Shamus Khan examines the role elites play in inequality

Written by
Jennifer Altmann
Oct. 4, 2021

Almost 20 years ago, Professor of Sociology and American Studies Shamus Khan spent a year living at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire to conduct a sociological study that he hoped would shed light on the dynamics of inequality. “To look at inequality, we almost exclusively write about the poor,” he says. “We almost never write about the other side of the relationship.”

Khan’s year as a teacher and squash coach marked his return to the campus where he spent three years as a student. With the approval of the school’s administration, he analyzed the boarding school through the lenses of race, class, and gender and published his findings in Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, which was reissued this year by Princeton University Press. “The central argument of this book is that elite schools are not meritocracies,” he writes in a new preface. “Instead, they teach young people to hide their advantages from themselves and others.” Today, he writes, most elites view their successes as the merited results of hard work and skill — not as the results of family advantage. He uses his own life story as an example: His parents invested everything they could in their children’s education and activities to develop the “social and cultural capacity” that would allow the children to succeed as professionals.

Read the full interview at Princeton Alumni Weekly: