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ARTICLE

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Copyright 2002 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) Vol 3(2): 115148[14661381(200206)3:2;115148;023662]

Burned like a tattoo


High school social categories and American culture
s

Sherry B. Ortner
Columbia University, USA

ABSTRACT

s This article is part of a larger ethnographic and ethnohistorical project on social class in the US, as tracked through the lives of my own high school graduating class, the Class of 58 of Weequahic High School in Newark, New Jersey. In this article I focus on the underlying logic of high school social/prestige categories, and on the durability of those categories over the course of the 20th century. I argue for the centrality of both social class and what Americans call personality in the production and reproduction of those categories. I go on to suggest that the durability of the high school social categories may be explained by the fact that their underlying logic is nothing other than the logic of hegemonic American culture as a whole.

K E Y W O R D S s class, distinction, US high schools, prestige classications, individualism, American culture

I began drafting this article four months after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The shootings left one teacher and 14 students dead, including the 17-year-old gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who committed suicide. The shootings set off a spate of searching public attention to many aspects of the event the easy availability of guns, the responsibility of parents to know what their children are doing, the

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security systems of schools, and the role of the internet in fueling homicidal fantasies, to name a few. But there was one more theme that is specically relevant to the task at hand. It was captured best in a story in the New York Times entitled Two Words Behind the Massacre. The two words were high school. It is hard to overstate the signicance of high school for the American cultural imagination. Peter Applebome, who wrote the New York Times piece, called it something that is burned like a tattoo into the memory bank of most adults (1999: 1). David Denby, writing shortly afterwards in The New Yorker about teen movies, called the leading social gures of the American high school scene a common memory, a collective trauma, or at least a social and erotic fantasy (1999: 94). Camille Paglia described clique formation in high school as a pitiless process (quoted in Applebome, 1999: 4). Japanese ethnographer Keiko Ikeda writes of the hell of the critical gaze of students vis--vis their peers, and quotes among others Frank Zappa and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. on the power of high school in their imaginations. The Vonnegut quote is worth repeating in full:
High school is closer to the core of American experience than anything else I can think of . . . . We have all been there. While there we saw nearly every form of justice and injustice, kindness and meanness, intelligence and stupidity, which we were likely to encounter in later life. Richard Nixon is a familiar type from high school. So is Melvin Laird. So is J. Edgar Hoover. So is General Lewis Hershey. So is everybody. (quoted in Ikeda, 1998: 15)

To all these I can add a few more, picked up in the course of working on this article.
Amiri Baraka: The life of emotion, which is historical, like anything else, gets warped in high school Im certain now. (1997: 41) Anna Quindlen: [writing about the TV show Survivor] . . . the whole thing sounds . . . no scarier than high school. (Although in the last analysis, nothing is scarier than high school). (2001: 74)1

Why is the high school experience tattooed into the memory of so many Americans? The intensity is no doubt overdetermined, but some of the quotes above indicate at least one of the reasons: that social life among the students in the school involves being relentlessly judged and evaluated, day after day. It is Ikedas hell of the critical gaze or, if one is successful in the high school social system, then the pleasure of that gaze that seems to leave such enduring memory traces. The judgmental process in turn is articulated through a set of evaluative social categories the popular kids, the jocks (athletic stars), the nobodies, etc. These categories are the focus of this article. While the

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students tend to think that the categories are based primarily on what Americans call personality individual traits and qualities many social scientists (e.g. Hollingshead, 1949; Gordon, 1957; Eckert, 1989) have argued that they are founded mainly on social class. I argue instead that they cannot be reduced to either the folk emphasis on personality or the objectivist emphasis on class, requiring rather the intersection between the two axes of difference. I go on to discuss the fact that versions of these social categories have been found in most high schools in most parts of the country for virtually the whole of the 20th century, which leads me to suggest a relationship between the deep structure of the categories and the always questionable entity called American culture.2 This particular article is part of a larger ethnographic and ethnohistorical project on social class in the United States, as tracked through the lives of my own high-school graduating class, the Class of 58 of Weequahic High School in Newark, New Jersey. First, then, some background on the various components of the project, and my role as a native ethnographer.

The place and the project Newark, New Jersey is a commercial and port city across the Hudson River from New York City. In the 1950s it had a population of about 500,000, mostly middle and working class. It was very mixed in racial and ethnic terms, with almost every immigrant ethnic group one could imagine, as well as a growing population of African-Americans moving up from the South for work. The city had ve or six public high schools, located in different neighborhoods. For those not familiar with the American educational system, the public high school is indeed public, that is, supported by taxes collected by local authorities and channeled back to the schools. Other than children of elites, who have traditionally gone to private schools, the vast majority of adolescents in the US in the 1950s attended public schools; outside the major urban areas, they still do.3 The schools usually have a four-year curriculum, which consists of a mix of academic and practical/vocational courses, the relative weight of the academic or vocational side being related to the class mix of the student population in a given school the more middle class, the more academic the school, the more working class, the more vocational. In addition, high schools have always had enormous numbers of so-called extra-curricular activities, including a variety of clubs, the school newspaper, debating societies, and so forth. They also had, and have, teams for virtually every sport, which compete against teams from other nearby high schools. Sports are very central to the life and the identity of most schools (but not all, as we shall see).

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The site of this study, Weequahic High School, is located in what was then a mostly middle-class neighborhood in the southwest corner of Newark (see Figure 1). The name of the school, pronounced Wee-QUAYic or, when spoken rapidly, Week-wake, is taken from the Native American group called Weequahic that inhabited the area when the rst European settlers arrived, part of the larger Lenape tribal group that occupied parts of New York and Pennsylvania as well (Kraft, 1986). The population for the study is, as noted, my graduating class, the Class of 58, which I dene as including everyone who appeared in the yearbook, plus one member of the class who left early and whose picture did not appear. This is a total of 304 people. The project involved, rst of all, nding as many members as possible of the Class of 58, a fascinating process of detective work which I have described elsewhere (Ortner, n.d.a). When I began the project in the early 1990s, 14 people were known to have died. This left a total of 290 people who were potentially discoverable. Of these I found all but about 40, which left 250 possible subjects for the project. Of these, 50 or so refused to participate, leaving about 200 participants. I rst mailed out questionnaires, and wound up with 200+ completed questionnaires (the + comes from the fact

Figure 1 Map of southwest Newark, New Jersey (USA), showing Weequahic High school between the Hillside border and Newark Airport. The New Jersey Turnpike and Port Newark are to the east of the airport, and New York City is to the northeast.

