© 2004

American Individualisms

Child Rearing and Social Class in Three Neighborhoods

  • Authors

Part of the Culture, Mind and Society book series (CMAS)

Table of contents

About this book


What are hard and soft individualisms? In this detailed ethnography of three communities in Manhattan and Queens, Kusserow interviews parents and teachers (from wealthy to those on welfare) on the types of hard and soft individualisms they encourage in their children and students. American Individualisms explores the important issue of class differences in the socialization of individualism in America. It presents American individualism not as one single homogeneous, stereotypic life-pattern as often claimed to be, but as variable, class-differentiated models of individualism instilled in young children by their parents and preschool teachers in Manhattan and Queens. By providing rich descriptions of the situational, class-based individualisms that take root in communities with vastly different visions of the future, Kusserow brings social inequality back into previously bland and generic discussions of American individualism.


child psychology Self socialization

Bibliographic information


"American Individualisms is ethnography in the best sense. It delineates a phenomenon of enormous theoretical import, through one of the most discerning eyes in cultural anthropology today. We see how, in the classroom as in parents and teachers values and their ideas about pedagogy, American individualism adapts itself to class, preparing children - through means sometimes quite obvious and often extremely subtle, sometimes explicitly taught and more often implicitly embodied - for the different, classed, futures that await them. We see how these different classed futures are made to seem natural. And we are shown how an ideology such as "American individualism" works, providing the barest of scaffolds on which very different, and equally powerfully motivating, versions of itself can be constructed." - Naomi Quinn, Department of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

"With subtle insight and a poet's eye for the telling detail, Adrie Kusserow grapples with the great hidden fact of American life: social class. She shows how upper class preschoolers on Manhattan's East Side learn that life is a canvas to be painted with beautiful colors and that they are flowers who must be gently nurtured; in contrast, working-class children in Queens discover that life is a dangerous mountain to be climbed and that they must be tough and hard to survive the ordeal. This important book helps the reader understand how these crucial differences in consciousness are inculcated, enacted, and reproduced in ordinary life. It should be mandatory reading for teachers, parents, and policy makers as well as social scientists who wish to better understand the complexities of American culture." - Charles Lindholm, University Professor of Anthropology, Boston University

"American Individualisms sets a new standard for excellence for the study of class and inequality in America. Kusserow's insightful ethnographic account shows how class is a learned position, an orientation toward self and others that takes root in childhood through ever-so-subtle child-rearing and classroom practices. Rich in observation and sophisticated analysis of how parents and teachers unconsciously pass along the markers of social class - through tone of voice, facial expression, deportment and metaphors used to speak about a child and her future - this book deepens our understanding of what it would take to ensure that American schools leave no child behind." - Wendy Luttrell, Nancy Phforzeimer Aronson Associate Professor of Human Development and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education