American Sociological Association

Wayward Elites: From Social Reproduction to Social Restoration in a Therapeutic Boarding School

In the past few decades, a multi-billion-dollar “therapeutic boarding school” industry has emerged largely for America’s troubled upper-class youth. This article examines the experiences of privileged youth in a therapeutic boarding school to advance social restoration as a new form of social reproduction. Drawing on interviews and fieldwork inside a Western therapeutic boarding school for young men struggling with substance abuse, I explore how students leverage a stigmatized, addict identity in ways that can restore privilege. Findings suggest that students engage in social restoration by constructing an overarching restorative narrative that works through three mechanisms: (1) experiential reframing, (2) appropriated therapeutic discourse, and (3) boundary maintenance through “othering.” Using these narrative strategies, students are able to transform a stigma into a symbolic marker of character that they use to reclaim privileged positions and dominant roles. This process of social restoration illuminates previously unexamined issues at the intersections of power and privilege, stigma, and inequality.

Authors

Jessica Pfaffendorf

Volume

82

Issue

2

Starting Page

113

Ending Page

133