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

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  492 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews

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
Hardcover, 232 pages
Published January 17th 2011 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 2010)
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I was tempted into this book by a youtube clip from an interview with the author. That clip hit the highlights of this book: namely, that elite secondary schools continue to reproduce the privilege of wealthy elites but they do so while also perpetuating a narrative in which rich kids succeed because they are talented, gifted, hard workers, ect. and not because they are rich.

Some of Khan's narrative passages early on have a captain of the obvious feel- yes, schools (like other institutions) soc
A rough start, but the second half made some interesting points, mostly that the 21st century new elite are omnivorous cultural consumers that are trained not particularly to know more but to know differently, taught to synthesize and connect rather than absorb and remember.Rather than learning 'secret' or exclusive knowledge about how to be, they embody their privilege through an extended period of practice.
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
I liked this book more than I thought I would. I bought it because I took a seminar by the author where he talked about the culture of elites in relation to The Great Gatsby. He studies the rich in the US in order to better understand inequality "because they are the ones who control most of the money." In Privilege he studies students at one of the most elite high schools in the country. These students believe they work harder than others and that is why they get into the best colleges. But thi ...more
Todd baron
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Working at an elite school, this is fascinating. Especially in light of the class structure any elite schools pretend doesn't exist.
Feb 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology, nonfiction
This book explained so much of what I have observed but not understood. Highly recommend.
Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was an extremely thoughtful and entertaining ethnography. It was really interesting to see Khan study an institution that was so formative in his own education. His insights made me reconsider a lot of the similar dynamics that I experienced in my high school years at Andover and will make me think more critically of the social dynamics around me in college.

One of the most interesting observations that Khan makes is that the pedagogical method of choice at St. Paul's (as is the case with Co
Dana McLachlin
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociology, higher-ed
Accessible and fascinating. If you are familiar with sociological work on class (Bourdieu/habitus/etc) probably nothing too new but applies them in an engaging way. I loved the concept of "ease" and it helped me make sense of so much of what I've seen at elite schools. Good read for any student entering a privileged university and hoping to make sense of the culture.

I wish he had expanded more on his point about the expansive curriculum and its relation to privilege. Not sure I agree it is nece
Rachel Bayles
Jul 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is an enjoyable book, but you really have to be interested in the topic. It helps paint a fairly detailed picture about why private school is so different, and why it helps create and/or perpetuate habits and attitudes. Sometimes the author goes a bit too far (or maybe not far enough), but in general its a useful piece of work. I look forward to seeing what he writes next.
Oct 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Privilege gets at a lot of important and interesting issues without being dense, jargon-y, or extremely academic. A quick read that you can feel smart while reading.
Nov 27, 2013 marked it as to-read
Recommended by Dan for at least the second time at dinner tonight.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Some parts of the book were well-researched, others were not and their absence was glaringly obvious in the conclusions the author arrived at. He bases too much of his arguments on his personal experiences as an adolescent at the school and his observations from 1 year working there as a teacher. While some of his points are well-founded and defended, as well as being insightful, many were weak and wouldn't hold water in a more academic setting. While the book aims to be serious social science, ...more
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Theoretically limited and often made to seem more exceptional than the reality of it is. But still a readable insight into kids at posh school
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read like a novel, informative and riveting.
Anthony Zepperi
Sep 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Emily Anderer
As an alumna of a non-elite boarding school and an elite liberal arts college, I recognized many of my own experiences in this book. The strongest similarity was education in the humanities as learning a new way of thinking rather than learning specific facts. This was definitely the emphasis in my education - learning how to analyze, construct, and effectively communicate arguments rather than learning anything particular about topics at hand. Additionally, while reading, I began viewing my rel ...more
Evan Rocher
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Privilege is a bog-standard ethnography. Khan was a student at St. Paul's, one of America's elite board schools, in the early 90s. He returns to teach for a year in 2004, and does an ethnographic study in the meantime. There are two takeaways, I think:
1.) Elites are created very differently now. Unlike before (Khan would even point to his own time at St. Paul's), when elites were created by distinction (i.e. they had different tastes, interests, etc, that marked them as elite), they are now crea
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really wasn't sure about this book, but it was a quick, pleasant read. The author attended the school before studying it, so he wasn't an outsider. I generally enjoy "experiential" books of unfamiliar worlds ala The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University (there's probably a better name for it) (experientalogues?), and I enjoyed this one too.

Getting to peek into a place I would never otherwise get to go ($40,000 a year for high school!!!!) was fun, but his observ
Jan 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Privilege explores how modern American elites pass on their advantages to their progeny. The book explores notions of ease, omnivorous intellectualism, and how continued social inequality is obscured by the opening of information and knowledge to other social classes.

Privilege provided some insight into the lives of modern elite. Khan's ethnographic study offers a nuanced account of how these students interact with eachother, their parents, their faculty, and the school staff. The problem for me
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
"The new elites' suggestion that they 'accept all' and that they do so within an increasingly open world makes the collectivism required for social transformations of any kind more challenging. And this leads to an odd, perhaps even ironic outcome: by becoming more democratic the elite have undercut the power of the weak within our nation.

