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Blog post Part of series: Education, #BlackLivesMatter and racial justice in the UK and beyond

Cultural capital in non-White majority schools: A critical exploration of cultural ethos and pedagogy

Mathew Barnard, University of Birmingham

Embodied cultural capital includes the artistic, religious, social and historical inheritance of non-White students. Cultural pedagogy and ethos is defined as the institution’s ‘official’ cultural voice and values, often transmitted through websites, newsletters, vision and values statements, social structures, social spaces, and any associations/networks it may be affiliated to. It authorises what is ‘valuable’ as part of its heritage (Hall, 1999). This research looked for the recognition of non-White cultural capital in the representational spaces (Lefebvre, 1991) of each school/college, which are the lived, everyday spaces that for this project represent the space of institutional ethos and cultural pedagogy.

‘It has become clear – through the Black Lives Matter movement – that many non-White citizens no longer wish to experience this symbolic violence passively or to misrecognise it as simply being the natural “order of things”.’

This blog is based on my article, ‘Cultural capital in non-White majority schools: A critical exploration of cultural ethos and pedagogy’, published in the journal Critical Studies in Education (Barnard, 2020). My research was conducted at two majority non-White schools and one further education college in the UK. It explored the extent to which non-White cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1986) is symbolically and officially recognised as contributing to each institution’s cultural ethos and pedagogy in relation to wider metanarratives of colonial ideology and racialised society in the afterword of multicultural/anti-racist education. This research is of particular relevance in light of the recent global Black Lives Matter movement, efforts to decolonise the formal curriculum, and the backlash against highly visible colonial symbols such as statues that venerate slave traders.

In an age where the formal received curriculum remains Eurocentric, promotes White privilege and is infused with colonial ideology (Bhopal, 2018; Tomlinson, 2019; Winter & Mills, 2020), this research highlights the potential of this meso-level, representational space as a transformative space in recognising non-White cultural capital in a way that the government-directed micro-level space (the formal curriculum) and macro-level space (neoliberal education policy) are not.

Research findings

None of the institutions studied demonstrated any significant accumulation of non-White cultural capital in the objective structures of their representational spaces. These social and representational spaces were in fact framed by an invisible and normalised ‘Whiteness’ (Dyer, 1997) that only really materialised once these spaces had been ‘read’ (Lefebvre, 1991). Where non-White cultural capital was found in these spaces, this capital often had to be ‘inserted’ into the institutional ethos and cultural pedagogy by students themselves; or they were dependent on individual staff leaders acting ‘semi-officially’. As a consequence, these staff and student efforts lacked symbolic power and institutional legitimacy, or ‘institutional capital’.

Decolonising the lived, everyday spaces

My research highlighted the importance of Bourdieu and Lefebvre in theorising the lived social spaces of institutional life and their associated images and symbols. However, the value of these thinkers extends beyond institutional life to encompass the lived representational spaces of civic life as well. This became especially clear during the recent toppling of various statues in an effort to ‘decolonise’ the public sphere.

These symbols of colonialism and racism have a corrosive effect on non-White citizens’ sense of belonging because, as Bourdieu (1990, p. 135) would state, these colonial symbols inflict ‘symbolic violence’ on non-White citizens; they legitimise colonialism and racism through a continuing ‘symbolic power’ in the representational spaces which in turn ‘reinforce the power relations which constitute the structure of the social space’. It has become clear – through the Black Lives Matter movement – that many non-White citizens no longer wish to experience this symbolic violence passively or to misrecognise it as simply being the natural ‘order of things’ (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 168). As demonstrated through the research outlined above, the theoretical tools of Bourdieu and Lefebvre could have an important part to play in moves towards institutional and civic decolonisation.


This blog is based on the article ‘Cultural capital in non-White majority schools: A critical exploration of cultural ethos and pedagogy’ by Mathew Barnard, published in Critical Studies in Education.


References

Barnard, M. (2020). Cultural capital in non-White majority schools: A critical exploration of cultural ethos and pedagogy. Critical Studies in Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2020.1788618

Bhopal, K. (2018). White privilege: The myth of a post-racial society. Bristol: Policy Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In Ball, S. J. (Ed.) The RoutledgeFalmer reader in sociology of education (pp. 15–29). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). In other words. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. J. D. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Dyer, R. (1997). White. London: Routledge.

Hall, S. (1999). Whose heritage? Un-settling ‘the heritage’, re-imagining the post-nation. Third Text, 13(49), 3–13.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford: Blackwell.

Tomlinson, S. (2019). Education and race: From empire to Brexit. Bristol: Policy Press.

Winter, C., & Mills, C. (2020). The psy-security-curriculum ensemble: British values curriculum policy in English schools. Journal of Education Policy, 35(1), 46–67.