Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Cultural Foundations of Education
Sari K. Biklen
Bourdieu, Consumption, Family Outing, Informal Education, Literacy, Social Reproduction
This dissertation is a qualitative ethnography of a big-box bookstore that considers the relationship between book consumption, status, and social reproduction. The study draws from five years of fieldwork starting with three years of participant observation at 45 sessions of the weekly Story Time, where I observed 297 mothers or caregivers and 411 children. In the first three years of this research I also conducted informal interviews with 48 families at the store. Also in this phase of the study I conducted in-depth interviews at the store with nine bookstore workers and three managers. In the last two years of the study, drawing from data collected from participant observation and informal interviews, I conducted in-depth interviews and follow-up interviews with six families.
The project analyzes what informants see as the bookstore's role as an educative site, a site of consumption, and a site of leisure work. The term "leisure work" reflects how middle-class parents structure family time at the bookstore for the purpose of pleasure associated with pursuing both collective and individualized and interests, and for the education of their children. The big-box bookstore is an informal educative site, where children learn literacies associated with reading, spending money, and socializing. Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of habitus and field; social, cultural, and economic capital; and social reproduction provide a theoretical framework for interpreting these perspectives to see how ideas around books come from both subjective and objective influences that are naturalized in ways that reproduce middle-class culture.
The dissertation considers how workers, parents, and children's relationships with books inform the habitus, how informants see books as signs of distinction, and how literacy and books become forms of cultural capital. These relationships affect the processes of identity formation and social reproduction. This project argues that, for workers and middle-class families, book consumption at the big-box bookstore is informed by middle-class desire as interpreted through a systemic corporate structure and fueled by dispositions around middle-class acts of consumption. Workers perform low-status, low-wage jobs that they enjoy for the most part. They struggle for middle-class status when their work is disrespected or they cannot exercise their expertise due to the store's corporate structure. At the same time they sometimes misrecognize their roles because of the status they associate with book work. These dispositions and experiences reproduce middle-class orientations, as they influence meaning around cultural capital and books, and as they reflect and inform what represents status for workers, parents, and children in this study.
Whitmore, Benette, "Buy the Book: Social Reproduction and the Middle-Class Family Outing to the Big-Box Bookstore" (2011). Cultural Foundations of Education - Dissertations. Paper 48.