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The discreet charm of the children of the bourgeoisie: economic capital and its symbolic expressions at an elite business school

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British Journal of Sociology

Published online on

Abstract

--- - |2 Abstract We address a largely neglected issue in contemporary research on cultural class divisions: economic capital and its associated lifestyles and symbolic expressions. Using qualitative interviews, we explore how adolescents from wealthy elite backgrounds, namely students at Oslo Commerce School (OCS), traditionally one of the most prestigious upper‐secondary schools in Norway, demarcate themselves symbolically from others. They draw symbolic boundaries against students at other elite schools in Oslo, more characterized by backgrounds with high cultural capital, accusing them of mimicking a ‘hipster’ style. Within the OCS student body, we describe identity work centring on styles of material consumption and bodily distinctions. The most salient dividing line is between those who manage to master a ‘natural’ style, where expensive clothes and the desired bodily attributes are displayed discreetly, and those who are ‘trying too hard’ and thus marked by the stigma of effort. We also show some interesting intersections between class and gender: girls aspiring to the economic elite obey the ‘rules of the game’ by exercising extensive control over their bodies and adhering to demanding bodily norms for their weight and slimness. Such rules are less evident among the boys, where a lack of discipline, unruliness, hard partying and even fighting constitute parts of the lifestyle valued. This article contributes to the field of cultural stratification, highlighting the importance of the ‘hows’ of material consumption when expressing elite distinction. It also adds new insight to the research field of elite education by showing how a mastery of ‘high‐end’ consumer culture is involved in fostering favourable dispositions at elite schools. - 'The British Journal of Sociology, EarlyView. '