Talk About Country Clubs: Ideology and the Reproduction of Privilege

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Title: Talk About Country Clubs: Ideology and the Reproduction of Privilege
Author: Sherwood, Jessica Holden
Advisors: Barbara J. Risman, Committee Chair
Susan Ostrander, Committee Member
Amy Halberstadt, Committee Member
Rick Della Fave, Committee Member
Michael Schwalbe, Committee Member
Don Tomaskovic-Devey, Committee Member
Abstract: This dissertation reports on interviews with members of five exclusive country clubs in the Northeastern United States. At these clubs, membership is extended only by selective invitation after a subjective screening process. The clubs have long histories of racial-ethnic homogeneity, but they now display some demographic diversity while preserving the economic and cultural homogeneity with which members are comfortable, and which they consider an important appeal of the private club. I focus on club members' explanations around three topics: their clubs' exclusivity, their racial-ethnic composition, and the status of women members. Subjects minimize the significance of the exclusion they perform by rhetorically pointing to forces beyond their control, and by promoting the American Dream of colorblind, meritocratic equal opportunity. While they use the dominant racial ideology of colorblindness, subjects also show a departure from colorblindness in their active development of and rhetorical emphasis on racial-ethnic diversity in their ranks. Concerning women's status, club members mostly accept the subordination of women in clubs. To justify it, they rhetorically rely on both the dominant gender ideology and the inequalities in men's and women's wealth and domestic responsibilities which originate elsewhere. Club members are called to account for their exclusivity by the American value of egalitarian equal access. But at the same time, other cultural values provide them with the tools needed to successfully explain themselves, even as their talk and actions contribute to the reproduction of class, race, and gender inequalities. This research describes the perspective of wealthy white people, and critiques it as inadequate to a full understanding of the consequences of their actions. It shows how country club members talk and act in ways that help preserve their privileges, and the reasons why they do so.
Date: 2004-04-07
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Sociology

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