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3 - When may social capital influence children's school performance?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2010

John Modell
Affiliation:
Department of History, Carnegie Mellon University
Anne C. Petersen
Affiliation:
University of Minnesota
Jeylan T. Mortimer
Affiliation:
University of Minnesota
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Summary

For several years, James Coleman has been working out the notion of “social capital,” employing it provisionally in various settings as a possible key link in his theoretical effort to “import the economists' principle of rational action for use in the analysis of social systems proper…without discarding social organization in the process” (Coleman, 1988, p. S97; Coleman, 1990). Coleman asks us to think of structured sentiment and behavior as resources, the availability of which facilitates and, by facilitating, guides the choices of individuals conceived of as rational actors.

In his chapter in this volume, Coleman brings this theoretical perspective to bear on the emergence of many poorly schooled youth into a too-demanding labor market. In keeping with Coleman's focus, I pass over structural aspects of the school-work tie, directing my attention instead to students in school, in order to “unpack” the schematic notion of “social capital” (Coleman, 1988, p. S101) as it applies to school learning. In this chapter I nibble around the edges of “social capital,” leaving the concept possibly better trimmed to its particular application, although (a conclusion I leave to the reader) also possibly drained of some of its analytic crispness.

Overall, my argument suggests that little evidence exists of a straightforward trend in the reduction of social capital employed by U.S. parents on behalf of their children's school learning. More broadly, the account I offer argues that any meaningful notion of social capital must be situated in a larger set of social and cultural relations that surround the way children grow up in any given society.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1994

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