Taking up Caletrio's challenge: Silence and the construction of wealth eliteness in Jamie Johnson's documentary film Born Rich

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Abstract

In a review published in 2012, Javier Caletrio raised the question of how, in an era typified by a radical widening of the social and economic gap, academic concern with inequality remained so firmly fixed upon the poor. Echoing sentiments raised previously by Beaverstock et al. (2004), Caletrio argued that the very rich remain protected by a 'veil of silence' so effective as to ensure their 'invisibility and impunity' (p. 136). He called upon social science researchers to find new ways of examining social systems that seem, sometimes exclusively, to operate in favour of those who are already privileged. This chapter joins emerging efforts (e.g., chapters 2 and 5 by Koh, Wissink and Forrest, and Sayer in this volume) to take up that challenge.

For race theorists, turning the analytic gaze back upon privilege is not new: they have long valued the need to avert critical attention 'from the racial object to the racial subject' (Morrison, 1992, p. 90) so as to reorient the sociological and geographical focus from 'victims' of racism and common sense assumptions of 'race' as synonymous with non-white people, to the prioritization of whiteness as an area of critical endeavour (Back and Solomos, 2000, pp. 21-2). A key finding in this field is that mechanisms of privilege remain largely unseen and unexamined by those who benefit most from them, and this in turn advances a notion of 'everyday privilege', a phenomenon that is protected and reproduced through its routine denial (Mcintosh, 2002).

In this chapter we make a similar theoretical inversion by turning our analytic gaze from an exploration of poverty and disadvantage to the privileges associated with super-wealth. Savage and Williams (2008) suggest there has been an absence of 'elite studies' and they ascribe this lacuna to the dominance of quantitative analyses that focus primarily on statistically significant groups. But it is also possible that the flagrant nature of super-rich privilege has driven a research gap: who needs to point out that the richest 200 (or fewer) individuals in the world having the combined wealth of roughly half the world's population is unfair?1 Super-wealth of this magnitude seems so extreme as to be an anomaly.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on Wealth and the Super-Rich
EditorsIain Hay, Jonathan V. Beaverstock
Place of PublicationCheltenham, UK
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd
Chapter8
Pages155-177
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781783474042
ISBN (Print)9781783474035
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameSocial and Political Science

Keywords

  • Regional economics
  • Economic geography
  • Human geography
  • Regional studies
  • Javier Caletrío
  • mechanisms of privilege
  • 'everyday privilege’
  • theoretical inversion
  • poverty and disadvantage
  • super-wealth
  • 'elite studies'
  • research gaps

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