A Twist on Bourdieu’s Idea of Social Capital

Posted on March 26, 2012 by


Yosso, Tara J. 2005. “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth.” Race Ethnicity and Education 8 (1): 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006.


  • “I begin with a critique of the ways Bourdieu’s (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) work has been used to discuss social and racial inequity. In education, Bourdieu’s work has often been called upon to explain why Students of Color do not succeed at the same rate as Whites. According to Bourdieu, cultural capital refers to an accumulation of cultural knowledge, skills and abilities possessed and inherited by privileged groups in society. Bourdieu asserts that cultural capital (i.e., education, language), social capital (i.e., social networks, connections) and economic capital (i.e., money and other material possessions) can be acquired two ways, from one’s family and/or through formal schooling” (p.76)
  • CRT shifts the center of focus from notions of White, middle class culture to the cultures of Communities of Color. In doing so, I also draw on the work of sociologists Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro (1995) to better understand how cultural capital is actually only one form of many different aspects that might be considered valuable. Oliver and Shapiro (1995) propose a model to explain how the narrowing of the income or earnings gap between Blacks and Whites is a misleading way to examine inequality. They argue that one’s income over a typical fiscal year focuses on a single form of capital and that the income gap between Blacks and Whites is narrowing over time (p.77)


  • “CRT shifts the research lens away from a deficit view of Communities of Color as places full of cultural poverty disadvantages, and instead focuses on and learns from the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged.” (p. 69)
  • Bourdieu’s theoretical insight about how a hierarchical society reproduces itself has often been interpreted as a way to explain why the academic and social outcomes of People of Color are significantly lower than the outcomes of Whites. The assumption follows that People of Color ‘lack’ the social and cultural capital required for social mobility. As a result, schools most often work from this assumption in structuring ways to help ‘disadvantaged’ students whose race and class background has left them lacking necessary knowledge, social skills, abilities and cultural capital (see Valenzuela, 1999). (p.70)
  • Garcia and Guerra’s (2004) research acknowledges that deficit thinking permeates US society, and both schools and those who work in schools mirror these beliefs (p.75)
  • Indeed, a CRT lens can ‘see’ that Communities of Color nurture cultural wealth through at least 6 forms of capital: 1)  aspirational, 2)  navigational, 3)  social 4) linguistic, 5)  familial, and 6)  resistant capital (p.77)

