The (Non)Accumulation of Capital: Explicating the Relationship of Structure and Agency in the Lives of Poor Black Men



The concepts of habitus and capital are crucial in the research tradition of social and cultural reproduction. This article applies both terms to an analysis of aspects of the life histories of low-income African American men. In exploring how their past experiences relate to their present-day statuses as nonmobile individuals, this article also revisits and redefines the utility of habitus and capital as conceptual devices for the study of social inequality. It expands the empirical terrain covered by the concept of capital to include that which allows low-income individuals to manage their existence in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities while also hindering their mobility in the broader social world. One implication of this approach is an improved cultural analysis of low-income individuals. The improvement lies in that their behavior can be better understood as reflections of their readings of social reality, which are based upon the material and ideational resources that they have accumulated throughout their lives, and not simply as manifestations of flawed value-systems or normative orientations.