front cover of Class-Passing
Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture
Gwendolyn Audrey Foster
Southern Illinois University Press, 2005

Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, Roseanne Barr, Martha Stewart, and Britney Spears typify class-passers—those who claim different socioeconomic classes as their own—asserts Gwendolyn Audrey Foster in Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture. According to new rules of social standing in American popular culture, class is no longer defined by wealth, birth, or education. Instead, today’s notion of class reflects a socially constructed and regulated series of performed acts and gestures rooted in the cult of celebrity.

In examining the quest for class mobility, Foster deftly traces class-passing through the landscape of popular films, reality television shows, advertisements, the Internet, and video games. She deconstructs the politics of celebrity, fashion, and conspicuous consumerism and analyzes class-passing as it relates to the American Dream, gender, and marriage.

Class-Passing draws on dozens of examples from popular culture, from old movie classics and contemporary films to print ads and cyberspace, to illustrate how flagrant displays of wealth that were once unacceptable under the old rules of behavior are now flaunted by class-passing celebrities. From the construction worker in Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? to the privileged socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie of The Simple Life, Foster explores the fantasy of contact between the classes. She also refers to television class-passers from The Apprentice, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Survivor and notable class-passing achievers Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and P. Diddy.

Class-Passing is a notable examination of the historical, social, and ideological shifts in expressions of class. The first serious book of its kind, Class-Passing is fresh, innovative, and invaluable for students and scholars of film, television, and popular culture.


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The Educated Underclass
Students and the False Promise of Social Mobility
Gary Roth
Pluto Press, 2019
"The waste of human capacity Roth describes is phenomenal. But his major point is that it is not new. The millennials are feeling the worst of it, perhaps, but only the worst so far."—Inside High Ed
The dream of social mobility is dying. Where previous generations routinely expected to surpass their parents' level of economic success, prospects for today's young people are increasingly bleak.  What role does higher education play in the process? An essential and frightening one, according to author Gary Roth.           
The Educated Underclass reveals the structural problems that are helping to create this problem. Gary Roth shows how universities—touted as the best way up the economic ladder for young people—actually reproduce traditional class hierarchies. And as more graduates emerge every year into economies that are no longer creating a steady stream of stable jobs, the odds of landing one decrease—and over-educated people end up scrapping for poorly compensated positions for which they're overqualified. Chapters include:
*Higher education and class
*The overproduction of intelligence
*Class in transition: historical background
*Underemployment through the decades
*Class status and economic instability
*And more!
Roth writes in his Introduction, “Education has become an intermediary institution between a social system that habitually sputters and declines while ever-greater amounts of consumer products are dangled in front of the system’s workforce. The result: a dynamic fraught with all sort of negative possibilities, both socially and psychotically.” 
A broadside against the failures of our education system and our economy, Gary Roth’s The Educated Underclass aims to startle us out of our complacency and wake us up to action.  

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Gringo Gulch
Sex, Tourism, and Social Mobility in Costa Rica
Megan Rivers-Moore
University of Chicago Press, 2016
The story of sex tourism in the Gringo Gulch neighborhood of San José, Costa Rica could be easily cast as the exploitation of poor local women by privileged North American men—men who are in a position to take advantage of the vast geopolitical inequalities that make Latin American women into suppliers of low-cost sexual labor. But in Gringo Gulch, Megan Rivers-Moore tells a more nuanced story, demonstrating that all the actors intimately entangled in the sex tourism industry—sex workers, sex tourists, and the state—use it as a strategy for getting ahead.

Rivers-Moore situates her ethnography at the intersections of gender, race, class, and national dimensions in the sex industry. Instead of casting sex workers as hapless victims and sex tourists as neoimperialist racists, she reveals each group as involved in a complicated process of class mobility that must be situated within the sale and purchase of leisure and sex. These interactions operate within an almost entirely unregulated but highly competitive market beyond the reach of the state—bringing a distinctly neoliberal cast to the market. Throughout the book, Rivers-Moore introduces us to remarkable characters—Susan, a mother of two who doesn’t regret her career of sex work; Barry, a teacher and father of two from Virginia who travels to Costa Rica to escape his loveless, sexless marriage; Nancy, a legal assistant in the Department of Labor who is shocked to find out that prostitution is legal and still unregulated. Gringo Gulch is a fascinating and groundbreaking look at sex tourism, Latin America, and the neoliberal state.