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that I was able to ll in questionnaires on some of the non-participants from other sources of information). I then traveled around the country and interviewed about 100 of these people in depth.4 I spoke to most of the remaining 100 on the phone, more briey, but still enough to learn something more about their lives than simple demographic data. Initially I had a lot of trepidation about doing the project as, not immune to the memory-tattoos noted earlier, I had very mixed feelings about high school and the class/cultural milieu I felt I had escaped from. Yet I quickly found myself fascinated by the diversity of peoples lives, and drawn in at a personal level by peoples graciousness and openness. Many people were initially guarded in the interviews, for a wide variety of reasons: my level of success; discomfort with the interviewee role, especially in relation to someone with whom they had a shared history; concern that information would get around within a social world to which many still had some connection, either in practice or in their imaginations. Yet most people also very quickly opened up, telling fascinating stories and saying amazing things, conrming for me once again both the pleasure and the power of ethnography. (For more on the eldwork, see Ortner, 1997.) Some brief demographics on the Class of 58 (hereafter occasionally C58) now follow. The gender composition of the class at graduation was 48 per cent men and 52 per cent women. The racial/ethnic composition of the class was 82 per cent white/Jewish, 6 per cent African-American, and 11 per cent from an assortment of other groups (including one person of unknown ethnicity). The striking thing about these gures is of course the radical ethnic imbalance. Weequahic appears to all intents and purposes as a Jewish school, which immediately raises the question of the representativeness of the study. Although this article as a whole is largely concerned with capturing the logic of the high school social taxonomy, one of the rather satisfying (to me) payoffs of the analysis will be to resolve/dissolve the problem of representativeness in the course of the analysis. Finally, with respect to the class composition of the Class of 58, the class at graduation would be described by most ordinary observers as basically middle class. But this is only because the American folk conception of the middle class includes all but the extremely rich and the extremely poor. In fact, there was quite wide socio-economic variation at Weequahic, in terms of both income (from very comfortable a native category to very poor), and occupation (from a substantial business-professional class that included educated professionals and successful owners of large businesses to an equally substantial class of manual laborers). Using parents (usually fathers) occupations as the simplest and most accessible markers, and using the American folk model of a three-tier class system (upper, middle, and lower), the class composition of the natal families of the Class of 58 falls out as follows (known N = 205):

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s s s

Business/professional class (BPC)5: 55 individuals, or 27 per cent Middle class: 92 individuals, or 45 per cent Working class: 58 individuals, or 28 per cent

I realize that there are all sorts of contestable elements in this table, most of which derive from the ways in which it erases the conictual nature of class in the Marxist sense. I tackle these issues at greater length in the book (Ortner, n.d.a). For now, however, the main point of providing the table is to give some specicity to the point that there was signicant range of both income- and occupationally-dened class in the Class of 58, variation that forms the real backdrop to the conceptual ordering of the high school social universe.6

Memories and categories To return to the intense feelings that high school provokes for many, even most, Americans, Weequahic was no different in this respect. One of my stock questions in the interviews was how people felt about Weequahic. A small number of people could not remember having had strong feelings one way or the other. The vast majority, however, had very strong feelings indeed, pro or con. In order to convey not only the substance but the tone and texture of peoples views, I employ here a representational strategy that I discuss more fully elsewhere (Ortner, n.d.b.) under the rubric of critical documentary ethnography. This approach involves presenting, with little commentary from me, long strings of quotes from field notes or transcripts of interviews. (There are actually many more than those presented here that would support my points; I have had to restrain myself owing to space constraints.) Many of the quotes are individually powerful and striking, but in addition, by being piled up in this way, they resonate with and compound one another. First, then, the negative feelings about Weequahic:
Derek Goethe:7 [from the eld notes] He said he emphatically does not want to participate in the project, he feels no connection to Weequahic, he went to a reunion and it was all the same bullshit, all the clicks [the native pronunciation of cliques], making him feel uncomfortable. Susan Kleinman: I hated it, simple, I hated it. I couldnt get away from it fast enough. I was not one of the people who enjoyed the whole situation, I dont think the education was so wonderful or what it could be. Lila Lohman: I had a lot of difculties in Weequahic because I was made fun of because I was so heavy . . . Terrible, terrible experiences.8

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Michael Feldman: I think it was one of the most painful times of my life . . . I felt socially isolated, well, except when I was doing sports, but I felt out of it, inferior, and it was a horrible, horrible time. Alan Kaduck: I wasnt comfortable there. . . . It wasnt a great experience for me. Judith Cherny: It was awful. I never have known [such] a bunch of snobs in my entire life.
Linda Kirschner: Im really the wrong person to ask about high school since I count those three years as the worst of my life. Stuart Marcus: I am really glad you are doing this [study] since I had such a crappy existence in high school.

But although many people hated it, even more peoples responses ranged from quite positive to totally ecstatic:
William Smallwood: Weequahic was the best thing that ever happened to me. Marcia Schaefer: I thought it was probably the best high school to go to in America. Helaine Barish: I think it was so terric and so complete that everybody took it for granted. Francine Rosenblatt: Weequahic High School was wonderful for me. . . . Weequahic was a family, it wasnt a school. . . . Weequahic was a state of mind; it was not a school. . . . Did I love Weequahic? Yes. Charles Lurie: I really thought it was great. Arthur Mayers: Weequahic was an experience that probably most people will never be able to understand what we had when we had it. Educationally, socially, athletically, I mean it was just an outstanding high school with an outstanding group of teachers. . . . The remembrance of high school for me was fantastic. I just think its something that can never be duplicated again. Robert Schimmer: I look back on it now as the greatest time in my life, because I have a lot of nostalgia for that time. Judith Gordon: I loved Weequahic. Yeah, I had a great high school era. . . . It was just fun. It was really fun. Larry Kuperman: My high school years were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

Needless to say, these kinds of strong feelings are not randomly distributed. Rather they are closely tied to ones position in the high school social system. (When I say high school social system, I mean the peer system

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among the students. In this context, the educational functions of the school, and relationships with teachers, are simply a kind of backdrop for the students social dramas.) Although in reality this system is a habitus in the fullest sense, that is, a lived world of dispositions, practices, and relations (hence of course all the emotional intensity), in the present article I look only at its conceptual underpinnings, the system of social categories through which students evaluate themselves and others. The labels for the categories vary from school to school, but the basic types remain surprisingly constant. There are the popular kids, often the class ofcers; the athletic stars or jocks; the cheerleaders and twirlers, who perform at the sporting events and are the female counterparts of the jocks; the nerds, geeks, and eggheads, terms for socially awkward (but sometimes very smart) students; the hoods, druggies, and burnouts the most alienated students; the prom queens (beautiful/popular girls) on the one hand and the sluts (supposedly sexually promiscuous girls) on the other; the average citizens and the nobodies, whose main distinction is that they do not t into the high or low categories and are rarely noticed by those above them (see Figures 26) (Palonsky, 1975; Schwartz and Merten, 1975; Varenne, 1982; Canaan, 1986; Eckert, 1989; Chang, 1992). What is by now striking about this system is its extraordinary durability. The system as we know it seems to have begun to take shape early in the 20th century.9 It remains remarkably consistent throughout the century,10 for different parts of the country and different ethnic mixes. US public high schools have gone through major transformations and continue to do so, in relation to changes in larger American congurations of class and race; nonetheless, for many schools and many parts of the country, some version of this often cruel system of categories is still in operation. The high school jocks and freaks, the cheerleaders and sluts, the popular kids and the nobodies keep coming, year after year. How can we understand this? I will suggest that the system of high school social categories is built upon a structure in more or less the old-fashioned Lvi-Straussian (e.g. 1966) sense. This is to say that it is based on an underlying logic which, however much the visible shapes of social life have changed in the past century, and especially since the Second World War, nonetheless continues and endures like the underlying grammar of a language. The structure is composed of two cross-cutting axes, one of which is a version of class (including a variety of kinds of capital), and one of which is a version of individual qualities or, in the common parlance, personality. Before getting to an examination of the underlying structure, however, there are several questions that have to do with the actors point of view, that is, the point of view of the Class of 58 during the high school years. I have argued elsewhere that social class is largely unacknowledged or actively denied in many contexts of American self-representation.11 The rst question, then,

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Figure 2 Some popular kids. The ofcers of the graduating Class of 58, from the graduation yearbook.

