Against Accumulation: Class Traitors Challenge Wealth and Worth
Keywords:Class, Culture, Accumulation, Elites, Worth
Rich people are generally represented, both by academics and in popular culture, as desiring always to maximize and legitimate their wealth and social advantages. But some wealthy and class-privileged people have defined themselves as the beneficiaries of illegitimate systems of accumulation, and have reframed their own self-interest to include racial and economic justice. Participating in a range of organizations, they have begun to talk more openly about their wealth and class power and to take action to change the systems that have enabled their wealth, through policy advocacy, moving money to grassroots movements and solidarity economies, and shifting public narratives. But making these changes is harder than we might imagine. Drawing primarily on 90 interviews with people in the field, this paper addresses the affective, cultural, and strategic dimensions of working against accumulation and toward redistribution. I argue that these actions challenge deeply entrenched cultural common sense about accumulation, as both an indicator of good personhood and a goal of financial activity. This common sense is not only a characteristic of individuals but is also rooted in interpersonal relationships and financial institutions.
Alexander, S. (2020). The Millionaires Who Actually Want to Pay More in Taxes. Bloomberg, 17 January. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-01-17/the-millionaires-who-actually-want-to-pay-more-in-taxes
Altman, A. (2020). The Millennials Who Want to Get Rid of Their Class Privilege. The Washington Post, 2 March. https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/03/02/their-families-built-fortunes-these-millennials-are-trying-figure-out-how-undo-their-class-privilege/
Altmann, J. (2020). Reckoning with Wealth. Princeton Alumni Weekly, 4 March. https://paw.princeton.edu/article/reckoning-wealth
Baltzell, E.D. (1987). The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy & Caste in America. London: Yale University Press.
Beery, Z. (2020). The Rich Kids Who Want to Tear Down Capitalism. The New York Times, 27 November. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/style/trust-fund-activism-resouce-generation.html
Brooks, D. (2000). Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Collins, C. (2016). Born on Third Base. Chelsea: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Cooper, M. (2014). Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Dreier, P., & Collins, C. (2012). Traitors to Their Class. New Labor Forum, 21(1), 86–91. https://doi.org/10.4179/NLF.211.0000014
Farrell, J. (2020). Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West. Princeton: University Press.
Gaztambide-Fernández, R.A. (2009). The Best of the Best: Becoming Elite at an American Boarding School. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Gaztambide-Fernández, R.A., & Howard, A. (2013). Social Justice, Deferred Complicity, and the Moral Plight of the Wealthy. Democracy and Education, 21(1), 7.
Giridharadas, A. (2018). Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. New York: Knopf.
Hanauer, N. (2014). The Pitchforks are Coming for Us. Politico, July/August 2014. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014/
Harding, S. (1991). Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women’s Lives. New York: Cornell University Press.
Healy, K. (2013). Dealing with Awkward Relations. Unpublished manuscript. https://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/awkward-relations.pdf
Hecht, K. (2017). A Relational Analysis of Top Incomes and Wealth: Economic Evaluation, Relative (Dis)advantage and the Service to Capital (LSE International Inequalities Institute Working Paper No. 11). London School of Economics and Political Science, International Inequalities Institute. https://www.lse.ac.uk/International-Inequalities/Assets/Documents/Working-Papers/Katharina-Hecht-A-Relational-Analysis-of-Top-Incomes-and-Wealth.pdf
Ho, K. (2009). Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Durham: Duke University Press.
Ignatiev, N., & Garvey, J., eds. (1996). Race Traitor. Oxfordshire: Routledge.
Kantola, A., & Kuusela, H. (2018). Wealth Elite Moralities: Wealthy Entrepreneurs’ Moral Boundaries. Sociology, 53(2), 368–384. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038518768175
Khan, S. (2011). Privilege. Princeton: University Press.
Khan, S. (2012). The Sociology of Elites. Annual Review of Sociology, 38, 361–377. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-071811-145542
King, T.L., & Osayande, E. (2017). The Filth on Philanthropy: Progressive Philanthropy’s Agenda to Misdirect Social Justice Movements. In INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (pp. 79–90). Durham: Duke University Press.
Kohl-Arenas, E. (2016). The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty. Oakland: University of California Press.
Kolhatkar, S. (2020). Embarrassment of Riches. The New Yorker, 6 January. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/01/06/the-ultra-wealthy-who-argue-that-they-should-be-paying-higher-taxes
Kuusela, H. (2018). Learning to Own: Cross-Generational Meanings of Wealth and Class-Making in Wealthy Finnish Families. The Sociological Review, 66(6), 1161–1176. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0038026118777698
Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal Childhoods. Oakland: University of California Press.
