It is often argued that economically marginalized young women occupy a school and post-school underclass, and that this underclass has a particular culture associated with it. Such views provoke a profound ambivalence in many of those who work with such young people. On the one hand, they are anxious to acknowledge the culture of the communities to which marginalized young women belong. On the other hand, they wish to avoid the pernicious implications of underclass theories that suggest disadvantage is the result of the culture and values of marginalized social groupings. This paper offers an overview and feminist critique of the structuralist and cultural or behaviourist strands of underclass theory. It focuses particularly on the work of Charles Murray, a major proponent of the culturalist perspective and the representation of the single mother in this discourse. It then considers how a less punitive theorization of marginalized cultures might be achieved by drawing on and adapting concepts from Pierre Bourdieu's sociology. The paper reflects on how such ideas might serve as a way of exploring how gender impacts on the forms of cultural capital available to young women in difficult economic circumstances.
This is an electronic version of an article published in Subcultural capital and the female`underclass`? A feminist response to an underclass discourse, Journal of youth studies, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 141-153. Journal of Youth Studies is available online at: http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&issn=1367-6261&volume=7&issue=2&spage=141