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"Laundering class privilege"

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/06/21/the-new-elite-attributing-privilege-to-class-vs-merit/ (emphasis in the original)
sociologist Shamus Khan...argues that new social mandates to diversify elite education may have some pernicious negative effects. A generation ago, when most students who attended the high school came from rich backgrounds, St. Paul’s students knew that they were there because they were members of the privileged class. Today about 1/3rd of students do not pay full tuition. Students, then — both those on scholarships and those who aren’t — learn to think of themselves as individuals who have worked hard to get where they are.

The problem, as Khan articulates it, is that identifying as a member of a class acknowledges that privileged individuals are lucky and may owe some gratitude to a society that has boosted them up. Thinking of oneself as a uniquely talented individual, in contrast, encourages a person to attribute all of their privilege to their own merits, so they not only feel no gratitude to society, but also fail to notice that our social institutions play a part in disadvantaging the disadvantaged.
The first comment is really insightful (emphasis mine):
EXACTLY! This process is alive and well in many institutions of higher learning. In law school, the same process is at play. Class privilege brought many of the young lawyers to law school, but the 3 years of hard work (which is fetishized) transforms that class privilege into something 'earned' - something that the individuals have to hide.

It is a way of laundering class privilege. And just like money laundering - turning the ill-gotten proceeds of crime into legitimate business ventures - the appearance is fundamentally altered. Instead of rich brats who had everything handed to them; they become bright, hard-working, intellectual go-getters who earned everything they have. Brilliant.
I'm not sure I like the implication that scholarships are responsible for the loss of understanding of class privilege. (Because then it's too easy to say "Let's do away with scholarships.") But the "laundering class privilege" metaphor strikes me as very powerful.

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/778732.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments. I prefer that you comment on Dreamwidth, but it's also OK to comment here.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
sabotabby
Jun. 25th, 2012 01:17 am (UTC)
Yeah. It's one of those things where the analysis strikes me as spot-on but all possible short-term solutions are even more problematic.
firecat
Jun. 25th, 2012 01:59 am (UTC)
I think the least problematic solution is to stop not teaching people about class privilege. Unfortunately it's probably also the least likely solution.
treecat
Jun. 25th, 2012 10:02 am (UTC)
Interesting concept, even though I see in the other comments (incl on dw) that you guys are questioning some of his details.

From the other side of it, Having these people who get brought in - it still maybe that their admissions were merit-based, but still also luck-based. They can be then held up to the rest of us as both a carrot and stick. "Look people who are smart enough and dedicated and worthy enough can break through so it's not all rigged to cut you out." So does that mean that if you don't get into such programs, if you don't even ever know how one would do that... that you aren't actually as smart and worthy as all that?

And this isn't new, though it sounds like there are more people getting in this way now? Any sense of needing to launder the privilege is possibly newer just in that it was more acceptable a few generations past to just say that breeding counts and higher status could be a birthright.

The comment on the other site about the 'left' politicians from the fancy school being less 'left' makes total sense and is part of why it's in the interest to have these other students come in. Having them there is a chance to inculcate them with the idea that its not so broken - see you got in - and also infect them with the idea that they too are special and more worthy than the people who didn't get selected.

Interestingly one of the downfalls of communism in Eastern Europe was that they really did educate everyone a lot better than most of us were. Even before we have the private prison business hoping for a steady supply of customers.

Okay I've rambled into too many subject changes, I should go to sleep.
firecat
Jun. 25th, 2012 05:52 pm (UTC)
So does that mean that if you don't get into such programs, if you don't even ever know how one would do that... that you aren't actually as smart and worthy as all that?

I think that implication is definitely there. I'm thinking of that politician (?) who was saying a while back what he would do if he were a poor black kid. He said the kid should use libraries and the Internet and find scholarships, as if everyone were aware of those options and able to access them.
Yes. Whereas now
treecat
Jun. 25th, 2012 06:15 pm (UTC)
That guy is such an asshole. Absolutely no clue.
hitchhiker
Jun. 27th, 2012 07:51 am (UTC)
that's a pretty fascinating way of looking at it.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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