Get Your Free Audiobook

The Sum of Small Things

A Theory of the Aspirational Class
Narrated by: Rachel Dulude
Length: 8 hrs and 35 mins
Categories: Non-fiction, Politics
5.0 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

Non-member price: $38.95

After 30 days, Audible is $16.45/mo. Cancel anytime.

Publisher's Summary

In today's world, the leisure class has been replaced by a new elite. Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption - like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and Toms shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children's growth, and to practice yoga and Pilates.

In The Sum of Small Things, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett dubs this segment of society "the aspirational class" and discusses how, through deft decisions about education, health, parenting, and retirement, the aspirational class reproduces wealth and upward mobility, deepening the ever-wider class divide.

©2017 Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (P)2017 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"There is a lot to learn here about the contemporary face of income inequality." ( Publishers Weekly)

More from the same

What listeners say about The Sum of Small Things

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Performance
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Story
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    0
  • 4 Stars
    1
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

No Reviews are Available
Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for pedro chacon
  • pedro chacon
  • 20-12-2018

great book good prospective

Really good read. Gives a great prospective on today's society and how it functions, I would recommend.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for rachel coyne
  • rachel coyne
  • 15-11-2019

Really interesting

Thoughtful, relevant analysis of real life trends. I enjoyed all the real world connections and macro view of trends

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Fred
  • Fred
  • 27-06-2019

know thyself

Apparently, I am a member of the aspirational class. This book has helped me take another look at why I do what I do without causing anxiety, like many books of the sort do. It did help me consider my snobbish behavior about my sister geting non-organic milk, or eating at fast food joints of our childhood. It is a good listen.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Elmira Cancelada
  • Elmira Cancelada
  • 06-06-2019

Interesting ireseach and ideas, but dry

This is more of an academic paper on current and upcoming shift in social division. A lot of numbers at the expense of illustrative and stories, alas. The good part: the author's conclusions are totally in line with the trends one observes around. The book is useful for the marketers of high-end goods.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for K
  • K
  • 21-05-2019

Brilliant

This book provides an amazing and well-rounded assessment of social class and it’s contemporary manifestation.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for José
  • José
  • 22-09-2018

Take the title literally

A significant part of the book is numbers and more numbers. Makes the mind wander right off.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Emma
  • Emma
  • 27-02-2018

What I already knew, but couldn't name

I really enjoyed this book. It really articulated a lot of concepts that I knew internally but wasn't sure how to express or prove. It was very easy to digest, too!

There really is a lot of hypocrisy and nonsense in modern culture, and a lot of it stems from our outdated assumptions about what money is worth and how it affects us. Our brains are stuck in the financial realities of the early 20th century, but the world and our economy has changed drastically since then.

Highly recommend!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Find a Path with Heart
  • Find a Path with Heart
  • 11-01-2018

Insightful, fact-based explanation of our various “identities”

This book provides a history of how various identity groups have formed in America, and what that means for our future and the world’s future. Reading it should give you insight into “how come those other folks are like that?”

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for IYER
  • IYER
  • 08-08-2020

Ambitious, but falls short

120 years ago, economist Thorstein Veblen published his “Theory of the Leisure Class”, a critique of conspicuous consumption and the upper classes that organized the social system in a way that enabled them to indulge in leisure activities while the majority of people worked to earn a basic living. The way they lived and the things they consumed led to the term “Veblen” goods, something familiar to all students of economics as products whose demand go up rather than down when their prices go up. Now American academic Elizabeth Currid-Halkett sets out to write a modern day version, updating the behaviours of the modern day elite, termed the aspirational class. As the real cost of most goods and products has fallen significantly over the past century, she argues that the new elite have replaced conspicuous consumption with inconspicuous consumption, which are still expensive pursuits with no real gains. This is an interesting concept, given the passage of time and changed mores since Veblen’s work, and the fact about the affordability of most forms of material conspicuous consumption to most people today. Like Veblen, Currid-Halkett extends largely accurate observations of current (and then current) social norms and spending patterns to their impact on broader society. But she then goes ahead and states that this “democratization” of consumer goods, that has provided more goods to the middle class, is to their detriment as they spend more on them and therefore have less to spend on things that will pave the way for inter-generational upward mobility! This by itself sounds like an elitist critique of the masses. But to make matters worse, she then most confoundingly blames her “new elite” for precisely doing the things that she blames others for NOT doing – for spending less on goods and more on things that can lead to a more “fulfilled” life and personal growth, and for usually marrying like-minded people and trying to give their children a head start by educating them earlier and in more rounded ways But unlike the old elite, who were rightly accused of wanting to perpetuate their dominance and exclude others based on birth and family ties, the author’s own words state that this new elite is grounded in meritocracy (as opposed to birthright), believes in the acquisition of knowledge and culture (as opposed to goods), works longer hours and is less clearly defined by economic positions (socioeconomically heterogeneous). Hence, unlike Veblen, who made a coherent argument on the negative impact on society of the leisure class, Currid-Halkett’s attempts at a similar portrayal comes across an unnecessary attempt at building a theory out of observations, and then shrilly assigning blame on her “new elite” based on this (non)theory. The book does have some interesting chapters and observations. The description of changes in the means of signaling status, which have become more subtle and nuanced, is interesting. The observation of how the focus has shifted from conspicuous consumption to “conspicuous production” – think limited edition goods, organic foodstuffs with clear provenance and the like - and “inconspicuous consumption” is also very insightful. And the description of practices (signifying inconspicuous consumption) such as practicing yoga or gymming regularly, drinking almond milk, taking kids to hockey rather than soccer, breast feeding babies longer, and reusing grocery bags every week are markers of status. But the question remains, what’s the big problem with this? Apparently, these lead to higher inequality, which is the primary grouse. But apart from stating that inequality has gone up as the definition of the leisure class has changed, there is nothing here to suggest a clear cause and effect pattern. To impugn that this is bad for society and they be discouraged from such behavior is simply absurd. As is the author’s judgement that this new elite has “appropriated” certain behaviours and goods (such as those mentioned above). Sadly, this is a book that may appeal to populists and nativists, as a matter of convenience since they can use these arguments to justify their policies and thoughts.