Comparing Educational Trajectories of Two Chinese Students and One Latina Student, a Social Capital Approach

Article excerpt

This qualitative study compares and analyzes the social network experiences of two working-class Chinese students from immigrant families (Sally, Alex) to those of one working-class Latina student from an immigrant family (Elizabeth). Theory holds that these students would have difficulty obtaining educational resources and support (i.e., social capital) to hurdle educational discrimination (Biddle, 2001). They would also have difficulty devising post-secondary education plans. As is argued throughout, it is Chinese students' presence in the more resource-full networks and organizations that facilitate their acquisition of social capital. This bears on their greater educational trajectories. The Latina student's experience contrasts theirs. Her limited social capital complicates her ability to hurdle educational discrimination. This reduces her high school opportunities and her post-secondary educational opportunities.

Introduction

In this article I study the educational advocacy and support that is available to three students from immigrant families, Sally and Alex (Chinese) and Elizabeth (Latina). To do so I weigh the impact of the normative support, the material resources, and networking on these three students' ability to hurdle discriminatory school policy and practice that would otherwise complicate students' educational success. Data obtained through interviews and observation is shared in this article. This study extends existing applications of the social capital concept as it roots itself in structural analyses of social reproduction. Along the way I wrest the concept of social capital away from that scholarship that would reduce its use to investigations of normative control. I disclose the ways In which families' Institutional expertise and teachers' academic support matter in these students' educational trajectories. This is the new knowledge that this article represents.

Social Capital, Social Mobility, and Social Reproduction

The scholarship of James Coleman (1988; James S. Coleman, 1961; James Samuel Coleman et al., 1966; J. S. Coleman & Azrael, 1965), which is grounded in Durkheimian notions of social integration, is the basis for a large portion of the contemporary sociology of education (Bankston & Zhou, 2002; Brittain, 2002; Portes & MacLeod, 1996; Portes & Rumbaut, 1996; Zhou, 2003; Zhou & Bankston, 1998). It is this tradition's almost exclusive attention to those invisible resources within social networks and organizations - i.e., shared expectations, trust, and normative control - that for its adherents constitute the basis of social capital. Proponents of this tradition assert that collectively shared objectives such as enrollment in rigorous academic courses, graduation from high school, enrollment in college, etc., are possible to the extent that students are situated within a set of relationships where individuals trust one another and where they are monitored by concerned adults. Min Zhou and Carl Bankston's (1998) study of Vietnamese American students in New Orleans is representative of this tradition. In their study, Zhou and Bankston document and analyze the different ways in which a community of Vietnamese immigrants in New Orleans commit its youth to the social and educational mobility aspirations of adults.

Absent in Coleman-ian applications of social capital such as Zhou and Bankston's, however, is an extended discussion of the presence of these relationships within a broader "field" marked by fundamental social and economic differences (Bourdieu, 1991; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). How is it, for instance, that the opportunities for certain individuals and groups to profit from trust-bearing relationships is facilitated while for others it is constrained? And, how is it that the same words of advice and obligations are conducive for mobility for some and not for others? Certainly, the Vietnamese American community in Zhou and Bankston's important study do not have the market on shared expectations, trust, and normative control cornered. …