It is a contention of the culturalist strand of underclass theory that the growth of the underclass is not a function of social and economic change, but of features intrinsic to underclass culture. Children born into disadvantaged communities, it is argued, are socialized into the ‘deviant’ culture of their families, families typically headed by single mothers. According to the underclass thesis, daughters of such families will face a heightened risk of leaving school early and teenage pregnancy. An unanticipated correlation between claims of the underclass thesis and the cohort of mothers and daughters with whom we are working on a current project has led us to ask, ‘how do we acknowledge the culture of disadvantaged communities and their generational synergies, whilst avoiding the pernicious implications of the underclass thesis?’ To answer this question, this article assesses the merits of bringing Bourdieu’s ideas on cultural capital together with Sarah Thornton’s concept of subcultural capital. The article concludes with two examples of how we might draw on these ideas as a way of exploring the means by which girls in difficult economic circumstances understand and pursue their school lives.
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