Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School

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Overview

As one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation, St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, has long been the exclusive domain of America's wealthiest sons. But times have changed. Today, a new elite of boys and girls is being molded at St. Paul's, one that reflects the hope of openness but also the persistence of inequality.

In Privilege, Shamus Khan returns to his alma mater to provide an inside look at an institution that has been the private realm of the elite for the past 150 years. He shows that St. Paul's students continue to learn what they always have--how to embody privilege. Yet, while students once leveraged the trappings of upper-class entitlement, family connections, and high culture, current St. Paul's students learn to succeed in a more diverse environment. To be the future leaders of a more democratic world, they must be at ease with everything from highbrow art to everyday life--from Beowulf to Jaws--and view hierarchies as ladders to scale. Through deft portrayals of the relationships among students, faculty, and staff, Khan shows how members of the new elite face the opening of society while still preserving the advantages that allow them to rule.

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Editorial Reviews

Bloomberg News
[E]thnographic research into the very heart of privilege. . . . [Khan] steps down from his pedestal and lets himself get closer to these future masters of the universe.
— Robin D. Schatz
American Journal of Sociology
[T]his book is beautifully written and filled with important insights into processes of socialization among the elite. I recommend this book for all scholars interested in the reproduction of inequality in U.S. society.
— Wendy Leo Moore
Guardian
[T]he elites in Britain and in America have changed. They now appear more open. More worldly. More meritocratic. For a description of how that process works, look at [Privilege].
— Aditya Chakrabortty
Boston Globe
Khan's many perspectives—as a minority student in a rich WASP school, as a teacher interacting with his students, and as a researcher observing his subjects—gave him unique access to understanding the American elite. . . . Khan's objectivity turns to pessimism as he describes the result of greater diversity, which he finds 'does not mean mobility and it certainly does not mean equality.'
— Barbara Fisher
Buffalo News
Shamus Rahman Khan has his part in loosening the knot of privilege, by analyzing America's dreams and telling us why some of them remain thwarted. . . . Privilege is an exceptional cultural study of inequality that concentrates on elites. It is a brave piece of work, guaranteed to raise the hackles of more than a few private school trustees, administrators, faculty and parents.
— Michael D. Langan
OrgTheory.net
[Privilege] fills in the crucial missing piece. It's a well grounded description of the people who are the 'input' into the elite higher education system. It's a view of elite life from the 'training camp,' right before they are unleashed into American society. Highly recommended to anyone interested in stratification and education.
— Fabio Rojas
Concord Monitor
If you want a peek inside an elite New England prep school, here it is. . . . But while nosiness about St. Paul's is a perfectly good reason to read the book, Khan's purpose is higher. This is a book about the promise of America and how well the nation is fulfilling it. It is a book that suggests how money still trumps ideals and how a myth fostered at St. Paul's and other such schools serves a new elite class. Most usefully, the book explores why racial and ethnic diversity—a challenge that St. Paul's is meeting admirably—is not synonymous with mobility and equality. . . . Full of valuable insights.
— Mike Pride
Canadian Journal of Sociology
While the empirical meat of Privilege is from the United States, Canadian scholars of inequality and education will find this book useful. The ethnographic material is worth reading for its empirical contribution alone; but more importantly it also illustrates how the relative steepness of the U.S. postsecondary system contributes to enduring social inequalities.
— Janice Aurini
Choice
Returning to his alma mater as faculty member and ethnographer, Khan offers an incisive study of the formation of a new, meritocratic elite. . . . Of utility and wide appeal to a range of academics, Khan's study is consistently engaging and of potentially enduring value.
American Conservative
Essential reading for understanding today's elite. Not since Christopher Lasch's Revolt of the Elites has the meritocracy been so effectively skewered.
— Austin Bramwell
Contemporary Sociology
