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Cultural Capital Impacts Learning

When students enter school they are immediately situated into a complex system of stratification influencing academic, social, and emotional experiences. This educational hierarchy, which purposely separates students from one another, historically disadvantages those students from low-income populations (Apple, 1995, 2004). However, economics cannot solely be relied on to explain the disparities in educational attainment among students from different social classes. Bourdieu (1986) suggests “school success is better explained by the amount and type of cultural capital inherited from the family milieu than by measures of talent and achievement” (as cited in Swartz, 1998, pp. 76–77). As cited in Bernhardt, E., P. (2013). The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Program: Providing Cultural Capital and College Access to Low-Income Students. School Community Journal, 2013, Vol. 23, No. 1.


Drawing on Bourdieu’s (1986) work, Lareau and Weininger (2003) articulate a useful definition of cultural capital. “Any given ‘competence’ functions as cultural capital if it enables appropriation ‘of the cultural heritage’ of a society, but is unequally distributed among its members, thereby engendering the possibility of ‘exclusive advantages’” (p. 579). From this perspective, culture is understood as a resource that confers both status and power. Culture, then, can be thought of as “a form of capital with specific laws of accumulation, exchange, and exercise” (Swartz, 1998, p. 8). As cited in Bernhardt, E., P. (2013). The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Program: Providing Cultural Capital and College Access to Low-Income Students. School Community Journal, 2013, Vol. 23, No. 1.


To better understand the implications of cultural capital within an educational context, it is helpful to specifically consider Bourdieu’s (1986) conception of cultural capital in its embodied state. This particular form of cultural capital, which differs from institutional and objectified states, is both consciously acquired and implicitly inherited through a process of socialization to certain cultural practices, norms, expectations, and assumptions. While this process of socialization takes place within the family unit, it also frequently occurs in hierarchal institutions like the school and workplace. As cited in Bernhardt, E., P. (2013). The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Program: Providing Cultural Capital and College Access to Low-Income Students. School Community Journal, 2013, Vol. 23, No. 1.


Cultural capital in its embodied state is not easily or quickly transferrable; rather, it is acquired over time as it influences an individual’s way of thinking and acting. Accumulating cultural capital in its embodied state “requires ‘pedagogical action’: the investment of time by parents, other family members, or hired professionals to sensitize the child to cultural dispositions” (Swartz, 1998, p. 76). Hence, those students without strong foundations of academic, social, and emotional support, both inside and outside of school, are at a disadvantage. As cited in Bernhardt, E., P. (2013). The Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Program: Providing Cultural Capital and College Access to Low-Income Students. School Community Journal, 2013, Vol. 23, No. 1.


IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. IINII has extensive experience building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.


Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at www.iinii.org, or contact us at iinii@iinii.org or 1800-507-2502.



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