Educational capital

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Educational capital refers to educational goods that are converted into commodities to be bought, sold, withheld, traded, consumed, and profited from in the educational system. Educational capital can be utilized to produce or reproduce inequality, and it can also serve as a leveling mechanism that fosters social justice and equal opportunity. Educational capital has been the focus of study in Economic anthropology, which provides a framework for understanding educational capital in its endeavor to understand human economic behavior using the tools of both economics and anthropology.

Economic anthropology is a field that attempts to explain human economic behavior in its widest historic, geographic and cultural scope. It is practiced by anthropologists and has a complex relationship with the discipline of economics, of which it is highly critical. Its origins as a sub-field of anthropology began with work by the Polish founder of anthropology Bronislaw Malinowski and the French Marcel Mauss on the nature of reciprocity as an alternative to market exchange. For the most part, studies in economic anthropology focus on exchange. In contrast, the Marxian school known as "political economy" focuses on production.

Economics Social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services

Economics is the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

Anthropology is the scientific study of humans and human behavior and societies in the past and present. Social anthropology studies patterns of behaviour and cultural anthropology studies cultural meaning, including norms and values. Linguistic anthropology studies how language influences social life. Biological or physical anthropology studies the biological development of humans.


Cultural capital and educational capital

The term educational capital is a concept that expands upon the theoretical ideas of French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu who applied the notion of capital to social capital, cultural capital, and symbolic capital. [1] Pierre Bourdieu and Basil Bernstein explore how the cultural capital of the dominant classes has been viewed throughout history as the "most legitimate knowledge." [2] How schools choose the content and organization of curriculum and instructional practices connects school knowledge (both commodified and lived) to dynamics of class, gender, and race both outside and inside our institutions of education. [3]

Pierre Bourdieu French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher

Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher and public intellectual.

In economics, capital consists of assets that can enhance one's power to perform economically useful work. For example, in a fundamental sense a stone or an arrow is capital for a caveman who can use it as a hunting instrument, while roads are capital for inhabitants of a city.

Social capital Concept

Social capital broadly refers to those factors of effectively functioning social groups that include such things as interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity. However, the many views of this complex subject make a single definition difficult.

Although Bourdieu went into great detail in his discourse on social, cultural and symbolic capital, he does not appear to consider the importance of educational capital as critical in and of itself. Bourdieu does however, mention academic capital in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste:

Academic capital is in fact the guaranteed product of the combined effects of cultural transmission by the family and cultural transmission by the school (the efficiency of which depends on the amount of cultural capital directly inherited from the family). Through its value-inculcating and value-imposing operations, the school also helps (to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the initial disposition, i.e., class of origin) to form a general, transposable disposition towards legitimate culture, which is first acquired with respect to scholastically recognized knowledge and practices but tends to be applied beyond the bounds of the curriculum, taking the form of a 'disinterested' propensity to accumulate experience and knowledge which may not be directly profitable in the academic market(23). [4]

Arjun Appadurai's exploration of knowledge and commodities and issues of exclusivity and authenticity is also relevant to the discussion of cultural capital and educational capital. In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, Appadurai suggests “...commodities represent very complex social forms and distributions of knowledge.”(41) [5]

Arjun Appadurai social-cultural anthropologist

Arjun Appadurai is an Indian-American anthropologist recognized as a major theorist in globalization studies. In his anthropological work, he discusses the importance of the modernity of nation states and globalization.

Economic theories and models of educational capital practices

Ritual economy in education

In her article "Gifting the Children: Ritual Economy of a Community School," [6] Rhoda Halperin explores the practices of an urban community school through a ritual economy perspective. McAnany and Wells define ritual economy as "the process of provisioning and consuming that materializes and substantiates worldview for managing meaning and shaping interpretation." [7] McAnany and Wells note that ritual and economy are linked but are not reducible to one another and suggest three critical areas of inquiry: 1) economic practice, i.e., provisioning and consuming; 2) resultant elements of practice, i.e., materialization and substantiation; and 3) the important social role of ritual practice in shading meaning and contouring the interpretation of life experiences. [7]

