The books behind the sociologist

There are a few choice texts that brought me to sociology and shaped my empirical, methodological and theoretical approaches to my craft:

(in the order they come to mind)

  • Learning to Labour, Paul Willis
  • The Truly Disadvantaged, William Julius Wilson
  • Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault
  • Phenomenology of the Sociology World, Schutz
  • Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann
  • American Apartheid, Douglass Massey and Nancy Denton
  • Distinction, Pierre Bourdieu
  • Studies in Ethnomethodology, Harold Garfinkel
  • Whose Keeper?, Alan Wolfe

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a good bit of time with one of the authors on this list. As the day approached its close, I decided that I needed to break from being a colleague long enough to satisfy my more entrenched identity as a fan and a student.

“I hate to do this to you,” I said, “because it is probably a bit tedious to answer questions about a book you published in 1977… but, I need to ask…”

And then I got to raise an issue that I have puzzled over since I first read Learning to Labour  many years ago: The lads see the way that inequality and class location are reproduced within and through the school. That vision leads them to resist the educational process, but their resistance serves the very purpose they resisted – justifying their position as SES losers. But what about the ear’oles – the working class kids who do not see that the system is not open to them and instead do what they are asked to do? After high school, they primarily end up working alongside the lads. What does it matter that the lads resisted and the ear’oles didn’t?

We had a great conversation about the issue I raised – discussing that, to some extent at least, the people who play by the rules were able to hold on to their hard-work as a badge of moral superiority that distinguished them from the lads even when they held the same jobs, lived in the same neighborhoods and lived virtually the same lower class existence in their adult lives. And that conversation got me thinking about, of all things, Lamont’s Dignity of Working Men and Money, Morals and Manners. In both books Lamont argues that moral boundaries matter. I never really bought the significance of this, however, since the moral boundaries she uncovers are “mostly homologous” (à la Bourdieu) to other distinctions built upon material inequality. Examining the mobilization of moral boundaries within class categories and the impact that mobilization might have on the preservation of material categories, however, seems like a potentially productive approach to understanding the “intergenerational transmission” of inequality. I don’t believe Lamont does this. Am I wrong? Once I get back to my books, I will give a look.

At any rate, lovely to actually have a conversation I’ve been waiting 15 years for!

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