Figure 3 One each of the jocks, twirlers, and cheerleaders of the Class of 58, from the graduation yearbook.

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Figure 4 Some eggheads. The Math Team of the Class of 58, from the graduation yearbook.

Figure 5 Some ordinary citizens. Some members of the Prom (Senior Formal Dance) Committees of the Class of 58, from the graduation yearbook.

is whether the Class of 58 recognized any sort of class factor at all. The second is, if they did recognize the operation of a class factor, how did they see it or understand it? In order to answer these questions, and before coming back to the system as a whole, I must make a rather long detour through the question of whether and how the Class of 58 did or did not see class.

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Figure 6 Some guys in the style of hoods, ca. 195354, from the albums of the author. The lower left hand photo shows a local girls custom of the era, adding captions clipped from newspapers and magazines to photos.

Reading class One of my other stock questions was whether people remembered class or social divisions at Weequahic. A number of people either denied the presence of class, denied its signicance, changed it into something else, or were simply puzzled by my question. Here is a mixed set of these kinds of answers:

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Walter Markowitz: Money didnt mean anything in high school, everybody was equal. Joseph Finkel: None of us were rich . . . we all pretty much had the same economic standing, and I never thought about it at all. Not at all. Larry Goldman: [sbo: Did you remember class divisions in high school?] Well, only between us and the Gentiles. And anyway, they werent so different from us, most of them hung out with Jewish kids. Robert Schimmer: [sbo: We were talking about social classes in high school.] At Weequahic High School? Were there many social classes at Weequahic High School? Lewis Friedland: [from the eld notes] He said that he didnt feel any social barriers between different groups. He himself was friendly with everyone. He was even friendly with the hoods, the guys who hung out in front of Sids [the hot dog place across the street from the school]. James Altschuler: [from the eld notes] He was not conscious of social divisions in high school. He was too busy working in his fathers store.

Yet at another level, class was read all the time. For many social scientists and persons in the street, the simplest marker of class is occupation. But as kids and even as teenagers C58 classmates did not seem to know much about what each others parents did for a living; if they did, they did not really use that information to classify each other. Class-by-occupation came up in the context of only one interview. The student was talking about an American History class, in which the teacher, Mrs Sadie Rous (her real name), was actually teaching about the class structure of the US:
Franklin Bodnar: [whose father was an auto mechanic] We were talking about socio-economic things [in class] and that was one of the biggest turnoffs in high school. [sbo: Somebody said something to you?] Yes, in the class, as a comment. . . . Something about, Oh, blue collar? And somebody said, Did [your father] ever get out of elementary school?

Similarly, interviewees rarely invoked the interior furnishings of houses. Although C58 kids did of course enter each others homes, to a great extent their lives with each other took place in public spaces: the high school itself; its surrounding playgrounds, lawns, and playing elds; the wider neighborhood of parks, stores, Dairy Queens, and the like. The insides of homes, their furnishings and goods, not to mention the lifestyles of classmates parents and siblings, were largely outside the students knowledge. At this level, then, students rarely had an idea of one anothers resources except in cases of obvious wealth or obvious poverty. For example, one of the major

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dividers between high- and low-capital families was whether they rented or owned their own homes, but this was invisible to outsiders. Of necessity, then, reading class involved drawing on a variety of more public indicators. One of the major, if not the major, markers of class difference for many classmates was geographic location. There was rst of all an awareness of the difference between students at Weequahic, still in Newark, and students whose families had moved to the suburbs. Here are two of several quotes about this:
Dorene Bressler: The people at Columbia High School, which was in the suburbs where the people who had money lived, were of a different social class than I was, and I felt inferior to them. And I remember once in chem[istry] lab with Charles Rosenberg talking about how he went up to Columbia to date some girls and how much better they were than we were.12 Louis Spiegel: The Weequahic people kinda thought that the people who lived in South Orange and Maplewood and West Orange, that these were the rich people. We used to take drives to Wyoming Avenue [in South Orange] during Christmas season and look at the lights and say, Boy, these are rich people.

More immediately relevant were the more local variations where one lived within the larger Weequahic neighborhood and what grammar school one went to. (Again, for those unfamiliar with the American system, grammar or elementary schools usually comprise grades 1 through 8. They are smaller than the high schools and based in sub-neighborhoods that together compose a larger high school district. There were ve grammar schools within the Weequahic district.) The grammar schools and their related sub-neighborhoods formed a very extensively used code for reading and expressing class differences within the Weequahic section. Here are several from a longer set of quotes along those lines:
Lynn Marans: [from the eld notes] First thing she said was how cliquey high school was. She went to Bragaw [one of the lower status grammar schools] and denitely felt left out of certain groups. . . . In retrospect she realized there was an economic difference between the groups although at the time she wasnt aware of it. Jerome Kriegsfeld: I grew up actually where Clinton Hill is so it was out of [the core Weequahic] neighborhood. I always envied those that grew up there because that was the crme de la crme, and I wasnt really in that area. [sbo: Yeah, a lot of people had that feeling, like they were on the fringe.] I was on the fringe, yeah. All right, look, thats reality. Aaron Martin: Coming from Bragaw you know we were always concerned about the other people, the people from Chancellor [Ave School], Maple [Ave School], etc. . . . I think as a group we were the quieter, more fearful . . .

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people. . . . We were just that much behind. . . . It took a lot of years to get past that. Meredith Siegel: The kids that came from Maple and Chancellor denitely were perceived as the 90210 [the posh section of Beverly Hills] of television. . . . When you said Louise Goldstein and Ira Traubman, she is perceived in my mind 40 years later as Chancellor, and he is perceived as something else, a nice regular guy. Judith Cherny: There were them that has and them that didnt . . . You know, there were the ones [that lived on certain streets] . . . I just found that they were the in-groups, and if you were from money at that time, I mean, there were ones that went and did, and other ones that couldnt. Paula Friedlander: [from the eld notes] And then there was a real difference, she said, between the kids who went to Maple/Chancellor and the kids who went to the other grammar schools, she was very conscious of it when she went to junior high school, where these other kids came in. Even though they were Jewish, there were subtle differences between them and us.

