Summary: In this clip from season 4 of The Wire, the troubled youth discuss what makes a good "corner boy" and illustrates how cultural capital works. As demonstrated in the clip (and throughout season 4), they lack the cultural capital of professional settings. For example, they speak out of turn, disrespect authority, and speak inappropriately for the context.
But when Bunny Colvin asks the students what makes a good "corner boy," the students come alive and quickly describe the necessary traits: "keep the count straight," "don't trust nobody"; and "keep your eyes open." Their knowledge about, and interest in, working the corner illustrates the cultural capital that the teenagers possess. It is useful in navigating the streets and being a successful member of the drug-dealing gang hierarchy. The issue is that broader society does not value this form of cultural capital, which is possessed more by poor, inner-city children. Instead, society values the kinds of cultural capital that are more common middle-class suburban schools and families. In other words, the problem is not that the boys do not have any skills, but they do not have a certain type of skills. For a complementary example from The Wire, watch the restaurant scene, in which these same children lack the cultural capital necessary for eating at a fancy restaurant. The kind of knowledge and skills necessary for that setting (e.g. knowing appropriate behavioral norms, understanding menu items, being comfortable in that setting) could be helpful in a professional job interview or networking. The different values placed on cultural capital more common among middle-class families illustrate how they are more likely to reproduce their class position, thus reinforcing the class structure across generations. Like the unequal distribution of wealth, or high-quality schools, inequalities in cultural capital help to shape different economic opportunities and mobility.
Submitted By: Paul Dean