The Formation of Cultural Capital using Symbolic Military Meanings of Objects and Self in an Adult Agricultural Education Program serving Military Veterans

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this qualitative ethnographic case study was to investigate how an adult agricultural educational program generates new learning spaces for military veterans. Utilizing Symbolic Interactionism and Cultural Capital Theories this study illustrates how military veterans use and making new meanings of military symbols in an agricultural educational context. After leaving their military service, veterans often discharge with not only the physical scars of battle, but sometimes harboring mental and emotional distress that can prevent their abilities to successfully reintegrate into a civilian setting. For several veterans, adult agricultural programs can provide a vital educational experience to help them address physical and mental challenges, launch a new career in agriculture, and form new civilian identities.

Findings from this research indicate that participants of this study transformation of a civilian identity is positively impacted when familiar symbols of the military are used in the implementation of agriculture education and that these symbols then take on new meanings supporting Blumer (1969) Symbolic Interactionism Theory. Further, mutually beneficial experiences occurred between veterans and community members, allowing for the veteran to build positive connection with civilians and move up in civilian society. This supports the concept of Pierre Bourdieu (1986) Cultural Capital Theory.

Further, these finding show that military veterans are employing this adult agricultural education program to transform their cultural identity and re-assign symbolic military meanings of objects and self. They connect with familiar military constructed language, behaviors, and physical symbolism to represent their identity, during and after their service. For them, it is important to be able to express their military identity to civilians and other veterans. It is also, vital for them to participate and express their military identities through symbolic military behaviors. This military symbolism is critical to their ability to socialize with others, acquire a civilian identity, and navigate social mobility. When the use of symbolism is not applied, or is not recognized by civilians, it influences their civilian identity and for some, creates transition challenges and challenges to their connection to civilian population.

Community Education, Cultural Capital, Cultural Identity, Military Veteran, Symbolic Interactionism