Weequahic High Schools most famous alumnus, novelist Philip Roth, also went to Chancellor Ave School. In Operation Shylock he memorializes it by having a character (the other Philip Roth) show how much he knows about the real Philip Roth by invoking Chancellor Ave School: But it goes back, Philip, all the way back to Chancellor Ave School (1993: 183). The character then sings a fragment of the school song. And here I make the required confession: I came from a BPC (Business Professional Class) family and went to Chancellor too. But there were other ways of reading class. Some classmates read the differences at least partly in racial and ethnic terms. Recall Larry Goldman above who answered the question about class divisions as only between us and the Gentiles. Here are two other examples, both of which slide back and forth between class and race/ethnicity:
Gloria Traberman: [from eld notes] Gloria said she felt underclass in high school, not as much as the Christian kids or black kids, but compared to the rich kids, I never even felt white. Robert Schimmer: There were some kids who came from families with more money. . . . And there were some kids, most of the kids, I guess they came from families, uh, middle class, whatever you want to call that. And there were some kids who were less fortunate, they were nice kids. And then there were the black kids in the class, I always assumed [they] came from poorer families, because lets face it, that was a fact in those days.

Next, there were consumer goods. For girls, this category largely focused

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on clothes. And within the category of clothes in the 1950s, cashmere sweaters were virtually iconic of wealth:13 Edith Fromkin: It was hard to go to a school where they wore cashmere sweaters on a regular basis, instead of to a party or something. Jacqueline Golum: Well, in Weequahic I certainly wasnt a have-not, but certainly wasnt a have. [And there were certain girls] and they always had cashmere sweaters and whatever. Susan Kleinman: How much did I have in common with those kids? I wasnt interested in charm bracelets and cashmere sweaters. Susan Wolkstein: Weequahic was a very materialistic group, and I didnt t in, I knew I didnt t in. And that was hard. And I remember, Joan Rubin and I were good friends, we were friends for a long while until she died. And, lots of times we would sort of laugh, you know, the . . . cashmere sweaters that we didnt have, and the others had, and whatever. . . . Her thing [was], dont be Weequahic-ish. . . . You dont want to be Weequahic-ish, thats not a good [attitude]. Boys occasionally talked about clothes as well, but the markers of wealth were more variable. In the following case consumer goods (a new car) and other things that were only affordable by the well-off (here, a maid) are wrapped within a story of more general class slights: Franklin Bodnar: [Roger and I] went in jointly on a [project] for [extra credit in a science class]. [But] it was getting to be nice weather and he decided, well, I could buy all the equipment to build all this stuff. He left me alone in his basement and he said, Why dont you nish it up, Franklin. Ill give you all the money. And he came from a fairly well-to-do household, and to add insult to injury, one gal who I really always wanted to ask out for a date. . . . is the one he took out in his brand new car at that time. And you know, I come to his house, the maid answered the door and she says, Oh, Rogers gone; he says go work in the basement. And nally for some, both boys and girls, it was just plain money:
Michael Brown: [from eld notes] He said he felt pretty much of an outsider at Weequahic . . . there were lots of cliques and he didnt have the nancial means to t in. Thelma Heller: I think economically [my parents] were on the lower end of the economic scale which I was very sensitive to, all the years I was growing up. I think it made a difference . . . it made a difference. Dorene Bressler: There are a lot of denitions of social class, maybe . . . but growing up, it was how much money you had.

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Davita Reingold: Weequahic was a very cliqueish place to be. [sbo: Did you feel it was cliqueish in terms of money, or just . . . ?] Oh, money! Money. Money was a big issue.

Why is class more visible to some than to others? First, most of those to whom class was not just visible but almost tangible were from the lower end of the economic spectrum. Looking up from below, it was often very visible indeed.14 At the same time, people from higher class positions occasionally noticed class differences and/or their own privilege for a variety of reasons: snobbery at one end (e.g. one woman kept talking about people who were just very ne), left politics on the other (e.g. the American History teacher, Mrs Rous). And nally, a very common factor in a heightened awareness of class came from either physically moving into the neighborhood from another place, or from the experience of a decline of fortune in the family:15
Meredith Siegel: I started out living on Chancellor Ave, and started school at Maple [a high end school]. And when I was in third grade we moved to Bragaw . . . I remember very well walking down the street with Tamara Silberman . . . and somebody saying to her in front of my house, Are you slumming? Claire Adelsohn: [from eld notes] She said going to Weequahic was a huge shock, in the sense that although where she grew up everyone owned their own home and seemed to be comfortable, nonetheless when she got to Weequahic she denitely felt shut out, people had a lot more money and looked down their noses at her. Milton Bernstein: [from the eld notes] I think the reason [the economic differences implied by different grammar schools] was particularly meaningful to Milton was because he moved from one of those other grammar school districts to Chancellor in 5th grade or so.

In sum, we have seen throughout this section how any political language of class, or even any reference to labor/occupation, is virtually absent from the native discourse. Instead there is, as Bourdieu (1984) has stressed, a language of distinction, drawing on codes from the everyday world: clothing, streets, neighborhoods, grammar schools, money. Yet to emphasize these things is not to fall into an exclusively consumerist, and uncritical, reading of class. Rather, consumption must always be seen as the visible surface of capitalism, the conversion point between objectivist (etic) plotting of class locations and relations, and subjective (emic) perceptions of economic difference that are experienced and acted upon in peoples everyday lives. It should be noted that many classmates tended to treat class differences

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as a binary phenomenon: the haves and have-nots, them that went and did and others that couldnt, or when translated into ethnicity us and the Gentiles. Even the grammar school code tended to operate in a binary manner: the Chancellor/Maple crowd and everyone else. In fact, I would suggest that, despite the culturally dominant tripartite model of class upper/middle/lower the binary model is actually the way in which class often acts as a conceptual structure: for most purposes the socio-economic universe divides fairly commonsensically into a binary haves/have-nots opposition. Thus, as we return to the structure of the high school social categories, this is the way in which I will use it for one of the axes: as a simple binary opposition between high(er) and low(er) capital.

Deconstructing high school Returning to the categories of high school, I will argue that there is an underlying logic which both holds them together and plays a role in their striking durability. I will represent their interrelationship as a table with the left axis dened by class in the simple binary sense of more/less capital, and the horizontal axis by what I term personality. Personality is a broad category that applies to both sexes, and that includes most prominently an engaging and/or charismatic social style. It also includes, for both boys and girls, looks or physical attractiveness. And nally, particularly for boys, it includes some minimal level (and preferably more) of athletic ability. Individual personality the fact that a person is socially engaging, personally attractive, and physically talented is seen as the absolutely fundamental condition for achieving what is for most students the ultimate social goal in high school, popularity. Like class, personality can be treated as having two poles. For reasons that will shortly become clear, the poles seem best summarized by the contrast between wild and tame. The wild/tame distinction can refer to the question of submissiveness or resistance to authority, which is its most explicit youth culture reference. But it carries other references as well: dress and demeanor, active sexuality, and more. The basic structure, before lling in its content, looks like this:

