Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood

Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood

Article excerpt

MacLeod, Jay. 2009 (3rd ed). Ain't No Makin' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood. Boulder. CO: Westview Press

In Ain't No Making' It: Aspirations and Attainment in a Low-Income Neighborhood (1987) Jay MacLeod expertly shows education's role in the process of social reproduction, or how class inequality passes from one generation to the next. On the jacket cover of the third edition, preeminent sociologists-like William J. Wilson-comment enthusiastically about the updates on subjects' socio-economic status 20+ years after the initial study. They underscore the "classic" status of ANMI in scholarship on structural inequality and social reproduction. For readers unfamiliar with the book, I briefly describe the author's initial study and the contributions from data collected for the second edition. Following this, I discuss the added longitudinal data obtained for the third edition, its important new insights, and the usefulness of this book for courses in several core areas of sociology.

In 1982 Jay MacLeod conducted participant observation of two groups of male youth, the Hallway Hangers and the Brothers. Both lived in a housing project called Clarendon Heights, but the two groups differed in important respects. The Hallways Hangers are predominantly white youth who, at that point in their young lives, openly resisted the American achievement ideology advanced by schools. They were dropouts and underachievers, saw few opportunities for themselves in the economy and other structures of society, and subsequently had no aspirations for a better life. In contrast the Brothers, predominantly black youth, demonstrated their belief in America as a land of opportunity by adopting its cultural norms, institutional rules, and by applying themselves in school (albeit with mixed results). They had strong faith that education would give them the needed human capital to succeed in middle-class jobs. When asked about racism, most believed that collective discrimination was a thing of the past. Any future challenges they faced from prejudicial people could be overcome with focus, hard work, and commitment. By dismissing racism and classism, both groups failed to recognize any structural basis for inequality.

MacLeod also shows how the process of social reproduction works in practice. Social structure, he explains, becomes embedded in the "habitus" (Bourdieu) of the lower classes and shapes the aspirations of the Hallway Hangers and Brothers. Habitus refers to "subjects' dispositions, which reflect a class-based experience and a corresponding social grammar of taste, knowledge, and behavior." Using habitus as a theoretical framework, MacLeod stresses, helps to transcend the dualism that characterizes scholarship on social reproduction. It is not solely one-structure-or the other-agency. Both are responsible for class inequality and its reproduction. (Although MacLeod does concede that structure is primary.)

The second edition is based on data collected on the men's lives nine years later, and the comparative racial dimension of this study yields another important insight into the process of social reproduction. The majority of Hallway Hangers and Brothers have jobs in the secondary labor market, with low wages, skill requirements, and irregular work. …

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