There are few ethnographic accounts of life in exclusive American boarding schools and Khan's book is far and away the most sophisticated among them. But the contribution of Privilege goes beyond this narrow field. Those interested in the sociology of culture, stratification, everyday life, education, race, and gender will find much to appreciate. . . . Khan is a versatile and earnest ethnographer with a sharp eye for gesture and a keen ear for dialogue.
— Victoria Bonnell
Social Forces
Privilege is a welcome addition to the sociological literature on elite prep schools.
— Richard L. Zweigenhaft
Bloomberg News - Robin D. Schatz
[E]thnographic research into the very heart of privilege. . . . [Khan] steps down from his pedestal and lets himself get closer to these future masters of the universe.
American Journal of Sociology - Wendy Leo Moore
[T]his book is beautifully written and filled with important insights into processes of socialization among the elite. I recommend this book for all scholars interested in the reproduction of inequality in U.S. society.
Guardian - Aditya Chakrabortty
[T]he elites in Britain and in America have changed. They now appear more open. More worldly. More meritocratic. For a description of how that process works, look at [Privilege].
Boston Globe - Barbara Fisher
Khan's many perspectives—as a minority student in a rich WASP school, as a teacher interacting with his students, and as a researcher observing his subjects—gave him unique access to understanding the American elite. . . . Khan's objectivity turns to pessimism as he describes the result of greater diversity, which he finds 'does not mean mobility and it certainly does not mean equality.'
Boston Globe, Brainiac - Josh Rothman
Privilege sets out to understand 'the new elite' and its place in the larger story of American education.
Buffalo News - Michael D. Langan
Shamus Rahman Khan has his part in loosening the knot of privilege, by analyzing America's dreams and telling us why some of them remain thwarted. . . . Privilege is an exceptional cultural study of inequality that concentrates on elites. It is a brave piece of work, guaranteed to raise the hackles of more than a few private school trustees, administrators, faculty and parents.
OrgTheory.net - Fabio Rojas
[Privilege] fills in the crucial missing piece. It's a well grounded description of the people who are the 'input' into the elite higher education system. It's a view of elite life from the 'training camp,' right before they are unleashed into American society. Highly recommended to anyone interested in stratification and education.
Concord Monitor - Mike Pride
If you want a peek inside an elite New England prep school, here it is. . . . But while nosiness about St. Paul's is a perfectly good reason to read the book, Khan's purpose is higher. This is a book about the promise of America and how well the nation is fulfilling it. It is a book that suggests how money still trumps ideals and how a myth fostered at St. Paul's and other such schools serves a new elite class. Most usefully, the book explores why racial and ethnic diversity—a challenge that St. Paul's is meeting admirably—is not synonymous with mobility and equality. . . . Full of valuable insights.
Canadian Journal of Sociology - Janice Aurini
While the empirical meat of Privilege is from the United States, Canadian scholars of inequality and education will find this book useful. The ethnographic material is worth reading for its empirical contribution alone; but more importantly it also illustrates how the relative steepness of the U.S. postsecondary system contributes to enduring social inequalities.
American Conservative - Austin Bramwell
Essential reading for understanding today's elite. Not since Christopher Lasch's Revolt of the Elites has the meritocracy been so effectively skewered.
Contemporary Sociology - Victoria Bonnell
There are few ethnographic accounts of life in exclusive American boarding schools and Khan's book is far and away the most sophisticated among them. But the contribution of Privilege goes beyond this narrow field. Those interested in the sociology of culture, stratification, everyday life, education, race, and gender will find much to appreciate. . . . Khan is a versatile and earnest ethnographer with a sharp eye for gesture and a keen ear for dialogue.
Social Forces - Richard L. Zweigenhaft
Privilege is a welcome addition to the sociological literature on elite prep schools. . . . This readable book provides a vivid, often elucidating, and not always pretty look at life at St. Paul's as of the 2004-05 school year.
From the Publisher

Winner of the 2011 C. Wright Mills Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems

Honorable Mention for the 2012 Distinguished Book Award of the Race, Gender and Class Section of the American Sociological Association

"[E]thnographic research into the very heart of privilege. . . . [Khan] steps down from his pedestal and lets himself get closer to these future masters of the universe."--Robin D. Schatz, Bloomberg News