Personality Wild Class More capital Less capital Tame

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Class includes material resources, as well as less tangible assets Bourdieus cultural or symbolic capital (1978, 1990), as well as something I have elsewhere (Ortner, n.d.b.) discussed as emotional capital that stand in for, or augment, or are convertible into, material capital. It is the more objective axis of the table, but the important inclusion of non-material forms of capital renders it something broader than money and objects.16 Personality is a more complex mix of the relatively objective and the culturally constructed. On the one hand some people really are, within a particular cultural and historical context, more charming, nice, athletically gifted, beautiful, smart, etc. than others. On the other hand these qualities are culturally constructed in at least two major senses. One is the obvious cultural-relativism point just indicated: that what counts as beautiful, charming, etc. is culturally and historically variable. Even being smart perhaps with the kind of brilliance that gets one into the very best colleges today may have different meanings and implications in different times and places. The second point is that most of these qualities can be cultivated constructed in the more literal sense if one has the right amounts and kinds of capital: looks can be xed, clothes can be bought, athletic skills can be trained, test skills can be honed, etc. Related to these points is that even perception itself is a function not of the reality out there but of ones own internalized cultural lenses. A popular boy or girl seems good looking, even if he or she is, by other criteria, plain. And nally, there is the intersection of the two axes. All the qualities pulled together under the rubric of personality are in theory the qualities that help one beat (or not) the forces of class, the forces of ones material and cultural background. In the sociologese of Talcott Parsons, the personal qualities of the individual may have a genuinely assortative function (1959: 315).17 Looks, brains, or charm may put one in the upper half of the table even if one is from a low capital background. Yet although this is partly true, which is why class determinism is always partly false, one has to guard against the folk view that personal qualities in and of themselves have power on their own, that is, apart from capital. Not only are looks and brains buyable, as it were, but there is also a sense in which coming from a highor low-capital background provides or fails to provide (in current jargon) self-esteem, thus enabling or disabling things such as outgoingness, friendliness, and charisma the stuff of popularity. I do not want to push this point too far and risk collapsing individual personality variation back into class, but it is important to maintain a sense of their interplay at all times. If there is such a thing as American culture, it is precisely the enduring tension between these two dimensions. Finally, then, we are in a position to see how the intersection of these two axes produces the native social categories of the more or less generic

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American high school. The categories within each box are not meant to be ranked, but are equivalents or historical variants of one another:
Personality Wild More capital Class Popular kids Class ofcers Less capital Ordinary citizens Eggheads (nerds) Hoods/sluts Smokers/burnouts Tame Jocks/cheerleaders

This is a classic four-fold table. It shows the way in which the main high school categories are produced out of the intersection of class differences (more/less capital of various kinds) and personality differences (more/less submissive to authority, i.e. more/less tame). The four boxes represent the four possible combinations of these differences, although a few caveats must immediately be entered here. First, as Herv Varenne (1982, 1983) in particular has stressed, the categories are dened in large part from the point of view of the people at the top: nerds and hoods and their related terms are pejorative labels that are projected on others from a position of would-be superiority.18 Second, one must always recall that the types represented in the boxes are precisely types. Very few individual students fully t the descriptions. But the social types are important in that they structure the symbolic universe within which everyone must operate. And nally, it must be acknowledged that the boundaries are not hard and fast, and some have a tendency to bleed into one another. This is not just a matter of saying that the students often evade or cross over the categories in practice, though that is true too. It is a matter of saying that the cultural assumptions do not always divide up so cleanly. In particular, the dominance of athletics in most American public high schools means that, in many schools, even the category of popular guys and class ofcers may include a signicant component of athletic prowess. At this point, then, let me expand a bit further on the signicance of the terminologies in the four boxes. The discussion here refers to the general structure as it is found across many high schools in the US. I will return to the specic Weequahic version of it later in the article. The upper left hand box (high capital/tame) represents what I have been calling the popular kids. Students with more capital who have parents with more money or more education, or some other sort of sophisticated background who are at the same time relatively compliant with authority occupy this box. They tend to be the kids who are widely liked and/or

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admired (at least within certain circles), who generally have good (or goodenough) grades, and who occupy most of the class ofces and seats on the student council. Different terms for the kids in this category reect different aspects of their overall positionality. At the midwestern high school studied by Hollingshead in the 1940s, they were the elites, a term that covers both their high capital and their high prestige in the system. Hollingshead emphasizes the students leadership but also conformity (1949: 22). At another midwestern high school, this one studied by Gordon in the 1950s, the kids in this category were the big wheels, which presumably has to do with the idea that everything rotates around them, that they are (or think they are) the center of the high school universe. Gordons big wheels have a large component of athletic stardom, but he too makes clear that these students exhibit conformity to variously approved patterns of behavior (1957: 22). Penelope Eckerts popular boys are actually called jocks (athletes, athletic stars), because the jock model was so dominant in the again midwestern high school she studied in the 1970s. Despite the term, however, it was possible for a guy to be very popular, to be a jock in that school, without being an athlete; his main characteristics were that he conformed to the ideal of the squeaky-clean, all-American individual . . . [he] embodied an attitude an acceptance of the school and its institutions as an all-encompassing social context, and an unagging enthusiasm and energy for working within those institutions (1989: 3). In all of these cases, what is clear is what I am calling the tameness of the type in this category, the relative conformity, the willingness and even eagerness to work within the rules, as the means of achieving the highest prestige levels. Not surprisingly given the folk de-emphasis of class, the high capital that underlies these categories is often invisible in the terminology, although it was ambiguously present in Hollingsheads elites, and also shows up in the socies, short for socialites, the term for the most popular kids in a high school, again in the Midwest, studied by Schwartz and Merten in the 1960s (1967, 1975). The upper right hand box (high capital/wild) is the space of the jocks. These students appear to be here almost entirely because of athletic ability and personality, but the situation is more complex than that. At least some of the jocks, the ones who become captains and stars, tend to come from higher capital families; their leadership and stardom come as much I would argue from the self-condence of their backgrounds as from their athletic abilities. The box is also particularly open to upward mobility, as guys from working class families and/or racial minorities who have the requisite physical skills are able to make the team. Nonetheless, these boys would not necessarily be jocks, because jocks are not merely athletes but stars, another kind of popular guy.

