Studying Down and Never Up

The more marginalized, disenfranchised or downtrodden a group is, the more likely they are to be an object of scholarly study. The Amish, the Roma, Middle Eastern Doms, Israeli Mizraḥim, Native American nations, Irish Travellers, Chukchis and dozens of other groups spring to mind off the top of my head.

The poor and the underclass in any modern industrialized country are objects of perennial fascination to sociologists and anthropologists, in everything from their speech habits to their driving styles. Conventional sociology of the well-bred, well-read and well fed is rife with bromides about the poor.

Few attempt to study the rich and powerful.

Fewer still of those who make the attempt have managed to gain a useful amount of access to really succeed.

And almost none of those who succeed have any impact in the larger culture. An anthropologist working in Beverly Hills is unlikely to gain much renown or notice for whatever work they put out. Such a work will simply not be read or heard of by policy-makers, anymore than was Ronald Dore's analysis of relations between large firms in Japan, or Mark Granovetter's study of the agents and executives of large American corporate firms.

The rich and powerful have historically had the means to craft their image to their liking, and every reason to divert as much attention as possible from the more discreditable aspects of their own behavior.

I often feel that societal curiosity of the academe is directed in precisely the wrong direction.

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