New Jersey Dreaming

Capital, Culture, and the Class of ‘58

New Jersey Dreaming

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 25 tables, 1 map Published: May 2003

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Sociology

Pioneering anthropologist Sherry B. Ortner is renowned for her work on the Sherpas of Nepal. Now she turns her attention homeward to examine how social class is lived in the United States and, specifically, within her own peer group. In New Jersey Dreaming, Ortner returns to her Newark roots to present an in-depth look at Weequahic High School's Class of 1958, of which she was a member. She explores her classmates’ recollected experiences of the neighborhood and the high school, also written about in the novels of Philip Roth, Weequahic High School’s most famous alum. Ortner provides a chronicle of the journey of her classmates from the 1950s into the 1990s, following the movement of a striking number of them from modest working- and middle-class backgrounds into the wealthy upper-middle or professional/managerial class.

Ortner tracked down nearly all 304 of her classmates. She interviewedabout 100 in person and spoke with most of the rest by phone, recording her classmates’ vivid memories of time, place, and identity. Ortner shows how social class affected people’s livesin many hidden and unexamined ways. She also demonstrates that the Class of ‘58’s extreme upward mobility must be understood in relation to the major identity movements of the twentieth century—the campaign against anti-Semitism, the Civil Rights movement, and feminism.

A multisited study combining field research with an interdisciplinary analytical framework, New Jersey Dreaming is a masterly integration of developments at the vanguard of contemporary anthropology. Engaging excerpts from Ortner's field notes are interspersed throughout the book. Whether recording the difficulties and pleasures of studying one's own peer group, the cultures of driving in different parts of the country, or the contrasting experiences of appointment-making in Los Angeles and New York, they provide a rare glimpse into the actual doing of ethnographic research.


"For thirty years [Ortner] has studied gender and social and cultural theory, helping invent the field of feminist anthropology. . . [In New Jersey Dreaming] Ms. Ortner vividly captured those days when girls took home economics and boys took shop. . . ." — Felicia Lee, New York Times

"Ortner is an entertaining writer with a strong personal voice. . . ."
— Elaine Showalter, American Prospect

"[Ortner] convincingly argues that her classmates' success is not only a function of their work ethic and the level of acceptance of the dominant culture's value system, but also a function of how well they are able to benefit from their other group memberships. Recommended."
— G. Rabrenovic, Choice

"New Jersey Dreaming is consistently cogent, thought provoking and just plain fun to read. Because of the accessibility of the subject matter and the lucid descriptions of anthropological method and theory, I highly recommend this book for classroom use."
— Michael Chibnik, American Ethnologist

"Written by one of the most proficient anthropologists today, New Jersey Dreaming is an exemplar of the possibilities and limitations of multi-sited ethnography. It also is a fine contribution to the ethnography of schools and of class and socio-economic mobility in America. . . . Ortner's deft touch with both theory and method makes for a very readable and accessible book." — Marilyn Silverman, Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

"Ortner skillfully integrates an analysis of class expectations and social mobility with the fascinating reminiscences of her classmates and her own thoughts about her 'fieldwork.' She successfully moves from the seemingly narrow focus of her own high school to reveal important insights about the impact of high school on the rest of our lives and the nature of class, gender, and race in postwar America."
Seminary Co-op

"This is a lovely and interesting book. . . . [I]t offers valuable insights into class, race, ethnicity, gender, education, and friendship." — Lynne Pettinger, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"[P]rovocative. . . ." — Paul H. Mattingly, Journal of American History

"Ortner's book is a valuable contribution to the study of the role of class in contemporary America. New Jersey Dreaming is a tour de force exposition of the premise that class is not some natural object lying around in the world but is culturally or discursively constructed." — J. Brian Sheehan, American Studies International

"Intersubjectivity was clearly a tool of research but Ortner's presence in the work is also felt in the excerpts from her field notes that appear throughout the book. They are honest, revealing, and engaging. It is an enlivening and educative practice. The final chapter, 'Late Capitalism' is cohesively powerful. . . ." — Gretchen Poiner, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

"[A] fascinating study. . . ."
— Nicole Neatby, Labour/Le Travail

"New Jersey Dreaming is a distinctive and theoretically rigorous cultural analysis of class mobility that challenges the disciplinary apartheid in which anthropologists have tended to concede the study of U.S. social mobility and society to sociologists and historians. It offers a theoretical and methodological map of this terrain and will be a standout among books devoted to social change and class inequality."
— France Winddance Twine, Current Anthropology