Halperin calls the intersection of ritual economy and ritual kinship in the community school "gifting the children." [6] The primary entity that is produced, acquired, and consumed is the public community charter school (a nonprofit corporation) that consists of a building and a collection of educational practices and programs. Gifting the children entails a "complex set of morally driven (and ritualized) informal, intergenerational economic practices: modeling survival strategies by combining work in the formal wage economy with informal work on odd jobs...providing actual resources such as food, sometimes housing, clothing and school supplies."(251)

Ritual kinship and practical kinship in education

Relationships similar to ritual kinship and practical kinship [8] can play a critical role in education. [6] Studies have shown that in many poor communities, godparents or "secular godparents" are expected to help with children's schooling. [9] [10] [11] [12] Community volunteers serve as secular godparents to help fulfill the needs of the children that parents are unable to meet: school supplies, clothing, food, as well as counseling, time, affection, trust, and "...inputs of resources for the future well-being of children and for their responsible citizenship." [6] Halperin suggests that ritual kin "materialize things differently from other kin, biological and fictive...they are generous (often beyond their means)...and are generous with time." [6] In the community school setting, Halperin observes many different forms of practical (fictive) kinship [8] that are particularly ritualized (i.e., adoption, child foster care (temporary and permanent), and various other forms of nonbiological or extra-biological kinship. In The Logic of Practice, Bourdieu describes the concept of practical kinship:

The extent of practical kinship depends on the capacity of the members of the official group to overcome the tensions engendered by the conflict of interests within the common production and consumption group, and to keep up the kind of practical relationships that correspond to the official view of itself which is held by every group that sees itself as a corporate unit. On this condition, they may enjoy both the advantages accruing from every practical relationship and the symbolic profits secured by the approval socially conferred on practices conforming to the official representation of practices, that is, the social idea of kinship."(170) [8]

Gift economy in education

In his book The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, Marcel Mauss examines the nature of gift exchange and gift economy. Mauss describes a system of total services that Pacific and North American tribes participate in where economic transaction is only one component, noting that other actions take place such as "acts of politeness: banquets, rituals, military services, women, children, dances, festivals, fairs"(5) [13] Mauss developed a theory of the three obligations: 1) obligation to reciprocate presents received; 2) obligation to give presents; and 3) obligation to receive presents. Mauss contends that "To refuse to give, to fail to invite, just as to refuse to accept, is tantamount to declaring war; it is to reject the bond of alliance and commonality."(13) [13]

Gift economies also take place in educational settings. In some schools, the community provisions school supplies to school children through gifts, "Parents model gifting for their children who, in turn carry the practices of gifting to the next generation. We could speculate that the worsening conditions of Late Capitalism will create greater and greater demand for gifting. [6] Unlike the gifting rituals in archaic times that were designed to strengthen elite power, the rituals in the community school serve as "...leveling mechanisms with loose expectations of reciprocity in many different forms and at much later times" (258) [6] The only thing the community elders expect in return from the children is for them to "give back" to the community at some point in their lives. Instead of social inequality and hierarchy, the intended outcome of the gifting economy at the community school is social justice and equal opportunity. [6]

In the school environment, gifting is also viewed as an investment strategy:

...investment in the future of children, in the community, and in a sense, in the world. If children are cultural products and if culture, in this case, working-class culture is to be reproduced and enhanced, the gifting is absolutely essential and will be perpetuated."(262) [6]

Schools can also engage in gifting the public by providing kids a prospect for a productive life and by keeping them out of jail. Gifting also involves sacrifice by the community volunteers and founders of schools who sacrifice time, family, and health in the name of community, kids, education, and heritage preservation and conservation. [6] Gifting the children is much more than charity in that it insures kids' abilities to give back to the community. [6]