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Unlike the class ofcer/popular guy type, however, jocks are popular not because of their relative social tameness, but precisely because of their relative wildness, their physicality and their sexuality. Jock wildness is primarily reected in their athletic strength, skills, and prowess, and in the case of more violent sports, their aggressive participation in that violence. But there is always also a connotation of heightened sexuality, as reected in athletic uniforms/costumes which usually exaggerate their masculine body forms, or exhibit a lot of esh, or both. This sexuality is also partly embodied in the term jock itself. I am not sure of the historical derivation of the term, but at some point the athletic supporter, the undergarment worn by athletes to protect/support their genitals, became known as a jockstrap, and since that time there has been an inescapable sexual connotation to the very word jock. Finally, Douglas Foley captures an even wider range of wild connotations in some of the terms for jocks at the Texas high school he studied in the 1970s: studs (which primarily has a sexual connotation), as well as animals, bulls, and gorillas. Here, wildness includes not only a fearless physicality in sports, and a cool sexuality with girls but, as bulls or gorillas, an almost literal wildness, in the sense of being untamable, undomesticated, uncontrollable (1990: 523). Moving to the lower left hand box (less capital/tame), its central type is what I am calling the ordinary citizens, who probably make up the majority of students at any standard US high school. (Hollingshead said they made up two-thirds of the student body at Elmtown High [1949: 221].) The general feature of those in this box is that they tend to come from lower capital families and they are also relatively meek in personal style and behavior. At Elmtown High in the 1940s, they were called the good kids. Hollingshead brings out their tameness: They come to school, do their work, but do not distinguish themselves with glory or notoriety (1949: 221). He also indicates that they come mostly from middle and lower-middle class families (1949: 222). But in many schools there is no term for the ordinary citizens. They are, as Hollingshead also says, never this or never that (1949: 221); they are not popular in either the class ofcer or the jock mode, nor are they oppositional like the hoods and greasers, about whom more in a moment. Eckert sometimes heard them called the in-betweens (1989: 6); in the school Schwartz and Merten studied, there was a kind of non-category called the others, which the authors also called the conventionals (1975: 201). This box also contains what were called in the 1950s the eggheads or the brain trust, and would today be called the nerds and geeks.19 All these terms refer to very brainy but socially awkward boys, and here the terms refer to their tameness not only in the sense of school conformity, but to a kind of (projected) asexuality. The classic nerd is visualized through metonyms that

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say, all mind and no body: . . . that kid . . . with the high water pants, the vinyl pencil holder in his shirt pocket, the tortoise shell glasses with the tape around the bridge. . . . (Ikeda, 1998: 16). Finally, there is the lower right hand box (less capital/wild). These are the students who exhibit bad behavior, bad dress, and bad attitudes. Their position in this box, like the position of the jocks, appears to be based entirely on their behavior and attitudes, but in fact they are often from low capital family backgrounds. Eckert captures both the class background and the wild style among the burnouts at the school she studied in the 1980s: In the early 1980s, the stereotypic Belten High Burnout came from a working class home, enrolled primarily in general and vocational courses, smoked tobacco and pot, took chemicals, drank beer and hard liquor, skipped classes, and may have had occasional run-ins with the police. (Eckert, 1989: 3) Other schools at other times had other terminologies. At the school Hollingshead studied in the 1940s, they were called the grubbies. The term calls attention to their appearance (they are not believed to be clean personally) but they were also trouble makers who have no interest in school affairs (1949: 221). In the 1950s and 1960s they were mostly called hoods or greasers (Schwartz and Merten, 1975: 200). The hood term has gangster associations,20 while the greaser term has pejorative ethnic connotations, referring primarily to Italian- or Hispanic-Americans who were seen as using a lot of hair oil, or being unwashed, or both. The terminology starts to evolve with the counterculture in the 1970s, so that the oppositional types become dened by drug use (Eckerts burnouts, Palonskys hempies) or the all-purpose word for weird-dressing (from the point of view of the dominant groups) countercultural types of that era, freaks (Varenne, 1982, 1983: 246 ff.). Despite the evolution of the terminology, however, the general characteristics of the type in this box remain the same wild in terms of both school opposition and (real or imagined) heightened sexuality; and modally lower- or working-class backgrounds.21 Each box also has a female counterpart of the male type. Among the popular kids in the upper left hand box, the girls, like the boys, tend to come from high capital families and to be respectful of parents and teachers. Here we have Schwartz and Mertens socies, and Gordons Yearbook Queens and their courts (Gordon, 1957: 22), but often the girls are simply the popular girls. In the jock box, the female counterparts in many schools are simply the twirlers and cheerleaders (there were virtually no female sports in the 1950s).22 The twirlers and cheerleaders, like the (upper) male jocks, tend to come from higher capital families; like male jocks they are popular in a wild style, especially in terms of body-revealing costumes and movements when they are performing their activities, but also a more generalized

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style of sexual attractiveness in dress and demeanor. Moving to the lower half of the table, both boxes are dened by relatively low capital, but again we have the wild/tame distinction. In the egghead/average citizen box, the female side consists to a great extent of the studious and/or mousy young woman, who is a good citizen of the school but is seen as relatively asexual. In contrast, the female side of the hoods box contains those dreaded female counterparts of the hoods, the sluts. Sluts as types are the virtual embodiments of sexual promiscuity; they are the negative type against which all good girls dene themselves (Schwartz and Merten, 1975; Canaan, 1986). Having put this chart together, we must immediately take it at least partly apart. In the rst place, once again, the categories in each box are social types, symbolic gures with a set of attributes which very few individuals might actually match exactly, or even at all. Some class ofcers may have been from poorer families, some hoods may be dropouts from high capital families, and so forth. At the same time, many of the characteristics may not even be real the jocks may not be getting much sex, but they like to boast about it; the sluttiness of young women in the lower right hand box is largely a gment of classist and sexist imaginings (see especially Canaan, 1986), and so forth. So to repeat: this is a symbolic system. Second, as noted earlier, there may be a lot of blurring of the boundaries between boxes. As we have seen, in some schools, or in some years, the jocks and the class ofcers may overlap considerably; in others the class ofcers and the nerds may overlap; in others the jocks and the hoods. While a blurring of the boundary across the lower half of the table, between the nerds and the hoods, is probably the rarest combination, one notes a certain character type that crops up with some regularity in 1950s US lms, the nerdy hanger-on to the hoody gang. Third, there may be people, or whole categories of people, who have a very ambiguous relationship to the whole system. Some of the AfricanAmerican students in the Class of 58 felt completely outside the system; the same was true of some of the very poor white students, who attended the school but who left immediately after school every day for what amounted to full-time jobs, and barely participated in anything, either social or academic. These were truly, from the point of view of those inside the system, the nobodies. Finally, it is probably worth repeating that to say there is a structure is to say nothing about the ways in which students actually live it. On the one hand, the structure is certainly constraining; otherwise it would not have the emotional power and temporal durability it does. Thus people nd themselves conforming to it even if they hate it, as many do. At the same time, the real practices of students at every level and in every category are enormously complex and often quite creative. That, however, is a separate question and a separate article.

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Permutations of the structure Even though I am suggesting that most high schools over the past half century or more have had some version of this structure (see notes 9 and 10), this does not mean that all high schools have been alike. On the contrary, the character of different schools will vary enormously depending on which social type is the dominant type in the local school culture, or, in more contemporary jargon, which type rules. Probably the most common conguration in the standard (that is, mostly white, working to middle class) American public high school is for the jock box to be very large and inuential, for jocks to rule (see, for example, Henry, 1965; Eckert, 1989; Foley, 1990). The rule of jocks (or of any single type) affects the character of all the other categories. Jocks may overow the boundaries of their box in many ways they may ood the class ofcer/popular student category, producing complex hybrids of conformity and wildness. The jocking of the whole upper layer of the structure in turn tends to exacerbate the differences between the jocks and the nerds, and to make nerd-baiting into a local sport. Indeed the whole idea of nerds in the negative (as opposed to brainy) sense is almost certainly a jock invention, the jock view of non-dominant men. For a horrendous example of a jocks-rule conguration, I refer the reader to Bernard Lefkowitzs brilliant book, Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb (1998). This is an account of the student culture behind the group sexual assault of a retarded girl at Glen Ridge High School, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, not far from Newark. Lefkowitz draws a chilling portrait of a school, and indeed a community, in which violent, out-of-control behavior on the part of boys from good families was condoned and indeed encouraged in the name of the enormous importance of sports in the school, and a related, highly macho, construction of masculinity. Lefkowitz also makes visible the impact of jock rule on all the other social types. Cheerleader girls enacted the worst travesties of unself-respecting femininity. They pandered to the jock boys at the personal level; in addition there were school rituals and events in which the ofcial role of the girls was to cater to and celebrate the boys and their athletic prowess (even when the boys teams were not in fact winning very much, or when individual boys were not performing very well). At the same time, to be outside this glorious world of jocks and cheerleaders was to be the lowest of the low. Boys in the band were not simply nerds but were called band fags (fags is a pejorative American term for homosexuals), not only by the students but by some of the parents as well (see also Foley, 1990). Other schools have other congurations. Working-class schools are not exempt from this structure, but the hood type may be much more