The elite story about the triumph of the individual is just that; or better, it is a myth. Even though they are outperforming them in educational institutions
Marlene Rosa
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shamus Rahman Khan is the author of Privilege: The Making of An Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School. Khan is an alumni of St. Paul’s school, one of the most privileged schools in the nation. It is considered to be a school where many elites attend and instead of researching inequality, Khan examines privilege. St. Paul’s school may be the perfect setting and school to examine privilege, this allows for readers to view the social advantages of those who are privileged. By examining the privileg ...more
Nov 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
373.74272 KHA

p15 Lesson 1: Hierarchies are natural and they can be treated like ladders, not ceilings
Lesson 2: Experiences matter
Lesson 3: Privilege means being at ease, no matter that the context.

Chap1 The new elite
p22 3 revolutions: a political one in France; an industrial one in English; the global rise of America. The effect of all three spread rapidly across the global an changed our world. The balance of social power seemed to move from political to economic, and from the old world to the
The American Conservative
'Despite its narrow focus, Privilege is essential reading for understanding today’s elites. Not since Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites has the meritocracy been so effectively skewered. To be sure, Khan’s thesis—that the system is rigged in favor of the children of the rich—can be overstated.

Privilege never mentions that the most obvious reason that St. Paul’s graduates are still getting into Harvard, namely, that St. Paul’s, which accepts less than 20 percent of applicants, only admits
Apr 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Read for fun. (I read the last section called "Methodological and Theoretical Reflections" in my Sociological Classics course this past fall and thought it sounded intriguing. Luckily, my roommate had bought the book for a different sociology class she was taking, so I borrowed her copy.)

The book takes a very insightful look into the American elite and elite institutions. A lot of his ideas and sentiments I agreed with or intuited, particularly his thesis about systematic inequality. His argumen
Apr 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Super interesting read. Basically, this guy works at a private prep-school for a year, and then he writes about how the school's culture and structure create an air of "elitism" in the school's students. He also touches upon the broader inequality that such elitism espouses, given that the socioeconomic make-up of the school is relatively homogenous. He's not attacking the school, but he's presenting its culture in a very thought-provoking way. Definitely a staple in the canon of educational ine ...more
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an ethnograph with some of his musings and additional thoughts thrown in. It offered an interesting look at the social aspects that work to instill the sense of the "elite", and the long term takeaways that a school like St. Paul's provides that help elite children stay elite.

However, this is not an analysis of techniques or methodologies and does not offer a playbook. I would read it to get a sense of how the people involved (students and educators both) in elite education view their
Oct 06, 2016 rated it liked it
An interesting ethnography and analysis of what it means to be an elite now, and how elite institutions perpetuate inequality. I think Khan lets St. Paul's off a bit easy, putting more weight on students for their delusions of being self-made than he blames institutionalized inequality and hierarchies. I read this for a methods class (participant observation unit) but, as a bonus, it opens a window onto social structures that mystified me as an outsider-y, imposter-y college classmate of so many ...more
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great read, especially as someone who went to boarding school I felt that the text resonated with my experience and showed me my high school years through a different lens. I understood the work my institution did and continues to do on its students in a completely new way. Repetitive at times, though I think he was trying to drive his point home, some very interesting ideas on how elite boarding schools shape a modern American elite.
James Trent
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Khan has written an interesting ethnographic study of the school that he attended as a teenager. His claim that privilege is a matter of "being as ease" with one's place in the social fabric is unique. His suggestion that the borned-elites can no longer depend of their place of privilege is less convincing. Nevertheless, this is book well worth reading.
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this book! The data is interesting, it's easy to read, and Kahn engages complex theoretical ideas with ease. That being said, his major conclusion--that cultural capital and the reproduction of inequality is wrapped up in an interactional style--isn't a new one. So, although I liked the book and the message and the use of Bourdieu--I was hoping for more.
Dec 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this ethnography of St. Paul's (one of the most elite boarding schools in the US). It really helped me understand my own undergraduate institution many years after I left it. There are some lacunae in Kahn's theory, but it is quite interesting nonetheless. I wish I had read this as an undergrad.
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I teach in the sociology department at Columbia University. My work is on inequality. But instead of looking at the poor -- as most scholars do -- I study the rich. This is because over the last 40 years the rich have largely driven the increases in inequality.

My first book, Privilege, is a study of St. Paul's School, one of the most elite boarding schools in United States. I studied St. Paul's t
More about Shamus Rahman Khan...
“Meritocracy is a social arrangement like any other: it is a loose set of rules that can be adapted in order to obscure advantages, all the while justifying them on the basis of collective values. pg. 199” 0 likes
“Being an elite is not a mere possession or something "within" an actor (skills, talents, and human capital); it is an embodied performative act enabled by by both possessions and the inscriptions that accompany experiences within elite institutions (schools, clubs, families, networks, etc.). Our bodily tastes, dispositions, and tendencies are not simply something we're born with; they are things that are produced through our experiences in the world. Not only do they occur in our minds, but they are things we enact repeatedly so that soon these performances look less and less like an artificial role we're playing- a role that might advantage us- and instead look more and more like just who we naturally are. pg. 136” 0 likes
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