“my friends went to cancun, but i only got to go to florida for spring break”

digging another one up, this time from a panel at the Easterns in 2006, where jenny stuber presented on her interviews with upper middle class white college girls. the talk was fascinating (and a version now published as Stuber, Jenny M. 2006. “Talk of Class: The Discursive Repertoires of White Working- and Upper-Middle-Class College Students.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 2006 35: 285-318. not to mention her dissertation.), and i can’t count the number of times i’ve (probably) bastardized her findings in reporting them to others.

anyway, mostly what she talked about was how the girls she interviewed used discursive strategies to navigate their own class status and to make distinctions. they identified their privileged class status in terms of the experiences they’d had, but they also misrecognized that privilege as behaviors, values, and preferences (rather than cash or wealth). for example, a girl explains that she attended private school because her parents feel that education is really important, or another’s parents preferred her to focus on academics instead of having a job during school.

they also relativized their privilege by making increasingly fine class distinctions between themselves and those they saw above them, marked by intimate knowledge of their more privileged peers’ possessions (hence the title). but they were basically incapable of making similar downward distinctions, and often at a loss for words to describe how they knew someone was of a lower class.


i was returning to this thought on a personal level this week, when i was writing a little biography for the website i’ll give to the parents of the high school students i’m studying to make them feel less anxious about letting me hang out with their precious offspring. i realized in particular how many markers of upper middle class status there were in my own life, and how including what i consider my most interesting personal experiences (living in melbourne for 6 months when i was a kid, rafting the grand canyon for 3 weeks with my father, attending a jesuit college 1500 miles from my parents, &c.) even more clearly mark my classed upbringing. part of why it’s funny to have this hit me again is how much i did not feel like i was upper middle class when i was growing up. i grew up in los alamos, a bizarre town for many reasons but relevant here is the super class (and race) segregation that made it possible for me to think we were not rich, especially in comparison to folks i saw around me, even though my father pretty much always made around the 90th percentile and my mother never made a wage. which all by way of saying, i thought i’d become much more class-conscious, but this experience really was different from me somehow – maybe precisely because i’ve become more conscious about my childhood really being different than most.

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