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prominent there, as in the school described by Paul Willis in his classic Learning to Labor (1977).23 Upper-class private schools also have the same structure, but the popular kids box is very large, and the schools would have outsiders believe that virtually all of their students are good looking, work hard academically, defer to authority, and go on to Harvard and Yale (see, for example, Cookson and Persell, 1985). Finally, there is Weequahic (and other very academically oriented public schools), where some would argue that the nerd box was the strongest, though in fact the situation was rather more complicated (as no doubt it is in the other cases as well). Weequahic was about as different from jock-ruled Glen Ridge High as a school could be, and indeed it was the Glen Ridge book that nally made me realize Weequahics distinctiveness. Schematically, one could say that at Weequahic the whole left side of the table was very strong both the class ofcer box of popular kids and the nerd box of the studious, the shy, or the socially maladept. The jock box was very small, as was the space of the hoods. They were low in numbers and not very socially inuential. The strength of the whole left, or tame, side of the table changed all the other values. For one thing, the nerds were not cut off and ridiculed, except perhaps by a small handful of cheerleaders. In fact at Weequahic there was no clear verbal category for these types; although the term shmoe, a Yiddish word roughly equivalent to nerd, cropped up once or twice in my interviews, it was not widely employed in high school social discourse. For another, the dominance of the tame side of the table made jockiness slightly ridiculous; sports were not very big at the school, and much of the outside world thought that the phrase Weequahic athletics was an oxymoron.24 (I exaggerate, of course, and Weequahic was strong in a number of the smaller sports such as swimming and track, but that was the reputation.) Finally, the hood box had a distinctive quality in this context. Although there were a few genuinely outlaw characters, most of the so-called hoods were not very hoody, and were hoods purely by stereotype class and ethnic background, styles of dress, hair, and makeup rather than by seriously oppositional behavior. This basically structural analysis allows us to break through the question of the representativeness of Weequahic as an American high school. It allows us to place the school, despite its distinctive ethnic composition, squarely within the overall spectrum of American high schools, to see the ways in which it both fully participates in the structure and yet has a distinctive form. Many readers may suspect that the distinctive Weequahic conguration the strength of the tame, the small role of jocks, etc. is related to its high Jewish population, and I would not necessarily disagree with that. But working with a structural framework in this context rather than with a notion of representativeness allows us to see how this 83 per cent Jewish

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school is just as representative as any other of a certain American (I am tempted to say all-American) way of organizing student social life.

American culture? I have produced a little table in this article that represents a high school social taxonomy, a system of categories that sort people with pain or pleasure socially, and the principles that underlie those categories. I have also suggested that the structure that underlies this table the class opposition between more and less economic/cultural/emotional capital, on the one hand, and the personality opposition between social/sexual/generational wildness and tameness on the other, and their ongoing intersection operates as a deep grammar of social/economic/sexual/generational relations of exceptionally long duration within American culture. In many ways it seems absurd to call the US a culture, or the site of a single culture. The country is huge, diverse, and constantly changing. And yet, and yet. It is not difcult to see that the axes of the table represent a minimum basis, a bottom line, of hegemonic American culture in its two most important and distinctive dimensions: its profound individualism and its profound grounding in a capitalist economic order. The vertical axis of the table is the axis of capitalism: class, capital (everything from money to consumer goods to loving families), social distinction, security and poverty, the haves and have-nots. The top axis of the table is the axis of individualism: personal charm, personal looks, personal talents, everything the individual needs to get ahead and to be esteemed and/or envied by ones peers. These points, I think, go a long way toward solving the mystery of the extraordinary historical durability of the US high school social system; the system is built on the fundamental axes of the culture as a whole. Yet just as there are variations on the structure in relation to local variations of class, race, ethnicity, and so on, there are variations on the structure over time. Warren Susman has written a classic article on the shift in American notions of selfhood from the importance of character to the importance of personality. He places this shift in the early decades of the 20th century, and links it especially to the growth of a culture of consumerism over a culture of productivism. The idea of personality, emphasizing social magnetism by virtue of charm and style, contrasts with the idea of character, emphasizing self-discipline and moral rectitude (Susman, 1984 [1973]). One tends to feel cautious about these binary shifts (from shame to guilt, from traditional to modern, as if someone had ipped a switch), but let us take it that there is something to the point. The effect would be that the top axis of personality became even more individualistic, or at least differently individualistic, than it had been before. At the same time, earlier

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high school ethnographies suggest that the social class of origin of the students was more visible in structuring the social hierarchies in the high schools, and even had an impact on the teachers, insofar as they were conscious of the class backgrounds of their students, and felt the need to keep prominent local citizens happy (Hollingshead, 1949; Gordon, 1957). At least three things happened in the 1950s that generated further shifts in the meanings of the terms, and in the relations between them, while still preserving the basic structure. First, for a variety of historical reasons, including the McCarthy witch hunt of Communists, class more or less went culturally underground, as it was associated with class warfare and dened as un- or anti-American. Thus, the top of the table personality became even more accentuated than it had been, relative to a somewhat silenced class axis. Second, to the extent that class remained visible largely through consumer items, the meaning of class itself changed in a more individual direction: it became less a marker of social and economic differences based on ownership or labor, and more a series of distinctions that could be bought and displayed by individuals. Third, there was the coming together of so-called youth culture in the 1950s, with its own self-awareness, its own (heavily marketed) styles of clothing, and its own public culture of music, movies, cars, sex, and television.25 It is important to note, rst, that there was (and is) no single youth culture. The most visible strand of post-war youth culture was the romanticization of rebellious youth, as captured, for example, in the lm Rebel without a Cause (1955). But at the same time a serious, educationally committed youth was also interpellated or hailed (Althusser, 1969) by politicians in the wake of the Russian launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the need for more scientists, with more new ideas, to make the US competitive. Perhaps most importantly, increasingly afuent youth were also identied and targeted by the advertising industry, as consumer markets were expanded dramatically during the extraordinary afuence of the 1950s. It is not difcult to see how these variations in youth culture can be mapped onto the high school categories: advertising/consumerism and the high capital, popular kids; Sputnik and the nerds; James Dean and the hoods. In addition, however, the emergence in the 1950s of a distinctive (if very diverse) youth culture, both from the point of view of adults and from the self-perceptions of young people themselves, no doubt fueled the high emotional charge of the high school experience with which I began this article. As both cause and effect, the emerging youth culture intensied the construction of the high school as a relatively autonomous social space. The emphasis shifted, to some extent, away from the high schools educational functions, and from its function of preparing young people for adult life, and toward treating it as a kind of social world unto itself. Or, to turn the point around, one could think of the social world operating in high schools

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as the institutional base, the base in real, everyday practice, for the emergence of the post-war youth culture that both built on and played with the enduring grammar of American culture.

