Exercising Social Class Privilege: Examining the Practices and Processes Defining Upper-Middle Class Swimming Club Culture

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Cultural theorist Pierre Bourdieu argues that social class is defined by the interplay and operation of various forms of capital and, as such, is thought to be a significant determinant of an individual's everyday experiences, understandings, and identities. He believes that participation in private sport communities, such as swimming clubs, can contribute to one's social standing by positioning "the body-for-others," distinguishing those maintaining a privileged lifestyle, and transferring valuable skills, characteristics, and social connections to children for the purposes of class reproduction (Bourdieu, 1978, p. 838). Drawing on these ideas, this research explores the inter-related social constructs of the physically active swimming body, family, and social class at the Valley View Swim and Tennis Club (a pseudonym), a private recreational swim club in an upper-middle class suburban town on the outskirts of a major mid-Atlantic city. Through four years of ethnographic engagement, including participatory lived experience, observations, and interviews with mothers and children who belong to the pool, this project examines the way in which membership at Valley View plays an integral role in daily and family lives. Invoking Bourdieu (1978, 1984, 1986), I argue that pool participation is illustrative of members taken for granted, lived experience of power and privilege. Valley View operates as a distinctive consumption choice offering families a strategic opportunity to promote, demonstrate, convert, and transmit their varied levels of capital in and through their children, with the goal of expressing distinction now, and reproducing their familial social class position for future generations. Specifically, from the maternal perspective, this research discusses how the pool functions as a physical space for children's acquisition of physical capital and the tools to live a healthy, physically active lifestyle emblematic of social class position; details the way in which pool participation is a constitutive element of the upper-middle class family habitus, and thus offers parents an opportunity to teach their children valuable social and cultural dispositions; examines how Valley View provides children with enriching, intangible experiences characteristic of their class-based privilege; and lastly, explores how club membership is an important feature of these mother's privileged everyday daily lives.