Local knowledge

The literature in anthropology suggests that local knowledge [14] [15] can play a pivotal role in the success of schools by sustaining community participation in education. The main goal of community schools is to produce citizens who are skilled through curriculum in which local knowledge holds an equal place with credentialed knowledge, thus "creating a balance between school and community"(261). [6] The Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci believed that all people are “organic intellectuals,” [15] in other words, being an intellectual is not just reserved for the elite or upper classes. Gramsci stressed the significance of intellectuals being part of everyday life. In Gramsci's view, intellect is not based solely on academic knowledge, “...the mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence…but in active participation in practical life, as a constructor, organizer, 'permanent persuader' and not just a simple oratore…”(10). [15] Gramsci further argues that the purpose of education should be "to create a single type of formative school (primary-secondary) which would take the child up to the threshold of his choice of job, forming him during this time as a person capable of thinking, studying and ruling - or controlling those who rule."(40) [15] Gramsci contends that in order for schools to be successful, it is critical that students actively participate in their own learning and, in order for this to occur, the school must relate to everyday life. Halperin [6] suggests that children can act as organic intellectuals when school administrators utilize the children's desires and personal information to impact and inform the power structure, “Anytime there was an opportunity, the kids were quoted, whether it was to woo a candidate during a job interview or to convince a member of the school board that the school was indeed necessary” (258).

Halperin [6] connects the informal educators in the community school with Gramsci's ideas of the role of the organic intellectual, “Intersections of kin work and paid work blur distinction s between work and family in the school and in the community at large….Employing community kin, insuring job stability, and keeping the peace are also priorities. These practices are all forms of resistance to capitalism, globalization, and several forms of hegemony including, but not limited to formal school structures and conventional disciplinary practices” (252). Gramsci helps to link theory with practice, with his creation of working class intellectuals actively participating in practical life, that are assisting in developing a counter hegemony that would undermine existing social relations. [15]

In The Essential Foucault: Selections from Essential Works of Foucault, Michel Foucault also offers alternatives for thought and new courses for active learners in education in his discussion of the reshaping of the self, “…even for the slave or for the mad, under situations where the models of selfhood are imposed from outside, a certain self-crafting is required…and each crafting of a relation with the self arises out of, and entails, a crafting of one’s relations to others – be they one’s superiors, one’s pupils, one’s colleagues…” (xxi) [16] This idea is similar to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s [17] understanding of the child as an “active” learner and also Paulo Freire’s conscientization. [18] American anthropologist Clifford Geertz [14] also posits the importance of the local knowledge and common sense of people involved in everyday life:

To us, science, art, ideology, law, religion, technology, mathematics, even nowadays ethics and epistemology, seem genuine enough genres of cultural expression to lead us to ask (and ask, and ask) to what degree other peoples possess them, and to the degree that they do possess them what from do they take, and given the form they take what light has that to shed on our own version of them.”(92) [14]

The preceding literature suggests that school orientations and professional development led by community leaders and residents that instruct teachers about community heritage might lead to a more successful educational experience and outcomes for children and the community. An important objective of heritage preservation is to help people in a community develop a collective identity. David Lowenthal [19] suggests that “Remembering the past is crucial for our sense of identity…to know what we were confirms that we are” (p. 197). Good and Good [20] argue the importance of memory, suggesting that “…ways of framing that which is hidden or left unspoken…suggest the importance of an increasing body of writing on memory, traumatic memory, and memory politics and of methods aimed at observing or retrieving remainders of violence or traumatic historical events” (2008:15). In engaging with the past it is important that we do not forget the youth in the community that are the future of the community. They are stakeholders as well as the adults, and they too need a voice. Makagon and Neuman [21] suggest that the narrative realm can be enlarged through citizen storytellers who “…can be anyone who wants to create a documentary about historical or contemporary life…the concept is based in the idea of democratizing the means of representing interests, issues, experiences, and the concerns of people who do not have access to media but have stories they want to tell”(55). Coming to terms with the past is critical both for elders but also for youth and its impact on their evolving identity.

Credentialed knowledge

In contrast to local knowledge, "credentialed knowledge" is knowledge that is determined to be "legitimate." In other words, credentialed knowledge is that which is included to be suitable for learning in public (and private) school curricula. It is the knowledge that is sanctioned by local, state, and federal authorities. It is also the knowledge that discipline specific associations (e.g., National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; International Reading Association; Council for Exceptional Children) advocate as essential to their particular academic discipline. Curricula in K-12 schools are guided by both national and state policy-makers, including private companies who publish school textbooks, programs, and materials. Often, local knowledge as described previously is minimized or not included altogether.