Acknowledgements
Thanks as always to Tim Taylor, in-house critic who always zeroes in on the right things. Thanks to the editors, Loc Wacquant and Paul Willis, for extensive and enormously valuable comments, as well as for general enthusiasm. Paul Williss comments in turn were partly based on written reports by Helen Wood and Mats Trondman.

Notes 1 One could also make a list of movies about the hell of high school. The one
that comes immediately to mind is Brian de Palmas Carrie (1976).

2 On American culture, very variably conceived, see Potter, 1954; Warner,


1962 [1953]; Spradley and Rynkiewich, 1975; Varenne, 1986; Reynolds and Norman, 1988; Plotnicov, 1990; Bellah et al., 1996 [1985]; Trencher, 2000. Private schools for the children of the wealthy accepted only a small proportion of the population, and among those, boarding schools, where the child actually went away from home, took even fewer. Indeed, from the point of view of a country that dened itself as largely middle class, these private schools were seen as somewhat contrary to the American spirit. This is changing now as an enlarged afuent upper-middle class is increasingly sending its children to private schools, especially in urban areas. I did not use a standardized questionnaire for the interviews. I simply had a few prompting questions in my head which I would use as the occasion arose, or as they seemed called for. I did not ask every person the same questions, nor do I try to quantify their answers. These were, above all, ethnographic interviews, in which I largely let the interviewee take the lead. I was interested in the responses they produced on their own, in response to the general question, So, tell me about your life since Weequahic. I coined the term Business/Professional Class, or BPC, because it is reasonably descriptive of the occupational makeup of this sector, and because I wanted it to link up, in a later argument (n.d.a), with the Ehrenreichs (1979) Professional/Managerial Class, or PMC. I put real in quotes because, while the economic and/or occupational differences are objective, sorting them into classes always involves a certain amount of arbitrariness.

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7 All names are changed, but they retain their relevant ethnic connotations. 8 It is interesting that looks did not come up much in the interviews; this is
one of the few examples.

9 Before the 1950s: for the 1920s, see Fass, 1977; the Vonnegut quote used
earlier refers to the 1930s (Vonnegut was Class of 1940); for the 1940s, see Warner et al., 1944 and Hollingshead, 1949. The 1950s and later in date order: Gordon, 1957; Parsons, 1959; Coleman, 1961; Henry, 1965 [1963]; Palonsky, 1975; Schwartz and Merten, 1967, 1975; Varenne, 1982, 1983; Canaan, 1986; Eckert, 1989; Foley, 1990; Chang, 1992; Bettie, 2000. There is also a large literature on youth culture which partially overlaps with high school studies. I especially want to mention here William Graebners outstanding Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era (1990). There is a large literature on the American denial of class. References would include DeMott (1990) and Vanneman and Cannon (1987). Think too of the Roth character from the Weequahic section dating the rich suburban girl in Goodbye Columbus (1960). The cashmere sweater appears to have been a virtual fetish in the 1940s and 1950s. It is not only mentioned in several of my interviews, but it also shows up in this discussion of a Midwestern high school of the same era: Of course, everyone longs for the cashmere sweater, but in case you cant afford that youll have to take wool. (Gordon, 1957: 116) Cashmere sweaters are now worn by the right crowd . . . . (Gordon, 1957: 117) At the other end of the class spectrum, one is reminded of the fetishistic quality attributed by Carolyn Steedman to her mothers desire for a certain coat, in Steedmans working class memoir (1986). This issue is beautifully explored in Sennett and Cobbs classic, The Hidden Injuries of Class (1973). The phrase is a variant of the title of Katherine Newmans book on middle class downward mobility, Declining Fortunes (1993). In the American context, it also has complex relationships with race and ethnicity, but this question is beyond the scope of the present article. See Ortner (1998). I have had many problems with Parsonss work, in terms of both his theoretical orientation and his often soporic writing style. But I found this particular article quite interesting. Besides an astute discussion of the relationship between social class and success in school, there was a critical discussion of jock sexism in high schools (1959: 316), which I appreciated. Michael Peletz (personal communication) suggested that the terms for the people on the top, from the point of view of those in the bottom categories,

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14 15 16

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18

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19

20

21

22

23 24

may be equally pejorative: brown-nose, suckup, goody-goody, etc. But those voices are rarely heard. I suspect that this category increased among the average citizens in the 1950s, as a result of the Sputnik boost of brainy science boys. But I have no data on this phenomenon. Loc Wacquant tells me that hoods as a label for the alienated tough guys in the high schools derives from the word neighborhood and has links to the idea of gangs, which are usually neighborhood-based. This has been true in recent years, but I think the term in the 1950s derived from hoodlums, a term for criminal gangsters. During the countercultural era (late 1960s to the early 1970s), the druggies and freaks also contained a signicant element of middle-class dropouts. Nonetheless, the type itself remained linked to a working-class and/or African-American oppositional style. Indeed, that was its attraction for oppositional middle-class kids. It would be interesting to see what the growth of female sports has done to the system. This point has come up in discussion after talks, and from scattered comments I gather that it does not change the overall structure very much. Also inner city schools (see Cousins, 1994). In Portnoys Complaint, Philip Roth quotes the famous cheer: Ikey, Mikey, Jake and Sam, Were the boys who eat no ham, We play football, we play soccer, We keep matzos in our locker. (Roth, 1967: 56)

The origins of the cheer are unknown. It could have been coined by nonJews ridiculing Weequahic athletics, or it could have been coined by the famously self-ironizing Jews themselves. Thanks to P. R. himself for a timely response to a query about where he had quoted the cheer. 25 There was also a youth culture in the 1920s see Fass, 1977. But it tended to be much more elite. The 1950s youth culture was based largely in the middle class, and it had important, if ambiguous, links to the working class. For the culture and politics of the 1950s, see Baritz, 1982; Graebner, 1990; Halberstam, 1993; Hine, 1986; Jezer, 1982; ONeill, 1986; Samuelson, 1995.

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SHERRY B. ORTNER is Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. She has worked for many years with the Sherpas of Nepal and has recently turned her attention to the US. She has also made contributions in feminist theory and broader social and cultural theory. Recent books include Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture (Beacon Press, 1996); Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering (Princeton University Press, 1999); and an edited volume, The Fate of Culture: Clifford Geertz and Beyond (University of California Press, 1999). Address: Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, 452 Schermerhorn Ext., New York, NY 10027, USA. [email: sbo3@columbia.edu] s