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Cultural Capital: The Promises and Pitffalls in Education Research: AEHE, Volume 36, Number 1

ISBN: 978-0-470-88733-2
152 pages
June 2010, Jossey-Bass
Cultural Capital: The Promises and Pitffalls in Education Research: AEHE, Volume 36, Number 1 (0470887338) cover image


Amid the increased use of the notion of cultural capital as a theoretical or analytical tool in educational research remain many different definitions, misconceptions, and appropriations of the concept. Cultural capital--the cultural relevent knowledge, competencies, skills, or abilities valued in a particular context--acts as a form of social currency in educational settings.

This monograph extensively reviews the past thirty years of research, investigating the strengths and weaknesses regarding the widely varying uses of cultural capital in educational research. Althougth the concept of cultural capital holds great promise for explaining the perpetuation of power and privilege, unfillled hopes remain. The use of the economic methopher implied by cultural capital, the lack of attention to race annd gender inequalities, the possibility for misunderstanding in transferring the concept between countries and a general implied deficiency model present limitations in many studies of cultural capital. An understanding of cultural capital, if appropiately theorized about and applied to research, has the promise of helping to understand and transofrm educational inequalities.

This is Volume 36 Issue 1 of the Jossey-Bass publication ASHE Higher Education Report. Each monograph in the series is the definitive analysis of a tough higher education problem, based on thorough research of pertinent literature and institutional experiences. Topics are identified by a national survey. Noted practitioners and scholars are then commissioned to write the reports, with experts providing critical reviews of each manuscript before publication.

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Table of Contents

Executive Summary.



Foundations of Educational Inequality: Cultural Capital and Social Reproduction.

Pierre Bourdieu's Theory of Social Reproduction.

Cultural Capital and Education.

Promises and Pitfalls of Cultural Capital in Educational Research.

Uses and Abuses of Cultural Capital in Educational Research.

Methodological Approach and Analysis.

Definitions of Cultural Capital in Educational Research.

Cultural Capital in Educational Research.


"Strikes and Gutters": Examining Applications and Interpretations of Cultural Capital.

The Merits of Cultural Capital in Educational Research.

Substantive Limitations of Cultural Capital.

Methodological Limitations of Cultural Capital Applications.


Revolutionary Possibilities? The Future of Cultural Capital in Educational Research.

Theoretical Considerations.

Methodological Considerations.

Educational Practice Applications of Cultural Capital Research.




Name Index.

Subject Index.

About the Author.

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Author Information

Rachelle Winkle-Wagner is assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She received her Ph.D. from Indiana University in education policy studies with a concentration in higher education and minors in sociology and qualitative research methodology. Her research agenda centers on the sociological aspects of race and gender in higher education. She is the author of The Unchosen Me: Race, Gender, and Identity Among Black Women in College (2009, Johns Hopkins University Press), the lead editor of Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice in Educational Research: Methods at the Margins (2009, Palgrave MacMillan), and a coeditor of Standing on the Outside Looking In: Underrepresented Students’ Experiences in Advanced Degree Programs (2009, Stylus Publishing). She has also published articles in The Review of Higher Education, The International Journal of Educational Development, The Negro Educational Review, and Teachers College Record.
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