Cultural capital and the making of "blue blazer kids": An ethnography of a youth exchange program

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Mehrzad Boroujerdi


Cultural capital, Youth, Exchange program, Study abroad, Rotary International

Subject Categories

Sociology of Culture


This dissertation is a culmination of three years of participant observation of a Rotary International district in New England. The dissertation explores the ways in which a group of adults teaches teenagers about cultural difference. More specifically, this ethnographic project, which utilizes narrative, discourse, and content analyses, examines the complex pedagogical machinery used by this Rotary International district to recruit, interview, and "train" American high school students for study abroad. The theories that guided this work are The Sociology of Knowledge, Symbolic Interactionism, Critical Theory, and Cultural Studies. I first provide a summary of this Rotary district's youth exchange program, including its goals, strategies and its expectations of and requirements for students. Secondly, I explore the ways in which Rotarians talk about, or discursively construct youth as a social category. I juxtapose Rotarians' narratives surrounding teenagers with dominant discourses extant in the United States regarding American teens. I then examine the ways in which Rotarians talk about and represent travel, particularly educational travel and cultural immersion. Lastly, I discuss Rotary's discourses of culture--how Rotarians talked about culture, itself, and the ways in which they represented specific cultures to students and to one another.

I assert that the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, by recruiting and sending middle class kids to live in upper-class environments, reinscribe race and class privilege. Rotary's program, for American kids in particular, is a form of cultural capital that exists to reproduce a global business class. I also posit that Rotary Youth Exchange students, however, have agency as they resist and transgress the specific boundaries of Rotary's program and negotiate issues of cultural adaptation and personal change.


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