"[E]xceptionally interesting . . . . [A]n important and genuinely innovative book. . . . New Jersey Dreaming is a real achievement in the study of American society. It offers a complex analysis that is a wonderful model for the study of class and culture, and it is a truly pioneering work in the ethnographic study of these critical features of American society."
— Riv-Ellen Prell, Jewish Quarterly Review

"This is a rich and provocative book, with fascinating interview vignettes, candid and suggestive field notes, and myriad quantitative data, all of which illuminate the high school experience and later life histories in novel ways."
— Joyce Antler, American Jewish History

“Ortner’s book is what anthropology is at its best: an exploration of everyday life (whether old or new) and an analysis that uncovers life’s layers of subjective meanings and relations between them. Even more exciting, and perhaps more challenging for Ortner, is that New Jersey Dreaming is a book about an anthropologist’s own ‘culture,’ one’s own ‘nativity,’ so to speak.” — Linwood H. Cousins, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Ortner’s engaging ethnography of the class of 1958 lays bare a fascinating slice of recent American life and shows convincingly how it participated in the larger movements of contemporary history.” — William H. Sewell, Jr., American Journal of Sociology

“Ortner is an accomplished and polished writer. The prose is clear and lucid yet vibrant. This is not a dry account of data collected and analyzed. It is a rendition of a time and place in New Jersey without the nostalgia, but with respect and a certain sense of affection. I would recommend this text not only for the professional, but as a teaching volume. This is how good ethnography is done.” — Kathleen Shapiro, H-New Jersey, H-Net Reviews

"New Jersey Dreaming shatters myths about the history, culture, and social relations of our society by placing ethnicity in a class context, by historicizing Jewish upward mobility, and by presenting a new framework for understanding identity and power that is firmly rooted in the practices of everyday life." — George Lipsitz, author of American Studies in a Moment of Danger

"New Jersey Dreaming is certainly the most impressive of books on the American high school experience. It makes one of the most important sociological arguments in recent years on the dynamics of class in post–World War II American society, and it presents innovations and important strategies for anthropologists conducting research in and on American society." — George Marcus, author of Ethnography through Thick and Thin


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sherry B. Ortner is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is author of Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering, Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture, and High Religion: A Cultural and Political History of Sherpa Buddhism. She has received many awards, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Tables and Map ix

Acknowledgments xi

Letter to the Class of '58 xv

1. Introduction:
A Genealogy of the Present / The Class of '58 and the Question of Class / The Research / The Native Ethnographer / Project Journal 1: Getting Started 1

The Making of the Class of '58

2. Reading Class:
Families and Class / Behind Closed Doors / Hiding in Plain Sight / Project Journal 2: Florida 27

3. Drawing Boundaries:
To Melt or Not? / The Ethnic Story / The Class Story / Project Journal 3: Los Angeles 51

4. Dealing with Boundaries:
The Others / Overt Racism / Race and Ethnic Relations at Weequabic / Internalizing Limits / Survival Strategies / Project Journal 4: New Jersey 68

5. American High Schools:
Memories and Categories / Deconstructing High School / High School Types across Time and Space / Permutations of the Structure / Project Journal 5: New York 90

6. Weekquahic:
The Top of the Table: High-Capital Kids and Popularity / The Lower Half of the Table: Low-Capital Kids and Resistance / Identities I: The Wildness of the Tame / Identities II: The Tameness of the Wild / Project Journal 6: New Jersey 110

7. Tracks:
Weequabic qua School / College Prep? / Cultural Capital / College as a Cultural System / Gender Tracks / Project Journal 7: New Jersey 141

What the Class of '58 Made

8. Counterlives:
Earlier Causes / The Other Fifities / The Sixties / Project Journa 8: New Jersey 169

9. Money:
Success / Upward Mobility / The Success of Jewish Men / High -Capital Jewish Boys / Downward Mobility / Low-Capital Jewish Boys / Mobility, Agency, and History / Project Journal 9: Children of the Class of '58, New Jersey 187

10. Happiness:
Zero College / Success II: Happiness / Project Journal 10: Children of the Class of '58 (LA and Other Far-flung Places, Including New Jersey) 213

11. Liberation:
Women and Higher Education / Class of '58 Women and the Feminist Movement / Divorce / Careers / Succeeding in Nontraditional Careers / Project Journal 11: Endgame 238

12. Late Capitalism:
The Class of '58 and the Making of Late Capitalism / The Growth of the PMC / Race Again 262

Appendix 1. Finding People / Judy Epstein Rothbard 279

Appendix 2. In Memoriam 282

Appendix 3. Lost Classmates 283

Appendix 4. The Class of '58 Today 284

Notes 295

Works Cited 313

Index 331
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, J. I. Staley Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3598-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3108-7
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