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Elite Visions: Privileged Perceptions of Self and Others


by Adam Howard 2010

Background/Context: To date, there has been little attention given to how privilege is produced and enacted. Privilege has been mainly conceptualized as the advantages that one group has over another.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In this article, the author seeks to move beyond current conceptions of privilege to explore the relationship between advantages and identity formation and to examine the ways in which students with schooling and life advantages actively construct privilege as a dimension or aspect of their identity.

Research Design: To explore this connection between advantages and identity, the author examines the understandings of two affluent students attending an elite private high school about the differences in educational experiences between low-income and affluent students. These two students were part of a larger ethnographic study of the lessons that students at elite schools are taught about their place in the world, their relationships with others, and who they are.

Findings/Results: The students' understandings reveal their use of particular ideological operations and modes to justify their own advantages in life and schooling, construct between-class divisions, establish within-class solidarity, and rationalize the disadvantages of Others. The author argues that these particular ideological operations and modes are not simply methods or competencies that affluent students know how to use but also formative elements of their respective identities.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This analysis illustrates the way that these students construct their own privilege not, fundamentally, as what they have, but rather, as who they are.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 8, 2010, p. 1971-1992
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15799, Date Accessed: 4/18/2014 9:58:01 PM

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About the Author
  • Adam Howard
    Colby College
    E-mail Author
    ADAM HOWARD is an associate professor of education at Colby College. His research interests include social class issues in education, privilege, identity development of affluent youth, and curriculum theory. He is author of Learning Privilege: Lessons of Power and Identity in Affluent Schooling.
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