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Social Privilege 4 January 2008

Posted by Todd in Capitalism & Economy, Inequality & Stratification, Social Sciences.
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[Update: My friend Molly corrected the provenance of this meme in the comments section below:]

This is a difficult concept for students to think about, and I alternate between dreading the topic and loving the topic, depending on the class I’m in. Because people are anchored in their own lives, it is difficult for them to see their social power relative to the system as a whole. Here’s a brief “study” being done by some students at Illinois State. I’m highly dubious of the reliability of the data they’ll collect by looking at blog memes (computer literate, bloggers who would answer this particular meme are quite a self-selected and, I would guess, privileged group…so what meaningful conclusions could you draw from these data?). Regardless, it’s an interesting set of questions and issue to think about and follow the standard sociological research about what gives individuals in American society privilege relative to others. From Wry Catcher:

“What Privileges Do You Have?” is being used for a research exercise by students Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you choose to participate, please include this statement so that when they run search engines later, they will be able to locate your entry.

Instructions: bold any statements that are true for you.

Father went to college

Father finished college

Mother went to college

Mother finished college

Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor

Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers—yes, by high school; but as Wry pointed out, this is a highly problematic question for a gen-pop survey, let alone a sociologist (i.e., me) who has an overly complex notion of class to begin with.

Had more than 50 books in your childhood home

Had more than 500 books in your childhood home—honestly I don’t know, but I don’t think so

Were read children’s books by a parent

Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18—piano

Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18—I did have flute lessons, but they were through the public school and free, so I’m not counting them

The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively — In general, yes, although American anti-intellectualism runs strong and so there’s a bizarre simultaneous respest and rejection of the academic in the media

Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18

Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs

Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs

Went to a private high school

Went to summer camp—I camped with the BSA, but I don’t think that’s what this question is asking

Had a private tutor before you turned 18

Family vacations involved staying at hotels – never that I can remember, other than maybe when moving across the country

Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18 — plenty of homemade stuff and I wore most pants and shoes until they were hole-y and threadbare

Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them

There was original art in your house when you were a child – My aunt does oil painting and it has meaning within the family, but it was free and worth nothing on the art market, so I’m going to say No.

You and your family lived in a single family house

Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home

You had your own room as a child—well, I was an only child until age 13, so this is a bit misleading as a question unless you get full demographics on me

You had a phone in your room before you turned 18

Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course

Had your own TV in your room in High School

Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16

Went on a cruise with your family

Went on more than one cruise with your family

Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up

You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family – I was until I was a teenager and my dad was unemployed…then I became hyper aware of such things; and we were always living on the cusp (although middle class) and so my mother was always quite vocal about the costs of things and our money in the home.



1. wry catcher - 4 January 2008

So, are you as persnickety about this as I am? Is the net result a good indicator of your “social class”? It seems so muddy as to be nearly useless…see all the caveats you included, and my final two or three paragraphs of caveats. ?

2. molly-o - 4 January 2008

Huh — you ran across a different version than I did. Mine wasn’t a research exercise, it was a practical exercise for college counselors at Indiana State.

I love how things morph as they travel around the Intarwebs.

3. molly-o - 4 January 2008
4. Todd - 4 January 2008

Wry, yeah. In the lit, these are definitely indicators of privilege, but “class” has to be carefully defined (I like to think of economic class and social status as different things, and each have different kinds of privileges). And most researchers give their own definition up front to frame their findings, but I dont’ know of any accepted definition, other than something to do with access to economic capital (whereas social status would be access to social capital).

Molly, that’s weird. Are the names I included fake then??

5. molly w - 5 January 2008

No, if you check the link, it’s a page [that purports to be] created by Will Barratt, but he’s a Ph.D., not a student. All the other names are listed — but at Indiana, not Illinois, and the meme (called “Take a Step Forward”) is included on a list of staff development resources.

6. C. L. Hanson - 8 January 2008

For me, there are only about eight of them that I wouldn’t have bolded. I don’t think of myself as having grown up rich, but I can hardly think of a single thing I was deprived of…

This is the main reason I can’t chalk up my accomplishments as all due to my own talents, and it’s why I can’t judge the actions of those who were not born into the same opportunities.

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