Increasing Cultural Capital in a Deficit

It seems to me that we are in a constant race to develop our cultural capital. In a society that is driven by progress, by performance, by measures of wealth and status, we seem to constantly be in this position of pushing ourselves forward to achieve the next level of success. What that success looks like is primarily driven by societal norms (have a house, a car, money, a successful job) and I think at times overlooks what our own personal desires are. I would like to think I’m different than that, particularly since I’m in education (I’m clearly not here for the money) but I still want all those things that society seems to deem as important.

The harder part, it seems, is that Yosso (2005) talks about how many of us are born into a deficit of cultural capital, as decided by the dominant culture. How then does one gain capital when you’re already starting with a deficit? Education seems to be one way to achieve that but I’m not sure if that’s truly the case. If someone is already considered at a deficit in society, would school really improve them that much or would it just help notch them up a bit but still consider them inferior in relation to the cultural capital of others?

I think to my own development and my roots. I come from a small farming community of about 20,000 people. The town itself lacked diversity in the population and was an odd mix of those who came from farming families and those whose families worked within industry either somewhere in the town or in the neighboring cities.

Thinking of this reading and the idea of cultural capital gave me a lot of relation to my childhood. I was one of the kids with family who did not work on a farm and that set me apart from many of those kids. There was a bit of us versus them mentality at times. Due to the location of my house, I was sent to the schools that educated the majority of the farm kids since what school you went to was based on proximity. Growing up with these kids was always an interesting dynamic. Although I was friends with some of them, I was also somewhat of an outsider. My dad ran a newspaper so, to them, my life was quite different from theirs and in some cases, they thought I was this elitist kid since we could often afford more things than they could.

From the outside, to the kids who went to the school made up of all non-farming kids, we were all farming kids that were less educated than them, going to a school that catered to less educated people. In their eyes, despite the fact that we were actually receiving the same education, just at different schools, we were inferior to them.

Growing up within that made life very interesting. Thinking of cultural capital, I always felt my own capital was rather negative. I didn’t feel like I had the family capital that others did. My social capital was relatively low since I was a shy and awkward kid who didn’t have a ton of friends. I had a moderate level of linguistic capital in that I was a huge history and English buff so my language skills were more developed than most. What I most connected to was my aspirational capital – I had hopes, dreams, desires and an imagination that seemed to always be in overdrive. This is what I felt always set me apart from a lot of my peers. No matter who they were and what they thought of me, I used that aspirational capital to drive me forward.  I’d like to think that’s what has pushed me to where I am today, whether it be a success or failure.  I may not always have the best ideas or be the smartest person in the room but I have drive and dreams that together motivate me to seek out the things I want for my life and work towards them.

So even though we may start at a deficit, whether a true deficit or one we create for ourselves, I would like to think we have what it takes to break through the deficit and achieve the success we want. It may be a Pollyanna view of the world and I know it’s not as simple as all that but I still hold to this as a pathway to achieving what you want.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community

and cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1(8), 69-91.