Google Research

Disciplining Play: Digital Youth Culture as Capital at School

American Journal of Sociology, vol. 123 (2018), pp. 1416-1452

Abstract

Adults may still be catching up to digital age, but digital youth bring to school digital skills they learn from each other. Comparative ethnographic analysis of three middle schools that vary by student class and race reveals that students’ similar digital skills are differently transformed by teachers into cultural capital for achievement. Teachers effectively discipline students’ digital play but in different ways. At a school serving working-class Latino youth, students are told their digital expressions are irrelevant to learning; at a school with mostly middle-class Asian American youth, students’ digital expressions are seen as threats to their ability to succeed academically; and at a private school with mainly wealthy white youth, students’ digital skills are positioned as essential to school success. Insofar as digital competency represents a kind of cultural capital, the minority and working-class students also have that capital. But theirs is not translated into teacher-supported opportunities for achievement.

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