The sociological concept of community cultural wealth posits that marginalized groups possess a range of exceptional sociological capital that often goes “unrecognized and unacknowledged” (Yosso, 2005).
The concept attempts to critique the idea that white upper-middle-class capital is the form which is desirable, and that marginalized groups (particularly, people of color) are in deficit in relation to privileged white groups.
Instead, Yosso (2005) argues that marginalized groups possess their own forms of capital that is highly valuable, and by judging them only by the standards of the dominant culture in society perpetuated deficit thinking, failing to acknowledge the unique strengths of marginalized groups.
Community Cultural Wealth – An Overview
In her seminal piece on community cultural wealth, titled Whose Culture has Capital? (Yosso, 2005), Tara Yosso proposes that the longstanding idea of cultural capital in sociology, popularized by Pierre Bourdieu, is fundamentally flawed because it perpetuates a deficit view of marginalized groups.
Bourdieu’s theory posits that there are three main types of capital:
- Social Capital: Who you know. If you know the right people, it’s easier to get a foot in the door for desirable jobs, and leverage access to judges, lawyers, politicians, and other cultural elites.
- Cultural Capital: What you know. People who can embody cultural norms and behaviors of the dominant cultural groups, then they gain an advantage in society. For example, if you have the right accent and know the right jokes, you pass as a trusted person in society and get particular advantages (e.g. you get the job over the candidate with a foreign accent).
- Economic Capital: If you possess money, many more doors open for you. You can get the good house, good job, good healthcare, etc.
Editorial Note: These characterizations of Bourdieu’s forms of capital are very much simplified. To go into depth, see my guides:
Yosso (2005) argued that this conceptualization of capital centralized white upper-middle-class culture as the norm against which others should be compared. It’s generally white cultural capital, for example, that’s idealized (access to white universities, having white accents, knowing elite white people, etc.).
Such a perspective positions people of color as in deficit, failing to recognize the unique strengths and forms of capital that are abundant in marginalized communities (Luna & Martinez, 2013).
In the words of Yosso (2005):
The assumption follows that People of Color ‘lack’ the social and cultural capital required for social mobility. As a result, schools most often work from this assumption in structuring ways to help ‘disadvantaged’ students whose race and class background has left them lacking necessary knowledge, social skills, abilities and cultural capital.”
Yosso proposes, instead, that we can conceptualize a range of forms of capital that centralize the strengths of marginalized communities, which are outlined in the next section.
Six Types of Capital from a Community Cultural Wealth Perspective
Yosso highlights six forms of capital that a range of marginalized communities have in abundance. By focusing on these, we can see that marginalized groups are no ‘in deficit’, but in fact have a range of strengths that should be valued and leaned-into.
I’ll summarize below these six forms of capital from the community cultural wealth perspective, before exploring each in more detail below.
|Type of Capital||Definition|
|Aspirational Capital||“Aspirational capital refers to the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future, even in the face of real and perceived barriers.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 78)|
|Linguistic Capital||“Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style” (Yosso, 2005, p. 78)|
|Familial Capital||“Familial capital refers to those cultural knowledges nurtured among familia (kin). that carry a sense of community history, memory and cultural intuition.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 79)|
|Social Capital||“Social capital can be understood as networks of people and community resources.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 79)|
|Navigational Capital||“Navigational capital refers to skills of maneuvering through social institutions.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 80)|
|Resistant Capital||“Resistant capital refers those knowledges and skills fostered through oppositional behavior that challenges inequality.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 80)|
1. Aspirational Capital
“Aspirational capital refers to the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future, even in the face of real and perceived barriers.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 78)
Aspirational capital refers to the ability of cultural groups to maintain hopes and dreams for a better future, despite continued structural disadvantage.
This view does not negate the fact that disadvantage exists, but rather, acknowledges and celebrates how marginalized communities are resilient despite it. It shows their strength as resilient, hopeful, and optimistic cultures (Liou, Martinez & Rotheram-Fuller, 2016).
Yosso (2005) gives the example of Chicano, which research has shown (Auerbach, 2001; Gándara, 1982) demonstrates high aspirations despite relatively low scored in standardized testing.
2. Linguistic Capital
“Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style” (Yosso, 2005, p. 78)
Marginalized and, in particular, immigrant groups often possess strong linguistic capital. In higher rates than the dominant culture, they speak multiple languages, and pass-on culture through language and storytelling.
Bilingualism is evidently extremely good for learning and development, including for creativity, cross-cultural communication, and even multitasking (Valian, 2015).
Furthermore, because their cultures are not passed-on through mainstream media, minority groups tend to have strong oral histories and storytelling cultures. Through storytelling, poetry, and creative expression, people from minority groups often have a nuanced capacity to communicate in multiple genre-forms.
3. Familial Capital
“Familial capital refers to those cultural knowledges nurtured among familia (kin). that carry a sense of community history, memory and cultural intuition.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 79)
Having been excluded from many mainstream spaces that confer institutionalized social capital, minority groups often rely heavily on family.
However, consistent with a CRT approach, Yosso does not define familial capital in the dominant perception of the nuclear family. Instead, she embraces the unique family formations of the marginalized groups with which she works, including by acknowledging broad kinship conceptions, the importance of extended family in children’s upbringing, and so on.
Through family, Yosso argues, marginalized groups maintain strong communal bonds and funds of knowledge that give them strength.
