The Geek Instinct: Theorizing Cultural Alignment in Disadvantaged Contexts

Cassidy Puckett, Jennifer L. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research suggests poor outcomes among children raised in disadvantaged contexts are a consequence of cultural mismatch, that is, competing practices that create conditions too weak to support positive outcomes. While useful, research is limited in its primary focus on individual social spheres and, as a result, does not yet fully account for dynamics across spheres. It also fails to explain the puzzling case of why some children from disadvantaged contexts succeed. To address this, we propose a cultural alignment framework that considers the interaction between organizational routines, cultural practices, and the habits children carry across spheres. Using the case of technological competence, we find that children’s habits can exert force and shift cultural practice to produce alignment in unexpected ways, such as opening additional learning experiences at school—but only if children fit within organizational routines, making the organization more flexible to their individual action. More broadly, the cultural alignment framework can be used to understand dynamics across social spheres, the conditions under which alignment can occur, and how these dynamics shape learning in such settings as higher education and employment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-48
Number of pages24
JournalQualitative Sociology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Alignment
  • Cultural mismatch
  • Habit
  • Organizational routines
  • Social spheres
  • Technology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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