The Simultaneity of Cultural Capital and Symbolic Violence in Youth Orchestras: a tale of two students


  • Stephen Fairbanks University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne | U.S.A.
  • Israel Lizarraga California State University, Fullerton| U.S.A.
  • Josue Corona Imperial Valley College| U.S.A.


Corresponding with the recent worldwide enthusiasm regarding Sistema youth orchestra programmes, social justice has increasingly become a rationale and justification for ensemble-based music education. Proponents of Sistema programmes enthusiastically cite the social benefits of orchestra participation and argue that all children should have access to such benefits. Sistema critics question the good that can come from an epistemological stance which is aligned with neo-colonial cultural hegemony. Current Sistema scholarship is largely polarised between these two binaries and facing an impasse. Drawing substantially upon a Bourdieusian lens to conceptualise cultural hegemony and adopting a narrative voice, I explore the extent to which the lived experiences of two musician-alumni of an American high school orchestra programme conform to notions of ‘cultural capital’ and ‘symbolic violence’. Ultimately, I argue that the students’ experiences are indicative of a complex, nuanced, and complicated synthesis of cultural capital and symbolic violence, asserting that the students have sophisticated ways of mediating the inherent tensions between symbolic violence and cultural capital. I suggest that by embracing the complexities of students’ lived experience, music educators could transcend the ideological impasses which preclude them from delivering their social justice initiatives with even greater depth and richness.