  1. Aspirational capital refers to the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future, even in the face of real and perceived barriers. This form of cultural wealth draws on the work of Patricia Gándara (1982, 1995) and others who have shown that Chicanas/os experience the lowest educa- tional outcomes compared to every other group in the US, but maintain consis- tently high aspirations for their children’s future (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992, 1994; Solorzano, 1992; Auerbach, 2001). These stories nurture a culture of possibility as they represent ‘the creation of a history that would break the links between parents’ current occupational status and their children’s future academic attainment’ (Gándara, 1995, p. 55).
  2. Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style (see Faulstich Orellana, 2003).4 This aspect of cultural wealth learns from over 35 years of research about the value of bilingual education and emphasizes the connections between racialized cultural history and language (Cummins, 1986; Anzaldúa, 1987; Darder, 1991; García & Baker, 1995; Gutierrez et al., 1995; Macedo & Bartolomé, 1999; Gutierrez, 2002). Linguistic capital reflects the idea that Students of Color arrive at school with multiple language and communication skills. In addition, these children most often have been engaged participants in a storytelling tradition, that may include listening to and recounting oral histories, parables, stories (cuentos) and proverbs (dichos). This repertoire of storytelling skills may include memorization, attention to detail, dramatic pauses, comedic timing, facial affect, vocal tone, volume, rhythm and rhyme. Linguistic capital also refers to the ability to communicate via visual art, music or poetry.5 Just as students may utilize different vocal registers to whisper, whistle or sing, they must often develop and draw on various language registers, or styles, to communicate with different audiences. For example, Marjorie Faulstich Orellana (2003) exam- ines bilingual children who are often called upon to translate for their parents or other adults and finds that these youth gain multiple social tools of ‘vocabulary, audience awareness, cross-cultural awareness, “real-world” literacy skills, math skills, metalinguistic awareness, teaching and tutoring skills, civic and familial responsibility, [and] social maturity’ (p. 6). (pp.78-79)
  3. Familial capital refers to those cultural knowledges nurtured among familia (kin) that carry a sense of community history, memory and cultural intuition (see Delgado Bernal, 1998, 2002). This form of cultural wealth engages a commitment to community well being and expands the concept of family to include a more broad understanding of kinship. Acknowledging the racialized, classed and heterosexualized inferences that comprise traditional understandings of ‘family’, familial capital is nurtured by our ‘extended family’, which may include immedi- ate family (living or long passed on) as well as aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends who we might consider part of our familia. From these kinship ties, we learn the importance of maintaining a healthy connection to our community and its resources. Our kin also model lessons of caring, coping and providing (educación),6 which inform our emotional, moral, educational and occupational consciousness (Reese, 1992; Auerbach, 2001, 2004; Elenes et al., 2001; Lopez, 2003). This consciousness can be fostered within and between families, as well as through sports, school, religious gatherings and other social community settings. Isolation is minimized as families ‘become connected with others around common issues’ and realize they are ‘not alone in dealing with their problems’ (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001, p. 54). Familial capital is informed by the work of scholars who have addressed the communal bonds within African American communities (Foley, 1997; Morris, 1999), the funds of knowledge within Mexican American communities (Moll et al., 1992; Velez-Ibañez & Greenberg, 1992; Gonzalez et al., 1995; Olmedo, 1997; Rueda et al., 2004) and pedagogies of the home that Students of Color bring with them to the classroom setting (Delgado Bernal, 2002).
  4. Social capital can be understood as networks of people and community resources. These peer and other social contacts can provide both instrumental and emotional support to navigate through society’s institutions (see Gilbert, 1982; Stanton-Salazar, 2001). For example, drawing on social contacts and community resources may help a student identify and attain a college scholarship. These networks may help a student in preparing the scholarship application itself, while also reassuring the student emotionally that she/he is not alone in the process of pursuing higher education. Scholars note that historically, People of Color have utilized their social capital to attain education, legal justice, employment and health care. In turn, these Communities of Color gave the information and resources they gained through these institutions back to their social networks. Mutualistas or mutual aid societies are an example of how historically, immigrants to the US and indeed, African Americans even while enslaved, created and maintained social networks (Gomez-Quiñones, 1973, 1994; Gutman, 1976; Sanchez, 1993; Stevenson, 1996). This tradition of ‘lifting as we climb’ has remained the motto of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs since their organization in 1896 (see Gurnier, Fine & Balin, 1997, p. 167). Concha Delgado- Gaitan’s (2001) ethnographic research with the Mexican immigrant community of Carpinteria, California further confirms that ‘Families transcend the adversity in their daily lives by uniting with supportive social networks’ (p. 105).
  5. Navigational capital refers to skills of maneuvering through social institutions. Historically, this infers the ability to maneuver through institutions not created with Communities of Color in mind. For example, strategies to navigate through racially-hostile university campuses draw on the concept of academic invulnerability, or students’ ability to ‘sustain high levels of achievement, despite the presence of stressful events and conditions that place them at risk of doing poorly at school and, ultimately, dropping out of school’ (Alva, 1991, p. 19; see also Allen & Solórzano, 2000; Solórzano et al., 2000; Auerbach, 2001). Scholars have examined individual, family and community factors that support Mexican American students’ academic invulnerability—their successful navigation through the educational system (Arrellano & Padilla, 1996). In addition, resilience has been recognized as ‘a set of inner resources, social competencies and cultural strategies that permit individuals to not only survive, recover, or even thrive after stressful events, but also to draw from the experience to enhance subsequent functioning’ (Stanton-Salazar & Spina, 2000, p. 229). Indeed, People of Color draw on various social and psychological ‘critical navigational skills’ (Solórzano & Villalpando, 1998) to maneuver through structures of inequality permeated by racism (see Pierce, 1974, 1989, 1995). Navigational capital thus acknowledges individual agency within institutional constraints, but it also connects to social networks that facilitate community navigation through places and spaces including schools, the job market and the health care and judicial systems (Williams, 1997). (p.80)
  6. Resistant capital refers those knowledges and skills fostered through oppositional behavior that challenges inequality (Freire, 1970, 1973; Giroux, 1983; McLaren, 1994; Delgado Bernal, 1997; Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001). This form of cultural wealth is grounded in the legacy of resistance to subordi- nation exhibited by Communities of Color (Deloria, 1969). Furthermore, maintaining and passing on the multiple dimensions of community cultural wealth is also part of the knowledge base of resistant capital. For example, even from within internment camps, Japanese communities resisted racism by main- taining and nurturing various forms of cultural wealth (Wakatsuki Houston & Houston, 1973).7 Extending on this history, Tracy Robinson and Janie Ward’s (1991) research shows a group of African American mothers who consciously raise their daughters as ‘resistors’. Through verbal and nonverbal lessons, these Black mothers teach their daughters to assert themselves as intelligent, beauti- ful, strong and worthy of respect to resist the barrage of societal messages devaluing Blackness and belittling Black women (Ward, 1996). Similarly, Sofia Villenas and Melissa Moreno (2001) discuss the contradictions Latina mothers face as they try to teach their daughters to valerse por si misma (value themselves and be self-reliant) within structures of inequality such as racism, capitalism and patriarchy. In each of these research studies, Parents of Color are consciously instructing their children to engage in behaviours and maintain attitudes that challenge the status quo. These young women are learning to be oppositional with their bodies, minds and spirits in the face of race, gender and class inequality. In analyzing students’ historical and contemporary efforts to transform unequal conditions in urban high schools, Daniel Solórzano and Dolores Delgado Bernal (2001) reveal that resistance may include different forms of oppositional behavior, such as self-defeating or conformist strategies that feed back into the system of subordination. However, when informed by a Freirean critical consciousness (1970), or recognition of the structural nature of oppression and the motivation to work toward social and racial justice, resis- tance takes on a transformative form (see Solorzano & Yosso, 2002b). There- fore, transformative resistant capital includes cultural knowledge of the structures of racism and motivation to transform such oppressive structures (Pizarro, 1998; Villenas & Deyhle, 1999). (pp.80-81)