The Sum of Small Things

A Theory of the Aspirational Class

The Sum of Small Things

How the leisure class has been replaced by a new elite, and how their consumer habits affect us all In today’s world, the leisure class has been replaced by a new elite. Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption—like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children’s growth, and to practice yoga and Pilates. In The Sum of Small Things, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett dubs this segment of society “the aspirational class” and discusses how, through deft decisions about education, health, parenting, and retirement, the aspirational class reproduces wealth and upward mobility, deepening the ever-wider class divide. Exploring the rise of the aspirational class, Currid-Halkett considers how much has changed since the 1899 publication of Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. In that inflammatory classic, which coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption,” Veblen described upper-class frivolities: men who used walking sticks for show, and women who bought silver flatware despite the effectiveness of cheaper aluminum utensils. Now, Currid-Halkett argues, the power of material goods as symbols of social position has diminished due to their accessibility. As a result, the aspirational class has altered its consumer habits away from overt materialism to more subtle expenditures that reveal status and knowledge. And these transformations influence how we all make choices. With a rich narrative and extensive interviews and research, The Sum of Small Things illustrates how cultural capital leads to lifestyle shifts and what this forecasts, not just for the aspirational class but for everyone.

The Routledge Companion to Media and Class

The Routledge Companion to Media and Class

This companion brings together scholars working at the intersection of media and class, with a focus on how understandings of class are changing in contemporary global media contexts. From the memes of and about working-class supporters of billionaire "populists", to well-publicized and critiqued philanthropic efforts to bring communication technologies into developing country contexts, to the behind-the-scenes work of migrant tech workers, class is undergoing change both in and through media. Diverse and thoughtfully curated contributions unpack how media industries, digital technologies, everyday media practices—and media studies itself—feed into and comment upon broader, interdisciplinary discussions. They cover a wide range of topics, such as economic inequality, workplace stratification, the sharing economy, democracy and journalism, globalization, and mobility/migration. Outward-looking, intersectional, and highly contemporary, The Routledge Companion to Media and Class is a must-read for students and researchers interested in the intersections between media, class, sociology, technology, and a changing world.

Markets against Modernity

Ecological Irrationality, Public and Private

Markets against Modernity

In Markets Against Modernity, economist Ryan Murphy documents a clear continuity between the systematic errors people make in their personal lives and the gaps between public opinion and informed opinion. These errors cluster around specific divergences between how the modern world’s institutions function—including global markets, pluralistic democracy, and even science itself—and how evolution trained our brains to understand the nature of economic relationships, social relationships, and humanity’s relationship to the physical world. Murphy calls these systematic divergences Ecological Irrationality. Exploring them leads him to even more prickly questions—and to conclusions that may challenge the beliefs of those who understand that, for instance, modern vaccines are safe and effective. Do we actually want a less cohesive society? Is doing a task yourself financially prudent? And if we recognize an expert consensus, is there even a way to implement it and achieve the desired effects?

Parenting Empires

Class, Whiteness, and the Moral Economy of Privilege in Latin America

Parenting Empires

In Parenting Empires, Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas focuses on the parenting practices of Latin American urban elites to analyze how everyday experiences of whiteness, privilege, and inequality reinforce national and hemispheric idioms of anti-corruption and austerity. Ramos-Zayas shows that for upper-class residents in the affluent neighborhoods of Ipanema (Rio de Janeiro) and El Condado (San Juan), parenting is particularly effective in providing moral grounding for neoliberal projects that disadvantage the overwhelmingly poor and racialized people who care for and teach their children. Wealthy parents in Ipanema and El Condado cultivate a liberal cosmopolitanism by living in multicultural city neighborhoods rather than gated suburban communities. Yet as Ramos-Zayas reveals, their parenting strategies, which stress spirituality, empathy, and equality, allow them to preserve and reproduce their white privilege. Defining this moral economy as “parenting empires,” she sheds light on how child-rearing practices permit urban elites in the Global South to sustain and profit from entrenched social and racial hierarchies.