front cover of Letters, Kinship, and Social Mobility in Nigeria
Letters, Kinship, and Social Mobility in Nigeria
Olufemi Vaughan
University of Wisconsin Press, 2023
In 2003, Olufemi Vaughan received from his ninety-five-year-old father, Abiodun, a trove of more than three thousand letters written by four generations of his family in Ibadan, Nigeria, between 1926 and 1994. The people who wrote these letters had emerged from the religious, social, and educational institutions established by the Church Missionary Society, the preeminent Anglican mission in the Atlantic Nigerian region following the imposition of British colonial rule. Abiodun, recruited to be a civil servant in the colonial Department of Agriculture, became a leader of a prominent family in Ibadan, the dominant Yoruba city in southern Nigeria. Reading deeply in these letters, Vaughan realized he had a unique set of sources to illuminate everyday life in modern Nigeria.

Letter writing was a dominant form of communication for Western-educated elites in colonial Africa, especially in Nigeria. Exposure to the modern world and a growing sense of nationalism were among the factors that led people to begin exchanging letters, particularly in their interactions with British colonial authorities. Through careful textual analysis and broad contextualization, Vaughan reconstructs dominant storylines, including themes such as kinship, social mobility, Western education, modernity, and elite consolidation in colonial and post-colonial Nigeria. Vaughan brings his prodigious skills as an interdisciplinary scholar to bear on this wealth of information, bringing to life a portrait, at once intimate and expansive, of a community during a transformative period in African history. 

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On Both Sides of the Tracks
Social Mobility in Contemporary French Literature
Morgane Cadieu
University of Chicago Press, 2024
An analysis of social mobility in contemporary French literature that offers a new perspective on figures who move between social classes.

Social climbers have often been the core characters of novels. Their position between traditional tiers in society makes them touchstones for any political and literary moment, including our own. Morgane Cadieu’s study looks at a certain kind of social climber in contemporary French literature whom she calls the parvenant. Taken from the French term parvenu, which refers to one who is newly arrived, a parvenant is a character who shuttles between social groups. A parvenant may become part of a new social class but  devises literary ways to come back, constantly undoing any fixed idea of social affiliation.

Focusing on recent French novels and autobiographies, On Both Sides of the Tracks speaks powerfully to issues of emancipation and class. Cadieu offers a fresh critical look at tales of social mobility in the work of Annie Ernaux, Kaoutar Harchi, Michel Houellebecq, Édouard Louis, and Marie NDiaye, among others, shedding fascinating light on upward mobility today as a formal, literary problem.

front cover of On Social Mobility
On Social Mobility
A Brief History of First-Generation College Students@Michigan: 2007 to 2019
Dwight Lang
Michigan Publishing Services, 2019
In On Social Mobility: A Brief History of First Generation College Students@Michigan: 2007-2019 Dwight Lang examines experiences and conditions of student upward mobility in higher education, in general,  and on one public, selective college campus: The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He documents the origins and growth of an undergraduate group for students who are first in their families to attend and graduate from college. Starting in 2007 we see early years of the group’s establishment in the Department of Sociology. As First-gens@Michigan evolves over the next decade we better understand how a grassroots, student movement helps inspire a university to publicly acknowledge the complexities of social class heritage and diversity. On Social Mobility explores various institutional changes that eventually lead to the establishment of a new student center: First Generation Student Gateway.

Lang describes how working and lower class students openly acknowledge and struggle with challenging experiences on a predominantly middle and upper middle class campus. We appreciate how first generation students are risk takers, boundary crosser, and successful social class immigrants. Resourceful first-gen efforts become the basis of connection and community as students begin their social mobility journeys. Overtime a public story emerges: stories making the invisible visible; stories of courage and persistence; stories of structural changes; a thoughtful student movement that is hard to ignore. We come to better understand the power of shared determination.  

