise, scholars have found that familial cultural capital contributes to students’ higher education gains. Students with high levels of family cultural capital have access to a rich learning environment and have more aspirations or expectations for academic achievement.

In addition, studies have shown that learning engagement plays a mediating role in the relationship between family cultural capital and higher education gains. Therefore, to maximize the effect of family cultural capital on educational outcomes, it is essential to promote student learning engagement. This can be achieved by utilizing culturally relevant pedagogy, which involves activating students’ prior knowledge and making learning contextual. It also involves incorporating popular culture into the classroom.

Resistant Capital

According to Yosso, whose framework uses critical race theory, resistant capital is the inherited knowledge and resiliency of communities of color over generations in resistance against inequity. She defines it as “the knowledge and resiliency to navigate inequitable situations that arise from prejudice directed at certain groups in higher education.”

In one study, participants described using their resistant capital to challenge racial microaggressions and racism while navigating STEM fields where Black students are underrepresented. They also used their resistant capital to help others succeed in STEM fields by doing outreach and leveraging their networks.

Educators can leverage these types of resilient, familial, and linguistic assets in their classrooms through culturally responsive teaching methods. For example, by incorporating a student’s linguistic and familial capital into their personal narrative, teachers could help reduce a feeling of imposter syndrome for the student. Likewise, by using the card-elicitation method from anthropology, educators can identify the forms of community cultural wealth that their students possess and use them as a tool for self-discovery.

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