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“Living In Each Other’s Pockets”: The Navigation of Social Distances by Middle Class Families in Los Angeles

Alesia Montgomery

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 26


In Hollywood movies and dystopian critiques, Los Angeles is two cities: one wealthy, white and gated, the other impoverished, dark and carceral. This depiction verges on caricature, eliding the diversity and maneuvers of the region’s middle class. Drawing upon ethnographies of middle class families (black, white, Latino, Asian) in affluent areas of West Los Angeles and the Valley and in the low-income areas that are located south and east of downtown Los Angeles, I explore how and why (and at what costs) parents engage in daily maneuvers to place their children in beneficial settings across the region’s vast sprawl. I describe these maneuvers (that resemble a game of “musical chairs”) as selective flight. In contrast to middle class flight to the suburbs, selective flight involves diurnal not residential shifts. Scarce qualitative work and theory-building has been done on selective flight across geographies of opportunity and risk. By framing these tactics, this study uniquely contributes to the study of segregation.

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