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College, Class, and the Burdens of Social Mobility
Melissa Osborne
University of Chicago Press, 2024
An illuminating look at the emotional costs of mobility faced by first-generation and low-income college students.
While college initiates a major transition in all students’ lives, low-income and first-generation students attending elite schools are often entering entirely new worlds. Amid the financial and academic challenges of adapting to college, their emotional lives, too, undergo a transformation. Surrounded by peers from different classes and cultural backgrounds, they are faced with an impossible choice: turn away from their former lives to blend in or stay true to themselves and remain on the outside.

An ethnography that draws on in-depth interviews with one hundred and fifty first-generation and low-income students across eighteen elite institutions, Polished uncovers the hidden consequences of the promise of social mobility in today’s educational landscape. Sociologist Melissa Osborne reveals how the very support designed to propel first-generation students forward can unexpectedly reshape their identities, often putting them at odds with their peers and families. Without direct institutional support, this emotional journey can lead to alienation, mental health challenges, poor academic outcomes, and difficult choices between upward mobility or maintaining authenticity and community. Whether you're an educator, advocate, or student, Polished provides a powerful perspective on the uncharted challenges of social mobility and personal identity during college.

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Poverty and Progress
Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City
Stephan Thernstrom
Harvard University Press, 1964

Embedded in the consciousness of Americans throughout much of the country’s history has been the American Dream: that every citizen, no matter how humble his beginnings, is free to climb to the top of the social and economic ladder. Poverty and Progress assesses the claims of the American Dream against the actual structure of economic and social opportunities in a typical nineteenth century industrial community—Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Here is local history. With the aid of newspapers, census reports, and local tax, school, and savings bank records Stephan Thernstrom constructs a detailed and vivid portrait of working class life in Newburyport from 1850 to 1880, the critical years in which this old New England town was transformed into a booming industrial city. To determine how many self-made men there really were in the community, he traces the career patterns of hundreds of obscure laborers and their sons over this thirty year period, exploring in depth the differing mobility patterns of native-born and Irish immigrant workmen. Out of this analysis emerges the conclusion that opportunities for occupational mobility were distinctly limited. Common laborers and their sons were rarely able to attain middle class status, although many rose from unskilled to semiskilled or skilled occupations.

But another kind of mobility was widespread. Men who remained in lowly laboring jobs were often strikingly successful in accumulating savings and purchasing homes and a plot of land. As a result, the working class was more easily integrated into the community; a new basis for social stability was produced which offset the disruptive influences that accompanied the first shock of urbanization and industrialization.

Since Newburyport underwent changes common to other American cities, Thernstrom argues, his findings help to illuminate the social history of nineteenth century America and provide a new point of departure for gauging mobility trends in our society today. Correlating the Newburyport evidence with comparable studies of twentieth century cities, he refutes the popular belief that it is now more difficult to rise from the bottom of the social ladder than it was in the idyllic past. The “blocked mobility” theory was proposed by Lloyd Warner in his famous “Yankee City” studies of Newburyport; Thernstrom provides a thorough critique of the “Yankee City” volumes and of the ahistorical style of social research which they embody.


front cover of Recasting Folk in the Himalayas
Recasting Folk in the Himalayas
Indian Music, Media, and Social Mobility
Stefan Fiol
University of Illinois Press, 2017
Colonialist, nationalist, and regionalist ideologies have profoundly influenced folk music and related musical practices among the Garhwali and Kumaoni of Uttarakhand. Stefan Fiol blends historical and ethnographic approaches to unlock these influences and explore a paradox: how the œfolk  designation can alternately identify a universal stage of humanity, or denote alterity and subordination. Fiol explores the lives and work of Gahrwali artists who produce folk music. These musicians create art as both a discursive idea and as a set of expressive practices across strikingly different historical and cultural settings. Juxtaposing performance contexts in Himalayan villages with Delhi recording studios, Fiol shows how the practices have emerged within and between sites of contrasting values and expectations. Throughout, Fiol presents the varying perspectives and complex lives of the upper-caste, upper-class, male performers spearheading the processes of folklorization. But he also charts their resonance with, and collision against, the perspectives of the women and hereditary musicians most affected by the processes. Expertly observed, Recasting Folk in the Himalayas offers an engaging immersion in a little-studied musical milieu.

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Social Mobility in Kerala
Modernity and Identity in Conflict
Filippo Osella and Caroline Osella
Pluto Press, 2000

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