4. Social Capital
“Social capital can be understood as networks of people and community resources.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 79)
While Bourdieu defined social capital on a macro sense as the access to networks that can help you into exclusive and exclusionary spaces, Yosso sees social capital as access to networks within strong and resilient marginalized groups.
For example, Yosso (2005) points to the “tradition of lifting as we climb” (p. 80) within many marginalized groups. In such instances, these groups stand by one another and help one another out, with recognition that marginalized people need to stick together and help one another out in order to offset the structural disadvantages they face from people outside of their communities.
“Navigational capital refers to skills of maneuvering through social institutions.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 80)
Navigational capital refers to the ability to navigate environments not designed with you and your culture in mind. In fact, marginalized people often have to navigate outwardly hostile environments.
Yosso points out that marginalized people have, over time, developed astute abilities to navigate high-risk and dangerous situations. This can be seen accutely, for example, during desegregation when people of color started navigating universities at higher rates, but continued to be looked upon with suspicion.
Similarly, today, people of color may be seen as ‘affirmative action students‘, and recognize that they’re under increasing pressure to prove their worth on campus and in workplaces in a way that white people do not have to think about (Denton, Borrego & Boklage, 2020).
The learned ability to navigate these situations is abundant in marginalized communities.
6. Resistant Capital
“Resistant capital refers those knowledges and skills fostered through oppositional behavior that challenges inequality.” (Yosso, 2005, p. 80)
Resistant capital refers to the ability to maintain your dignity and culture in the face of oppression.
Yosso (2005) presents a range of examples of black women, in particular, who perpetuate a strong core value within their culture that they must affirm their own dignity and self-worth when others try to take it from them. She hotes:
“Black mothers teach their daughters to assert themselves as intelligent, beautiful, strong and worthy of respect to resist the barrage of societal messages devaluing Blackness and belittling Black women”
Applications of a CCW Perspective
The concept of Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) has profound implications for how we understand, value, and engage with marginalized communities.
Recognizing the unique forms of capital that these communities possess can reshape policies, practices, and perspectives in various sectors of society. Here are some applications and implications of CCW:
- Curriculum Design: By acknowledging the diverse forms of capital that students bring to the classroom, educators can design curricula that are more inclusive and relevant to students’ lived experiences (Denton, Borrego & Boklage, 2020).
- Pedagogical Approaches: Teachers can leverage the linguistic, familial, and resistant capital of students to create more engaging and culturally responsive teaching methods.
- Policy Making: Educational policies can be reframed to recognize and value the diverse forms of capital that students from marginalized communities bring, rather than focusing solely on deficit-based models (Denton, Borrego & Boklage, 2020).
- Community Development:
- Asset-based Community Development: Instead of focusing on what communities lack, development initiatives can be designed around the unique strengths and assets that communities possess, as highlighted by CCW.
- Civic Engagement: Recognizing the social and familial capital of marginalized communities can lead to more inclusive civic engagement initiatives, where the voices and experiences of these communities are centered.
- Methodological Approaches: Researchers can adopt methodologies that center the experiences of marginalized groups and center their forms of capital as forms that are of value. This can leadi to more nuanced and holistic understandings of marginalized communities.
- Policy Recommendations: Research findings can inform policies that are more inclusive and equitable, recognizing the diverse forms of capital that exist within marginalized communities, and helping to continue to acknowledge and privilege such forms of capital.
- Media and Representation:
- Storytelling: Media can play a pivotal role in highlighting the aspirational, linguistic, and familial capital of marginalized communities, leading to more accurate and positive representations.
- Challenging Stereotypes: By recognizing and valuing CCW, media can challenge and deconstruct harmful stereotypes associated with marginalized communities.
Implications of a CCW Perspective
If we are to embrace the premises of the community cultural wealth model, implications could include:
- Shift from Deficit to Asset Thinking: One of the most profound implications of CCW is the shift from viewing marginalized communities through a deficit lens to recognizing and valuing the unique assets and strengths they possess.
- Redefining Success: Success, whether in education, the workplace, or community development, can be redefined to recognize the diverse forms of capital that individuals and communities bring.
- Challenging Power Dynamics: By recognizing and valuing CCW, power dynamics that have historically marginalized certain communities can be challenged and restructured.
The concept of Community Cultural Wealth not only challenges dominant narratives and perspectives but also offers a roadmap for creating more inclusive, equitable, and just societies. By recognizing, valuing, and leveraging the unique forms of capital that marginalized communities possess, we can pave the way for more holistic and inclusive approaches in education, the workplace, community development, and beyond.
I recommend reading Yosso’s original article, Whose Culture has Capital? (2005) – it’s an easy read, I promise!
Auerbach, S. (2001) Under co-construction: parent roles in promoting college access for students of color,
unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.
Denton, M., Borrego, M., & Boklage, A. (2020). Community cultural wealth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education: A systematic review. Journal of Engineering Education, 109(3), 556-580.
Gándara, P. (1982) Passing through the eye of the needle: high-achieving Chicanas, Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 4, 167–179.
Liou, D. D., Martinez, A. N., & Rotheram-Fuller, E. (2016). “Don’t give up on me”: Critical mentoring pedagogy for the classroom building students’ community cultural wealth. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29(1), 104-129.
Luna, N. A., & Martinez Ph D, M. (2013). A qualitative study using community cultural wealth to understand the educational experiences of Latino college students. Journal of Praxis in Multicultural Education, 7(1), 2.
Valian, V. (2015). Bilingualism and cognition. Bilingualism: language and cognition, 18(1), 3-24.
Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? Race, Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), pp. 69–91
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]