The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Friday, July 16, 2010

Just a note

There's no point in writing about this amongst 265 comments on week-old post at Ta-Nehisi Coates' place, but, in discussing the Daily Show sexism issue, he notes
Us black and Latinos often come from backgrounds in which our families' primary reason for sending us off to college is stability. We often have siblings and parents to think about, and can't contemplate a year in New York at a free internship. Beyond that there are cultural factors--magazine journalism isn't simply very white, it's very Ivy League and Northeastern, which indicates that a certain kind of cultural capital is almost a requisite requirement.
Which jibes very much with my experience in architecture, an extremely white profession.

Put simply, among economic newcomers (i.e., those coming directly from either an immigrant or working class background), architecture is perceived as a bit of a frivolous profession for the leisure class - something to keep you busy while you manage your trust fund (perhaps that's why the pay lags behind other professionals). As a result, you tend to see immigrants and children of the working class pursuing engineering and business degrees. This links to a whole series of thoughts about the place of architecture in American culture, but this specific preconception - and the way it self-perpetuates - is something I've seen for a long time.

Incidentally - and obviously TNC isn't thinking about architecture at all in his post - I don't think that the second part (about cultural capital) is as relevant as it may be perceived. Certainly becoming a high profile architect (whether a "starchitect" or just the go-to architect in the local business/institutional community) is tied to cultural capital (it's driven very much by personal relationships), but the nuts and bolts of becoming a successful practicing architect are tied largely to having a good sense about building things, good organizational skills, and having people skills (sometimes classic skills like active listening and empathy, sometimes charismatic misanthropy).

I might note that this arc is revealed in my family background as well: my great-grandfather was a no-good drunk; my grandfather was a top tool-and-die man at Chicago Faucet*; my father, first to get a college degree, was a mid-level executive at a multinational, and I got an architecture degree and spent most of my 20s unreliably employed in architecture offices, by contractors, and as a handyman. My father got a good, responsible degree, but his children (my sister a poli-sci major) pursued less practical paths.

* "Lasts as long as the building."