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Reading Post 5. Critique on Dance's interpretaion of Social and Cultural Capital

cteng's picture

Following how Dance weaves theoretical abstractions of social and cultural capital with the case study of Malcolm, I will critique the article in a similar fashion. First, I found the dialectics of social and cultural capital a helpful add-on or even override to the view of education as the incremental instrument for pure human capital (knowledge, skill training), endorsed by both my personal and the student-centric analyses emphasized by Dance (p72). She attributed both Malcolm’s compliance with Ms. Bronzic’s demand and Ms. Bronzic’s caring for students to the establishment of a dyadic but egalitarian relationship as an investment capable of reproducing positive outcomes (p72 + p84).


It is not surprising to place the teacher-student relationship as the key to educational success since personal development is individualized therefore the level of personal intimacy, care and trust inherent in such relationships are more likely to relate to and to motivate students with their special needs tailored to. Dance further contested that these relationships are rich in social capital and make up for the social and cultural deficit of the impoverished students; teachers should demonstrate persist caring, street-savvy knowledge and an understanding of the social pressures of street life, all of which constitute valuable social capital resources.


However, Dance’s attempt at applying the social and cultural capital ideas is in part vague and in part problematic. She enunciates practicing “the rules and social graces of the culture of power” as a form of social capital resource while neglecting the innate and distinct cultural capital of the marginalized minority groups. If we were to revisit her cultural capital definition, the imposition and fortification of mainstream cultural practices can be viewed as cultural capitalism to differentiate those cultural values (capital) intrinsic in variegated groups, dominant or oppressed. After all, the very doubts of Malcolm at the beginning of the chapter come out of his reexamination of the black history – one source for his own cultural capital - from the “other” narrative.


Another issue arose when Dance appropriated the concepts of social and cultural capital by Coleman and Bourdieu - which center on community, institutions or classes and was criticized by Dance as underdeveloped – to a lesser scale of a dyadic relationship. I, however, see this as a limitation of the teacher-student relationship in building strong social capital because it requires more of a network ecology or a functional community proposed by Coleman. The student-teacher ratio is 17:1 according to the Urban School Statistics[1], which means there is a limit to such pattern of relationship. Yet Dance requires that teachers engage in a non-essentialist gaze in a way that the students have “never felt seen before, fully attended to, wrapped up in an empathetic gaze”; the time and attention invested may well extend beyond curriculum or school life. To abstract the relationship pattern to a theoretical level implies a sense of generalization but its implicit limitation confines the theoretical construct of it as a tool or solution to the social capital deficit faced by the impoverished students, at least on the scale of urban education of masses.


Still, because parental involvement and further community networks are not ideally constructed among at-risk students and that Ms. Bronzic’s was described to accomplish the task in reality, it’s indispensible to call for responsible teacher-student relationships wherein teachers can acknowledge the social capital power, embrace students' unique cultural capital and believe in their personal empowerment regardless of their backgrounds. Moreover, a community and network among students themselves can be developed, as in a mutually understanding and learning environment, to constitute the strength of social capital and the respect for cultural capital.

[1] "Fact Sheet & Statistics." / Urban School Statistics. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.