Dimensions of psychological capital in a U.S. suburb and high school: Identities for neoliberal times

Peter Demerath, Jill Lynch, Mario Davidson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


In this article, we describe the identities of U.S. suburban high school students as they attempt to ensure their "market relevance" in a neoliberal era. The data are drawn from a four-year ethnographic study of the construction of educational advantage conducted by a diverse five-person research team. These identities were characterized by strong agentic beliefs, predispositions to exert control, deeply held attachments to individual success, highly developed self-advocacy skills, precociously circumscribed aspirations, keen awareness of new forms of cultural capital, self-consciously cultivated work ethics, and habituation to stress and fatigue. The study uncovered gender and racial differences in the acquisition of specific components of these identities, which are attributed in part to larger contextual factors, such as the subordination of the school's efforts to meet the needs of minority students to its broader goals of remaining competitive. Overall, we interpret these identity characteristics as components of psychological capital that these young people developed to manage risks: in particular, their ability to achieve "success" in a future characterized by acute competition, declining social support, and uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-292
Number of pages23
JournalAnthropology and Education Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008


  • High school
  • Identity
  • Neoliberalism
  • Social stratification
  • United States


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