Measuring educational capital

In the recent age of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, educational capital at the national, state, and local levels has been measured by high-stakes testing that have determined the educational effectiveness of individual states, school districts, schools, and teachers. The learning outcomes of students have also been evaluated by these once-per-year standardized assessments, often determining whether they have attained the appropriate level of growth from one year to another. Children can be passed to the next grade level of retained based on their performance on these assessments. A growing sentiment among conservative politicians and some businesses is that the purpose of public education is to provide the private sector with individuals who are trained to perform whatever job required. To this end, an emphasis on job or career specific training has begun to permeate the rhetoric with respect to educational policy.

A recent reform in public K-12 is the public support of Charter Schools. Charter schools are supposed to be alternatives to public school such that they provide students with innovative curricula and educational experiences. Since state legislatures began passing charter legislation in the 1990s, nearly 3,000 new schools have been established. Some of these schools are funded by specific businesses, corporations, or individual benefactors that espouse particular ideals or goals for the education of children and youth. Chartering permits schools to "... run independently of the traditional public school system and tailor their programs to community needs." [22] Even though all charter schools are not exceptionally innovative and some schools operate similarly to traditional public schools, policymakers, parents, and educators are looking at chartering as a way to increase educational choice and innovation within the public school system. [22]

Related Research Articles

Habitus (sociology) concept in sociology

Habitus is ingrained habits, skills and dispositions. It is the way that individuals perceive the social world around them and react to it. These dispositions are usually shared by people with similar backgrounds. The habitus is acquired through imitation (mimesis) and is the reality that individuals are socialized, which includes their individual experience and opportunities. Thus, the habitus represents the way group culture and personal history shape the body and the mind; as a result, it shapes present social actions of an individual.

Structuralism theory that elements of human culture must be understood in terms of their relationship to a larger, overarching system or structure

In sociology, anthropology, and linguistics, structuralism is the methodology that implies elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader, overarching system or structure. It works to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel. Alternatively, as summarized by philosopher Simon Blackburn, structuralism is "the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure".

A gift economy or gift culture is a mode of exchange where valuables are not traded or sold, but rather given without an explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards. Social norms and customs govern gifting in a gift culture, gifts are not given in an explicit exchange of goods or services for money, or some other commodity or service. This contrasts with a barter economy or a market economy, where goods and services are primarily explicitly exchanged for value received.

In sociology and anthropology, symbolic capital can be referred to as the resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition, and serves as value that one holds within a culture. A war hero, for example, may have symbolic capital in the context of running for political office.

Fictive kinship is a term used by anthropologists and ethnographers to describe forms of kinship or social ties that are based on neither consanguineal nor affinal ties, in contrast to true kinship ties.

In the field of sociology, cultural capital comprises the social assets of a person that promote social mobility in a stratified society. Cultural capital functions as a social-relation within an economy of practices, and comprises all of the material and symbolic goods, without distinction, that society considers rare and worth seeking. As a social relation within a system of exchange, cultural capital includes the accumulated cultural knowledge that confers social status and power.

Sociology of culture science of sociology

The sociology of culture, and the related cultural sociology, concerns the systematic analysis of culture, usually understood as the ensemble of symbolic codes used by a member of a society, as it is manifested in the society. For Georg Simmel, culture referred to "the cultivation of individuals through the agency of external forms which have been objectified in the course of history". Culture in the sociological field is analyzed as the ways of thinking and describing, acting, and the material objects that together shape a group of people's way of life.

Sociology of education

The sociology of education is the study of how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcomes. It is mostly concerned with the public schooling systems of modern industrial societies, including the expansion of higher, further, adult, and continuing education.

The compadre relationship between the parents and godparents of a child is an important bond that originates when a child is baptized in Iberian, Latin American, and Filipino families. The abstract noun compadrazgo, compadrio, both meaning "co-parenthood," is sometimes used to refer to the institutional relationship between compadres.

Cultural reproduction is the transmission of existing cultural values and norms from generation to generation. Cultural reproduction refers to the mechanisms by which continuity of cultural experience is sustained across time. Cultural reproduction often results in social reproduction, or the process of transferring aspects of society from generation to generation.

  1. Groups of people, notably social classes, act to reproduce the existing social structure to preserve their advantage
  2. The processes of schooling in modern societies are among the main mechanisms of cultural reproduction, and do not operate solely through what is taught in courses of formal instruction.

