American Sociological Association

Shadow Capital: The Democratization of College Preparatory Education

In this article, we examine the manifestation and consequences of shadow capital within two public, urban, nonselective, college preparatory–designated high schools serving exclusively nondominant students. Informed by three years of ethnographic data, we argue that the transference of a historically elite college preparatory education from dominant institutions to nondominant schools results in fundamental changes to the dominant capital it is expected to yield. Rather than generating highly valued capital within the field of education, it produces what we call “shadow capital.” As a distinct form of cultural capital, shadow capital outwardly resembles yet contains only traces of dominant cultural capital, thus failing to yield the same kind of exchange value in the postsecondary marketplace. Shadow capital offers explanatory power for the many unmet promises of educational reform and further challenges the often well-intended democratizing forces that paradoxically reinforce inequality in education.


Kristin Cipollone





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