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Conflicted cultivation: Parenting, privilege, and moral worth in wealthy New York families

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Conflicted cultivation: Parenting, privilege, and moral worth in wealthy New York families

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Abstract

Recent research on parenting and social class has identified cultivation strategies that focus on expanding children’s skills and advantages, but such work has not looked specifically at parenting among elites. Drawing on 50 in-depth interviews, this article investigates the childrearing strategies and discourses of wealthy and affluent parents living in and around New York City. Concerned about raising “entitled” children, elite parents employ strategies of constraint (on behavioral and material entitlements) and exposure (to less advantaged social others) to produce morally “good people.” However, these strategies stand in tension with another significant parental concern: the expansion of both children’s selfhood and their opportunities. Ultimately, though not quite intentionally, parents cultivate an appropriate habitus of privilege, rather than significantly limit their children’s material or experiential advantages. Parents’ discourses about constituting not-entitled subjects are important for two reasons. One, they illuminate the struggles of liberal elites to be morally worthy in an environment marked by extreme inequality, challenging assumptions about the instrumentality of their action. Two, they reveal the affective and behavioral bases of legitimate entitlement more generally: what matters is how people act and how they feel, not what they have.
Original Article
Conflicted cultivation: Parenting,
privilege, and moral worth in wealthy
New York families
Rachel Sherman
Department of Sociology, New School for Social Research, 6 E. 16th St., Room 916,
New York, NY 10003, USA.
E-mail: shermanr@newschool.edu
Abstract Recent research on parenting and social class has identified cultivation
strategies that focus on expanding children’s skills and advantages, but such work has
not looked specifically at parenting among elites. Drawing on 50 in-depth interviews,
this article investigates the childrearing strategies and discourses of wealthy and
affluent parents living in and around New York City. Concerned about raising ‘‘entitled’
children, elite parents employ strategies of constraint (on behavioral and material
entitlements) and exposure (to less advantaged social others) to produce morally ‘‘good
people.’’ However, these strategies stand in tension with another significant parental
concern: the expansion of both children’s selfhood and their opportunities. Ultimately,
though not quite intentionally, parents cultivate an appropriate habitus of privilege,
rather than significantly limit their children’s material or experiential advantages. Par-
ents’ discourses about constituting not-entitled subjects are important for two reasons.
One, they illuminate the struggles of liberal elites to be morally worthy in an envi-
ronment marked by extreme inequality, challenging assumptions about the instru-
mentality of their action. Two, they reveal the affective and behavioral bases of
legitimate entitlement more generally: what matters is how people act and how they
feel, not what they have.
American Journal of Cultural Sociology (2017) 5, 1–33.
doi:10.1057/s41290-016-0012-8; published online 12 October 2016
Keywords: entitlement; habitus; inequality; morality; parenting; social class
Introduction
In recent years, scholars of the US and UK have devoted significant attention
to parenting strategies among middle- and upper-middle-class professionals,
especially as these strategies compare to those of working-class parents. But
2016 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2049-7113 American Journal of Cultural Sociology Vol. 5, 1–2, 1–33
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... Children's cultivation, including choices about education, consumption, and exposure to a variety of environments, produces not only classed capacities, such as embodied cultural capital, but also a sense of their place in the world relative to others (Bourdieu, 1990;Lareau, 2011). Finally, this labor produces and reproduces a sense of entitlement to particular kinds of consumption, for adults as well as children, including entitlement not only to material goods but also to the labor and attention of (paid and unpaid) others (Sherman, 2007(Sherman, , 2011(Sherman, , 2017b. ...
... Consistent with these inclusive "values," children should understand that they are not "better than" other people. Therefore, part of the unpaid labor of producing children's dispositions, as these stay-at-home mothers describe it, is helping them develop a work ethic, tamp down any emergent materialism, learn to behave politely, and generally be egalitarians (see Sherman, 2017aSherman, , 2017b. Thus while this labor is still one of producing class-appropriate affects, the affects understood to be appropriate have changed. ...
... The environments these children participate in -elite sports, for example, as well as private schools -are still typically class-bounded, even if not as explicitly so. And ultimately, the class advantages of children (and adults) are reproduced (Sherman, 2017b). But the dispositions and affects these women cultivate both obscure and legitimate class in a new way -not by reinforcing superiority and charitable condescension, but by celebrating cultural difference while minimizing class difference. ...
... It is notoriously challenging to access 'elites' for research purposes (Reis and Moore, 2005;Page et al., 2013;Sherman, 2016). I cold called participants to invite them to be in the study based on their position in the City of London (n ¼ 11), recruited them through personal contacts, referrals or introductions (n ¼ 10) or identified them by snowballing (n ¼ 9). ...
... The personal assistants of interviewees were extremely helpful in their role as gatekeepers and managers of participants' schedules. The use of personal links for recommendations and snowball sampling is not only justified (Reis and Moore, 2005;Chin, 2014;Sherman, 2016;Neely, 3 According to the World Inequality Database, the threshold for the 1% of income earners was £118,419 before tax in 2012, the most recently available year of data when I started my fieldwork. All participants have individual incomes of at least £140k before tax, apart from one participant whose income in the previous years was well within the 1% and one participant who indicated their income before bonuses was just under the threshold. ...
... social reflexivists also considered distributive justice (does performance pay lead to fair distributional outcomes?) (Sherman, 2016). Performance pay meritocrats were not concerned about 'the amount of inequality in pay between those at the top and bottom' and considered top incomes as legitimate when they reflect economic contribution (cf. ...
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... Esto se liga con dos ámbitos de interés para el estudio de las élites contemporáneas: por un lado, la comprensión de las subjetividades relacionadas con el acceso a recursos socialmente relevantes, iluminando las dinámicas de construcción y legitimación de privilegios y las tensiones al interior de estos grupos. Por otro, la indagación sobre cómo se enseña a relacionarse con la riqueza y a legitimarse en posiciones jerárquicas, lidiando con el problema moral que esto supone para las madres y padres en etapa de crianza (Sherman, 2017), en un contexto de crecientes desafíos para desenvolverse en sociedades más democráticas y abiertas (Khan, 2011). ...
... La crianza cultivada o parentalidad intensiva tiene por consecuencia una apropiación de la posición por parte de las nuevas generaciones, otorgándoles al mismo tiempo un sentimiento de legitimidad de su posición respecto a la sociedad (Sherman, 2017;Méndez & Gayo, 2018). Esta apropiación apunta directamente a cómo las personas se comportan y se sienten más que a aquello que materialmente poseen. ...
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... Therefore, upper-class individuals usually understand the institutional "rules of the game" and manage the "appropriate" skills and cultural repertories to modify interactions to their own benefit (Lareau, 2011). This provides them with the agency to exercise control over events that affect their lives and ultimately translates into a strong sense of entitlement-a sense of empowerment through which people assume their right to pursue their own preferences (see also e.g., Sherman, 2017). In this sense, being part of the upper layers of the social hierarchy may be positively related to attachment to society in that, through the availability of socio-economic resources, individuals achieve a sense of being a meaningful and effective part of society, a full citizen of the nation, and entitled and duty-bound to participate in politics and to exercise a citizen's rights (Bourdieu, 1984). ...
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... Following Lareau, in a study on childrearing strategies among wealthy parents in the New York area, Rachel Sherman (2017) claims that upper-class parents cultivate a "habitus of legitimate privilege." (p. ...
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