"[T]his book is beautifully written and filled with important insights into processes of socialization among the elite. I recommend this book for all scholars interested in the reproduction of inequality in U.S. society."--Wendy Leo Moore, American Journal of Sociology

"[T]he elites in Britain and in America have changed. They now appear more open. More worldly. More meritocratic. For a description of how that process works, look at [Privilege]."--Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian

"Khan's many perspectives--as a minority student in a rich WASP school, as a teacher interacting with his students, and as a researcher observing his subjects--gave him unique access to understanding the American elite. . . . Khan's objectivity turns to pessimism as he describes the result of greater diversity, which he finds 'does not mean mobility and it certainly does not mean equality.'"--Barbara Fisher, Boston Globe

"Privilege sets out to understand 'the new elite' and its place in the larger story of American education."--Josh Rothman, Boston Globe, Brainiac

"Shamus Rahman Khan has his part in loosening the knot of privilege, by analyzing America's dreams and telling us why some of them remain thwarted. . . . Privilege is an exceptional cultural study of inequality that concentrates on elites. It is a brave piece of work, guaranteed to raise the hackles of more than a few private school trustees, administrators, faculty and parents."--Michael D. Langan, Buffalo News

"[Privilege] fills in the crucial missing piece. It's a well grounded description of the people who are the 'input' into the elite higher education system. It's a view of elite life from the 'training camp,' right before they are unleashed into American society. Highly recommended to anyone interested in stratification and education."--Fabio Rojas, OrgTheory.net

"If you want a peek inside an elite New England prep school, here it is. . . . But while nosiness about St. Paul's is a perfectly good reason to read the book, Khan's purpose is higher. This is a book about the promise of America and how well the nation is fulfilling it. It is a book that suggests how money still trumps ideals and how a myth fostered at St. Paul's and other such schools serves a new elite class. Most usefully, the book explores why racial and ethnic diversity--a challenge that St. Paul's is meeting admirably--is not synonymous with mobility and equality. . . . Full of valuable insights."--Mike Pride, Concord Monitor

"While the empirical meat of Privilege is from the United States, Canadian scholars of inequality and education will find this book useful. The ethnographic material is worth reading for its empirical contribution alone; but more importantly it also illustrates how the relative steepness of the U.S. postsecondary system contributes to enduring social inequalities."--Janice Aurini, Canadian Journal of Sociology
"Returning to his alma mater as faculty member and ethnographer, Khan offers an incisive study of the formation of a new, meritocratic elite. . . . Of utility and wide appeal to a range of academics, Khan's study is consistently engaging and of potentially enduring value."--Choice

"Essential reading for understanding today's elite. Not since Christopher Lasch's Revolt of the Elites has the meritocracy been so effectively skewered."--Austin Bramwell, American Conservative

"There are few ethnographic accounts of life in exclusive American boarding schools and Khan's book is far and away the most sophisticated among them. But the contribution of Privilege goes beyond this narrow field. Those interested in the sociology of culture, stratification, everyday life, education, race, and gender will find much to appreciate. . . . Khan is a versatile and earnest ethnographer with a sharp eye for gesture and a keen ear for dialogue."--Victoria Bonnell, Contemporary Sociology

"Privilege is a welcome addition to the sociological literature on elite prep schools. . . . This readable book provides a vivid, often elucidating, and not always pretty look at life at St. Paul's as of the 2004-05 school year."--Richard L. Zweigenhaft, Social Forces

"[Shamus Rahman Khan's] book [is an] excellent, engaging, well written, and carefully researched study of the ways culture works in and through schools."--Lisa M. Stulberg, Contexts

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691145280
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2010
  • Series: Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Shamus Rahman Khan is assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University. He is an alumnus and former faculty member of St. Paul's School
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Democratic Inequality 1
Chapter 1. The New Elite 18
Chapter 2. Finding One's Place 41
Chapter 3. The Ease of Privilege 77
Chapter 4. Gender and the Performance of Privilege 114
Chapter 5. Learning Beowulf and Jaws 151
Conclusion 193
Methodological and Theoretical Reflections 201
Acknowledgments 207
Notes 211
Works Cited 223
Index 229

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