Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Annette Lareau


Scholars have devoted considerable attention to how inequalities are reproduced across generations. We know much about the impact of family and school resources, of cultural skills and dispositions, and of racial/ethnic and gender discrimination. But cutting across these lines of inquiry is how socialization and discrimination – built on structural and cultural inequities – shape the lessons children receive about their social station. That is, how do schools teach children their position and direction in the world? How are children equipped to fulfil these lessons? And what differences and discrimination are visible in this process, making inequality and social reproduction more likely? I address these questions through a comparative ethnography of two racially diverse elementary schools: one private and upper-middle-class, the other public and working-class. I intensively observed 60 students aged 9-11 during my three years of observations, with dozens of other students from different classrooms and grades repeatedly observed in various school settings. My observations are supplemented by in-depth interviews with students, parents, and teachers. These observations and interviews allow me to examine inter-school class differences and intra-school race and gender differences in socialization and discrimination. The three chapters of this dissertation explore different dimensions of the lessons children receive in perception and practice, or in other words, the ways children are taught to see themselves and the skills they learn to make these visions reality. I highlight discrepancies between the differently classed schools in how children are taught to comport their bodies, with students adopting behaviors likely to be unequally rewarded in situations such as job interviews. I detail differences in what children are taught about their relative identity, moral worth, and situated prospects. And I describe the processes by which dyadic teacher-student relationships of different qualities develop at the public school. I discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of the processes by which inequalities are reproduced, for recognizing the importance of schools as venues of unequal socialization, for foregrounding the body as a site of socialization and discrimination, and for questioning how structural and cultural inequalities shape children’s sense of their social station.


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