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, I returned to my alma mater to provide an inside look at an institution that has been the private realm of the elite for the past 150 years. I show 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 portrayals of the relationships among students, faculty, and staff, I show how members of the new elite face the opening of society while still preserving the advantages that allow them to rule.
“[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
“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 is superb. Khan skillfully narrates from the perspective of both teacher and researcher, and the personal portraits are very well-rounded. This important book is a masterly look at a disturbing current in the formation of elite American society.”–Richard Sennett, author of The Corrosion of Character
“This is a terrific book. Khan’s strong authorial voice and wonderful personality shine through and it is a pleasure to follow his life and travails at St. Paul’s.”–Michèle Lamont, Harvard University
Alumni Horae (St. Paul’s School)
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