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Driving after Class

Driving after Class: Anxious Times in an American Suburb

Rachel Heiman
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Driving after Class
    Book Description:

    A paradoxical situation emerged at the turn of the twenty-first century: the dramatic upscaling of the suburban American dream even as the possibilities for achieving and maintaining it diminished. Having fled to the suburbs in search of affordable homes, open space, and better schools, city-raised parents found their modest homes eclipsed by McMansions, local schools and roads overburdened and underfunded, and their ability to keep up with the pressures of extravagant consumerism increasingly tenuous. How do class anxieties play out amid such disconcerting cultural, political, and economic changes? In this incisive ethnography set in a New Jersey suburb outside New York City, Rachel Heiman takes us into people's homes; their community meetings, where they debate security gates and school redistricting; and even their cars, to offer an intimate view of the tensions and uncertainties of being middle class at that time.With a gift for bringing to life the everyday workings of class in the lives of children, youth, and their parents, Heiman offers an illuminating look at the contemporary complexities of class rooted in racialized lives, hyperconsumption, and neoliberal citizenship. She argues convincingly that to understand our current economic situation we need to attend to the subtle but forceful formation of sensibilities, spaces, and habits that durably motivate people and shape their actions and outlooks. "Rugged entitlement" is Heiman's name for the middle class's sense of entitlement to a way of life that is increasingly untenable and that is accompanied by an anxious feeling that they must vigilantly pursue their own interests to maintain and further their class position.Driving after Classis a model of fine-grained ethnography that shows how families try to make sense of who they are and where they are going in a highly competitive and uncertain time.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96031-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. 1 Introduction: Common Sense in Anxious Times
    (pp. 1-32)

    A paradoxical situation emerged in the late 1990s: the dramatic upscaling of the suburban American dream, even as the possibilities for achieving and maintaining it diminished. This book explores middle-class anxieties and suburban life during those years. It was the “ boom,” and the media overflowed with unbridled enthusiasm for the state of the economy, with only sparse attention paid to those who were feeling the downside of its effects, financial or otherwise. And yet, contradictory conditions of middle-class life could be seen everywhere: in suburban towns, as countless new subdivisions of ever-larger homes sprouted up while municipalities struggled to...

  7. 2 Being Post-Brooklyn
    (pp. 33-69)

    It was a miserably hot afternoon during the summer of 1997, just before I was about to begin my fieldwork in Danboro. I was walking along a tree-covered dirt path on visiting day at the summer camp, holding a cold water bottle to my forehead to find relief from the oppressive heat. When I emerged from the path, I spotted a crowd of parents from Danboro under the shade of a nearby tree. Their contagious laughter filled the air, as did the flurry of their hands, which alternated between animating their conversation and wiping beads of sweat from their brows....

  8. 3 Gate Expectations
    (pp. 70-103)

    Tarragon Hills, a brand-new upscale subdivision of twenty-three custom homes (“No Two Homes Alike!” proclaimed the sales billboard) was constructed in Danboro during the time of my fieldwork. (See figure 4.) Tarragon Hills was typical of the influx during those years of huge homes, which some disdainfully refer to as “McMansions.”¹ As one father described it at the time, “Houses looked like they were dropping from the sky!” Often built adjacent to older subdivisions of moderately sized colonial-style homes, like those in which Stu, Linda, and Lauren, and Nancy, Eric, and Danielle live, these new houses dwarfed their neighbors and...

  9. 4 Driving after Class
    (pp. 104-140)

    This chapter shifts our focus away from the common sense articulated at Danboro’s town hall and brings us into the intimacies of everyday life for one particular family, for whom I worked as an “ethnographic babysitter” a few afternoons per week for sixteen months. Seeking to sustain an upper-middle-class lifestyle, parents like those in the Sillen family often work long hours in high-level professional-managerial jobs. They frequently depend on the private service sector to accomplish the bulk of their domestic chores and responsibilities. I was hired to help undertake everyday parenting jobs—a role that ranged from sandwich maker to...

  10. 5 Vehicles for Rugged Entitlement
    (pp. 141-170)

    On the afternoon of her first automobile accident, seventeen-year old Wendi was driving her white Chevy Blazer down a road that winds its way through a few of the older subdivisions built in Danboro during the late 1970s and early 1980s. As she cruised along, the view outside her window was mostly of houses that were quite similar to each other, all resembling the Sillens’ moderate-size colonial-style home. At one point, however, a brand-new home awkwardly protruded. There had been a colonial on that lot as well, just like the ones nestled up against it on either side, but it...

  11. 6 From White Flight to Community Might
    (pp. 171-218)

    It was nine months before the opening of a new high school in the Milldale Regional High School District, a sizable district encompassing eight towns and almost eight thousand students. The district’s board of education had just hired an educational consulting firm to aid them in the arduous task of reconfiguring school zones to fill the new school and to alleviate overcrowding in three of the district schools, one of which was Danboro High School. Many Danboro residents were up in arms at the prospect that their children might be rezoned to another school in the district. The consultants held...

  12. 7 A Conclusion, or Rather, a Commencement
    (pp. 219-232)

    It was not quite spring yet. The March air contained a chill and a hint of the icy smell of winter. But it seemed like everyone in Danboro was all aflutter with planning for June’s graduation festivities. Lauren, Erika, and their four closest friends—Nicole, Stacey, Shannon, and Beth—decided to go together on a dress-shopping trip to Short Hills, a town in northern New Jersey with an upscale mall. Lauren and Nicole’s moms were coming along, which meant that there would not be enough room for everyone to fit in one car. So it was decided that the two...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-256)
  14. References
    (pp. 257-274)
  15. Index
    (pp. 275-288)