Lewis, N., & RG (2013). Between a Silver Spoon and the Struggle: Reflections on the Intersection of Racism and Class Privilege. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Lurie, T. (2016). Change Not Charity: The Story of the Funding Exchange. A Pioneer in Social Justice Philanthropy. Funding Exchange. https://fundingexchangehistory.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/funding_exchange_history_spring_2017.pdf
Matthews, S. (2013). Reflections on the Appropriate Use of Unjustly Conferred Privilege. Theoria, 60(2), 23–41. https://doi.org/10.3167/th.2013.6013502
McGoey, L. (2016). No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy. London: Verso.
Miller, B., & Lapham, M. (2012). The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Mogil, C., & Slepian, A. (Eds.). (1992). We Gave Away a Fortune. Gabriola: New Society Publishers.
Moss, D. (2021). My Kids Refused Their Inheritance. Here’s How We’re Giving It All Away. Huffington Post, 20 February. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/covid-19-black-lives-matter-inheritance_n_602ad161c5b6f88289fdbd92
O’Brien, E. (2001). Whites Confront Racism: Antiracists and Their Paths to Action. Washington, D.C.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Odendahl, T. (1990). Charity Begins at Home: Generosity and Self-interest among The Philanthropic Elite. New York: Basic Books.
Ostrander, S. (1984). Women of the Upper Class. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Ostrander, S. (1995). Money for Change. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Ostrander, S. (2007). The Growth of Donor Control: Revisiting the Social Relations of Philanthropy. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 36(2), 356–372. https://doi.org/10.1177/0899764007300386
Pearl, M. (2018). How to Think Like a Patriotic Millionaire. Washington, D.C.:Strong Arm Press.
Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the 21^st Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Pittelman, K., & Resource Generation. (2005). Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It for Social Change. New York: Soft Skull Press.
Preston, J., & Chadderton, C. (2012). Rediscovering ‘Race Traitor’: Towards a Critical Race Theory Informed Public Pedagogy. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(1), 85–100. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2012.638866
Quart, A. (2017). Meet the New Class Traitors Who Are Coming Out as Rich. The Guardian, 27 June. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/16/coming-out-as-wealthy-inequality-progressives
Rabinowitz, A. (1990). Social Change Philanthropy in America. Westport: Quorum Books.
Ramos-Zayas, A. (2020). Parenting Empires: Class, Whiteness, and the Moral Economy of Privilege in Latin America. Durham: Duke University Press.
Reich, R. (2018). Just Giving. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Rothenberg, S., & Scully, M. (2007). Rolls Royce Radicals. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 5(1), 57.
Schimpfossl, E. (2018). Rich Russians. Oxford: University Press.
Scully, M., Rothenberg, S., Beaton, E., & Tang, Z. (2018). Mobilizing the Wealthy: Doing “Privilege Work” and Challenging the Roots of Inequality. Business & Society. 57(6), 1075–1113. https://doi.org/10.1177/0007650317698941
Segrest, M. (1994). Memoir of a Race Traitor. New York: The New Press.
Sherman, R. (2017). Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Silver, I. (1997). Constructing “Social Change” through Philanthropy: Boundary Framing and the Articulation of Vocabularies of Motives for Social Movement Participation. Sociological Inquiry, 67(4), 488-503. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-682X.1997.tb00449.x
Silver, I. (1998). Buying an Activist Identity: Reproducing Class through Social Movement Philanthropy. Sociological Perspectives, 41(2), 303–321. https://doi.org/10.2307/1389479
Silver, I. (2007). Disentangling Class from Philanthropy: The Double-Edged Sword of Alternative Giving. Critical Sociology, 33(3), 537–549. https://doi.org/10.1163%2F156916307X189013
Vanamee, N. (2019). Meet the Rich Kids Who Want to Give Away All Their Money. Town & Country, 27 September. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/money-and-power/a29008841/rich-kids-revolution-resource-generation/
Villanueva, E. (2018). Decolonizing Wealth. New York: Penguin Random House.
Wernick, L.J. (2009). How Young Progressives with Wealth Are Leveraging Their Power and Privilege to Support Social Justice: A Case Study of Social Justice Philanthropy and Young Donor Organizing. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan].
Wernick, L.J. (2012). Leveraging Privilege: Organizing Young People with Wealth to Support Social Justice. Social Service Review, 86(2), 323–345. https://doi.org/10.1086/666874
Wernick, L.J. (2016). Critical Consciousness Development Impact on Social Justice Movement Giving among Wealthy Activists. Social Work Research, 40(3), 159–169. https://doi.org/10.1093/swr/svw012
Zelizer, V. (2012). How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?. Politics & Society, 40(2), 145–174. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032329212441591
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2021 Rachel Sherman
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.