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Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School (Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology) Hardcover – January 17, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology
  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691145288
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691145280
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #550,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A brilliant book... with a riveting wealth of keen observation... The School should immediately turn his book into public teachable moments." -Nelson Aldrich, author of "Old Money" and "George, Being George."

...ethnographic 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

"Privilege is written with the stylistic grace and admirable clarity that make cutting edge sociology accessible to a wider public. The result is an enlightening and pleasurable read." - Theory, Culture, & Society

Shamus Khan is part of a new generation of academics... focusing on elites rather than the poor. This scholarship is important. --Richard Kahlenberg, The Chronicle of Higher Education

The 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, The Guardian (UK)

[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,

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

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

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

From the Inside Flap

"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."--Michle Lamont, Harvard University

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I love reading books that take us behind the scenes where we're normally barred from entry. And I've often envied people who got the boarding school experience. So... what's life really like at an elite school?

One of the most elite, of course, is St. Paul's Academy. Author Khan attended as a student, then returned as a faculty member and ultimately a participant-observer in an ethnographic study. The result is a book that's enjoyable - especially specific scenes - but less enlightening that one would hope. Mostly I would have liked to see a clearer organization, either chronologically with the school year or thematically. I also didn't get a clear sense of the author's premise. He seems to demonstrate that the "elite" learn how to behave or are reinforced in appropriate behavior, by both students and faculty. In particular, the school emphasizes norms of appearing "at ease" and confident.

My frustration with this book is that it's somewhere between sociology and memoir. I can't help comparing it to P.F. Kluge's book about returning to Kenyon College as a professor, over 20 years after his own graduation. Kluge shared the experiences of being at Kenyon; one of the most memorable is his chat with a colleague, a single woman who was headed home to a lonely dinner.

Khan tries to draw insights from observations. One good example involves a dialogue between a "Mrs. Brown" dorm leader and a student "Evan" who was showing off his knowledge about St Paul's just a few hours after arriving. Khan observes that the adult (presumably a faculty member) cleverly put down the young man.

We get less sense of what actually happens in classes, art studios and athletic fields. I'd have liked to get a sense of a typical day in the life of a student.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kindle fan on April 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excellent ethnographic study (conducted in a top boarding school) of how the contemporary elite constructs its relationship to the world. A central argument of the book is that, with the death of the class movement and the rise of the individuality cult, elite status is now presented as a personal achievement rather than a consequence of inherited privilege. This stance is false and Khan proves why, in crystal clear writing. Many of us intuitively know already that the apple does not fall far from the tree. However, even if one is not 100% convinced by the book's material, or feels that no generalizations can be drawn from a study of a single school, however in-depth, the debate on inequality is a vital one - so many thanks to the author for keeping it alive.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Marco Antonio Abarca VINE VOICE on February 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "Privilege-The Making of an Adolescent Elite:, Shamus Rahman Khan investigates how elite status is passed down from one generation to the next. Obviously, the passing of family wealth from parent to child is the principle way that elite status is transferred. Yet, in a world of high inheritance taxes and a dynamic domestic economy, family wealth can only get you so far. Khan argues that the most important thing an elite parent can pass to a child is entree into elite culture. He argues elites have a special way of "being and knowing" and that boarding schools are an especially good place to learn that culture.

Shamus Rahman Khan is a graduate of St. Paul's School and it was to his old school he returned as a teacher for one year. Armed with his graduate studies in sociology, Khan attempted to better understand the transference of elite status that took place over the course of four years. As a participant/observer Khan was well placed to carefully study the school's closed society. I found "Privilege" to be well written and his arguments to be solidly made. Khan's book beautifully illustrates the return for investment that comes with the boarding school education. "Privilege" is a thought provoking book and a pleasurable read. Highly recommended.
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19 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Rudi E. Batzell on January 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Privilege is one of those rare and invaluable books that not only makes important scholarly contributions to the sociology of education and the social reproduction of elites, but also provides an accessible and engaging view of one of the most pressing issues of American society in the early 21st century: increasing inequality in an age of apparently more open educational access.

Privilege is written with poise and humor, bringing to life the students and teachers of St. Paul's, as Khan untangles the complexity of the social processes of an elite boarding school. At a moment when education is in certain respects more open, with ethnic and racial minorities and women increasingly present in elite institutions, Privilege illustrates how those who already have the most make sure their children have even more through access to institutions like St. Paul's School, reproducing inequality and class division in American society in new, more transparent, and supposedly more 'democratic' forms. With economic inequality dramatically on the rise since the 1970s, and with educational credentials playing an ever more important role in gaining access to the most lucrative and rewarding forms of work and compensation, Privilege arrives just in time to spark a much needed discussion of the intersection of wealth, inequality and education.

A masterpiece of ethnography, Privilege will be well used in introductory sociology classes as a compelling methodological demonstration, not only showing how careful observation and analysis can lead to sociological insights, but doing so with a topic that should be challenging and exciting to a broad array of undergraduate students.
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More About the Author

I teach in the sociology department at Columbia University. My first book, Privilege, is about an elite boarding school, St. Paul's School, that I attended as a student and then returned to as a faculty member to study. I'm mostly interested in inequality, and I explore it through looking at wealth.

I have another book on research methodology, and I'm writing a book on the history of the New York Elite. It's provisionally entitled, "Exceptional" and will also be published by Princeton University Press.

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