First Steps

Rethinking science capital

This week for Dr. Anila Asghar’s MA/PhD Seminar in Math and Science Education course we read ‘“Science Capital”: a conceptual, methodological, and empirical argument for extending Bourdieusian notions of capital beyond the arts.’ (Archer et al., 2015). Archer and her colleagues propose the idea of “science capital,” similar to the Bourdieusian concept of cultural capital, as a theoretical lens to explain why students participate in science and envision themselves in science-related careers. 

Wearing my parent hat, when I read this paper I initially gave myself a smug, self-congratulatory pat on the back for bestowing upon my two children loads of science capital, which Archer et al. refer to as “an important contemporary form of capital” because society considers scientific knowledge and careers in science to be high-status. My husband and I both have graduate degrees in science and work in science-related fields. We engage our children in science-related practices like watching Bill Nye videos, reading books about tapeworms, and visiting places like science centers, aquariums and the Biodome. We bought them a robot that can be programmed with our cell phones!  We send them to a nature-based alternative public school!

Then I started to consider my alternate identity as a secondary science teacher, and guilt started to replace satisfaction. Guilt for using my parental science capital to reproduce unequal relations of privilege within society. Guilt that I teach at a private school where all students have access to qualified science teachers, as well as important resources like high-tech lab equipment, guest speakers, science conferences and workshops. Guilt that I work in a system that, for organizational and institutional reasons, streams students into science and non-science paths earlier and earlier, denying some groups access to certain forms of science knowledge. Reading this paper has raised some very important questions for me.

It’s clear that the amassing of science capital begins at a very early age, so what can I do as a secondary science teacher? How do we reach and engage students who possess less science capital? How can we legitimize all science engagement, not just that which falls into a narrow definition? How do we get students to develop their science identity, even if they don’t fit the stereotypical definition of a ‘science person?’ Does this definition need to be changed? How can we give the same opportunities to all students, not just students who possess a strong ‘science identity?’ Do all of our students have the requisite science knowledge necessary to make them scientifically literate, and active, informed citizens? How can I create ‘cracks and fissures’ à la Carlone, Johnson and Scott (2015), where students can do science without cultural or institutional constraints? I don’t have answers to all of these questions, but just thinking about them is a first step.


Archer, L., Dawson, E., DeWitt, J., Seakins, A., & Wong, B. (2015). “Science capital”: A conceptual, methodological, and empirical argument for extending bourdieusian notions of capital beyond the arts. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(7), 922-948.

Carlone, H. B., Johnson, A., & Scott, C. M. (2015). Agency amidst formidable structures: How girls perform gender in science class. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(4), 474-488.


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