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Aspirational class eat kale and fit their yoga pants

Sociologist Elizabeth Currid-Halkett has taken the baton from Veblen--but with a modified target. In her new book, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, Currid-Halkett takes aim at "Aspirationals"--the group that she sees as the new elite. They're best characterized on the book's webpage as:

Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption--like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children's growth, and to practice yoga and Pilates

Currid-Halkett notes that most of the wealthy today actually have to work for their riches. "Other than the odd trust fund playboy or oligarch's debutante, the leisure class no longer exists," she writes. In fact, today, in a reversal from the 1970s, the highest earning 20% of workers work more hours than those in the bottom 20%.
The fact that the aspirational class works, and that most of their income is based on the skills they have gained from high levels of education has made "social, environmental, and cultural awareness" the most valuable sources of social capital, Currid-Halkett argues.

The second half of Currid-Halkett's book is devoted to arguing that a person may be part of the elite "aspirational class," even without a high income. "[T]hose with creative writing degrees from Yale, screenwriters who have yet to sell a screenplay, musicians and Teach for America... are also members of this new cultural and social formation," she writes.


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