Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

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Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (born April 9, 1978) is an American academic and author. She is the James Irvine Chair of Urban and Regional Planning and Professor of Public Policy at the University of Southern California.[1]


Currid-Halkett received her PhD in urban planning from Columbia University. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Creative Writing and Professional Writing and a Master’s of Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.[1]


Currid-Halkett is a scholar of urban studies and economic geography. Her research documents the importance of the arts to the urban economy and the role of cultural capital in defining and perpetuating class inequality in America. In a 2017 National Public Radio Hidden Brain interview with Currid-Halkett, Shankar Vedantam summarizes her research as a study of the social networks of elites.[2]

Currid-Halkett’s 2007 book The Warhol Economy documents how artists, designers, musicians and other creative workers are essential to the vibrancy of New York City. She interviewed dozens of people who work in creative industries from the newly established to well known names including Shepard Fairey, Diane Von Furstenberg, Quincy Jones and Ryan McGinness[3] In her research, she argues that the social life of creative workers is instrumental to their careers and to the creative economy. Currid-Halkett extended this argument to a comparative analysis with Los Angeles where she and MIT professor Sarah Williams looked at Getty Images photographic data of thousands of entertainment events to track the social life of creative people in a project entitled "The Geography of Buzz".[4] In a 2014 paper in PLOS One, Currid-Halkett and Williams used cell phone data and social media to track and analyze the creative process of New York City fashion industry workers.[5]

Currid-Halkett’s 2010 book Starstruck studies the economics of celebrity, in particular using social network analysis to study the relationship between social life and star power. Currid-Halkett argues that the A-list inhabits a closed network, or what is termed a clique (graph theory), leaving out everyone else.[2][6]

Currid-Halkett’s 2017 book The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class analyzes the role of culture in signifying class in America today.[7] Drawing from Thorstein Veblen’s original treatise, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Currid-Halkett argues that unlike conventional “conspicuous consumption” today’s elite, whom she calls the “aspirational class” spend on “inconspicuous consumption”, expensive but largely immaterial investments.[8][9] This “cultural elite” use their wealth towards goods and services such as education, domestic services and health care, all of which save time and shore up privilege for themselves and their offspring.[10][11] Currid-Halkett argues that this cultural capital contributes to growing inequality in America. Some commentators have remarked that Currid-Halkett’s aspirational class is part and parcel of the contemporary class and culture war in America.[12][13]

Currid-Halkett’s work has also appeared and been featured in mainstream publications including NPR, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and The Economist.[14][15][16][17][18][19]


Currid-Halkett’s work has been noted for its detailed documentation of the importance of the arts and culture to the economy. On The Warhol Economy James Surowiecki writes in The New Yorker, “…everyone knows that art and culture help make New York a great place to live. But Currid goes much further, showing that the culture industry creates tremendous economic value in its own right.” [20] Currid-Halkett’s 2017 book The Sum of Small Things has been reviewed as a convincing account of the role of consumption and cultural practices in today’s growing inequality.[10] The Economist named The Sum of Small Things one of the Books of the Year 2017.[21] David Brooks argued in the New York Times that Currid-Halkett’s study of invisible cultural signals offers another means to understand class barriers in America.[12] Simon Kuper of The Financial Times remarked, “This is the cultural elite — or what Elizabeth Currid-Halkett..calls the “aspirational class”. Her book The Sum of Small Things anatomises it using fascinating American consumption data….Her intellectual ancestor Thorstein Veblen, in his 1899 study The Theory of the Leisure Class, portrayed Wasps frittering away money, but today’s cultural elite is engaged in a ruthless project to reproduce its social position… No wonder the key rite of cultural-elite conversation has become Trump-dissing… And so the cultural wars that got him elected rage on.” [10] Others have challenged Currid-Halkett's critique arguing that the cultural capital she lauds as a signifier of the “aspirational class” may not be desired by other groups. As Kyle Smith writes in the New York Post, “Currid-Halkett detects a “pernicious divide between the elites and the rest” but only the op-ed columnists of the world seem to think this is a problem... Maybe ordinary Americans have found ways to earn a solid living without ever having heard of Bowdoin.”[22] Another critique challenged that it is too early to tell what changing consumption patterns might imply.[23]


  • Currid, E. (2007). The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City Princeton: Princeton University Press
  • Currid-Halkett, E. (2010). Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Currid-Halkett, E. (2017). The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Currid, E. and Williams, S. (2010). The Geography of Buzz: Art, Culture and the Social Milieu in Los Angeles and New York. Journal of Economic Geography. Vol. 10 (3). pp. 423–451.
  • Williams S, Currid-Halkett E (2014) Industry in Motion: Using Smart Phones to Explore the Spatial Network of the Garment Industry in New York City. PLOS ONE 9(2): e86165. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086165


  1. ^ a b "Elizabeth Currid-Halkett". usc.edu. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Never Go To Vegas, And Other Unspoken Rules Of Being An A-Lister". npr.org. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  3. ^ "The Warhol Economy". Princeton University Press. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  4. ^ Ryzik, Melena (6 April 2009). "'The Geography of Buzz,' a Study on the Urban Influence of Culture". Retrieved 19 April 2018 – via NYTimes.com.
  5. ^ "What We Can Learn by Tracking the Movements of Fashion Designers". citylab.com. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  6. ^ "Breaking: Anna Wintour Is Extremely Well Connected". thecut.com. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  7. ^ "The Sum of Small Things". Princeton University Press. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  8. ^ "The New Conspicuous Consumption". Time. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  9. ^ https://www.nature.com/articles/546031a#bk4
  10. ^ a b c "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  11. ^ Kopf, Dan. "The new class markers of the American elite: In "The Theory of the Leisure Class," Elizabeth Currid-Halkett updates our ideas of conspicuous consumption — Quartz". qz.com. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  12. ^ a b "Opinion - How We Are Ruining America". 11 July 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2018 – via NYTimes.com.
  13. ^ Quart, Alissa (22 June 2017). "Why a lot of Americans resent the cultured 'New York City elite'". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Opinion - What People Buy Where". 13 December 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2018 – via NYTimes.com.
  15. ^ "Opinion - Give Breast Milk". 27 March 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2018 – via NYTimes.com.
  16. ^ Currid-Halkett, Elizabeth (9 November 2013). "The 21st Century Silver Spoon". nytimes.com. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  17. ^ Currid-Halkett, Elizabeth (8 December 2010). "Why Narcissism Defines Our Time". wsj.com. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  18. ^ Currid-Halkett, Elizabeth (15 October 2011). "Opinion - Where Do Bohemians Come From?". Retrieved 19 April 2018 – via NYTimes.com.
  19. ^ Currid, Elizabeth (11 December 2009). "The Black List: what it can, and cannot, do for Hollywood filmmaking". Retrieved 19 April 2018 – via LA Times.
  20. ^ https://elizabethcurridhalkett.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/The-New-Yorker__Warhol_Currid.pdf
  21. ^ "Books of the Year 2017". economist.com. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  22. ^ Smith, Kyle (2017-07-29). "Americans don't need elite tastes to join the upper class". Nypost.com. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  23. ^ "The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett". timeshighereducation.com. 1 June 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2018.