"Gifting remittances" describes a range of scholarly approaches relating remittances to anthropological literature on gift giving. The terms draws on Lisa Cliggett’s “gift remitting,” but is used to describe a wider body of work. Broadly speaking, remittances are the money, goods, services, and knowledge that migrants send back to their home communities or families. Remittances are typically considered as the economic transactions from migrants to those at home. While remittances are also a subject of international development and policy debate and sociological and economic literature, this article focuses on ties with literature on gifting and reciprocity or gift economy founded largely in the work of Marcel Mauss and Marshall Sahlins. While this entry focuses on remittances of money or goods, remittances also take the form of ideas and knowledge. For more on these, see Peggy Levitt's work on "social remittances" which she defines as “the ideas, behaviors, identities, and social capital that flow from receiving to sending country communities.”

Inalienable possessions are things such as land or objects that are symbolically identified with the groups that own them and so cannot be permanently severed from them. Landed estates in the Middle Ages, for example, had to remain intact and even if sold, they could be reclaimed by blood kin. As a legal classification, inalienable possessions date back to Roman times. According to Barbara Mills, "Inalienable possessions are objects made to be kept, have symbolic and economic power that cannot be transferred, and are often used to authenticate the ritual authority of corporate groups".

Practice theory is a theory of how social beings, with their diverse motives and their diverse intentions, make and transform the world which they live in. It is a dialectic between social structure and human agency working back and forth in a dynamic relationship. Practice theory, as outlined by Sherry Ortner, "seeks to explain the relationship(s) that obtain between human action, on the one hand, and some global entity which we call 'the system' on the other". The approach seeks to resolve the antinomy between traditional structuralist approaches and approaches such as methodological individualism which attempted to explain all social phenomena in terms of individual actions.

Cultural deprivation is a theory in sociology where a person has inferior norms, values, skills and knowledge. The theory states that people of the working class experience cultural deprivation and this disadvantages them, as a result of which the gap between classes increases.

Cultural studies is a field of theoretically, politically, and empirically engaged cultural analysis that concentrates upon the political dynamics of contemporary culture, its historical foundations, defining traits, conflicts, and contingencies. Cultural studies researchers generally investigate how cultural practices relate to wider systems of power associated with or operating through social phenomena, such as ideology, class structures, national formations, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and generation. Cultural studies views cultures not as fixed, bounded, stable, and discrete entities, but rather as constantly interacting and changing sets of practices and processes. The field of cultural studies encompasses a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives and practices. Although distinct from the discipline of cultural anthropology and the interdisciplinary field of ethnic studies, cultural studies draws upon and has contributed to each of these fields.

This bibliography of anthropology lists some notable publications in the field of anthropology, including its various subfields. It is not comprehensive and continues to be developed. It also includes a number of works that are not by anthropologists but are relevant to the field, such as literary theory, sociology, psychology, and philosophical anthropology.

Tara J. Yosso, Ph.D. is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Yosso’s research and teaching apply the frameworks of critical race theory and critical media literacy to examine educational access and opportunity. She is specifically interested in understanding the ways Communities of Color have historically utilized an array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities, and networks to navigate structures of racial discrimination in pursuit of educational equality. She has authored numerous collaborative and interdisciplinary chapters and articles in publications such as the Harvard Educational Review,International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education,Journal of Popular Film and Television, and The Blackwell Companion to Social Inequalities. She has been awarded a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for Diversity and Excellence in University Teaching, and honored with a Derrick Bell Legacy Award from the Critical Race Studies in Education Association. She is extensively cited within and beyond the field of education.


  1. Bourdieu 1986
  2. Bourdieu and Bernstein 1977
  3. Apple 1989
  4. Bourdieu 1984
  5. Appadurai 1986
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Halperin 2008
  7. 1 2 McAnany and Wells 2008
  8. 1 2 3 Bourdieu 1980
  9. Kemper 1982
  10. Mintz & Wolf 1950
  11. Nutini 1984
  12. Nutini & Bell 1980
  13. 1 2 Mauss 1990
  14. 1 2 3 Geertz 1983
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 Gramsci 1971
  16. Rabinow and Rose 2003
  17. Rousseau 1979
  18. Freire 2007
  19. Lowenthal 1985
  20. Good & Good 2008
  21. Makagon and Neuman 2009
  22. 1 2 US Charter Schools, 2010