We begin this essay with an account of a research paradigm that was dominant in American sociology in the decades after the end of World War II and one that captured the prevailing American Zeitgeist. To be more precise, we would put it in brackets, between the publication of Blau and Duncan’s The American Occupational Structure (1967) and the English-language publication of Bourdieu’s Distinction (1984). At least as far as domestic issues were concerned, this was a period of great optimism in America, with a growing economy, and the expansion of Civil Rights and Great Society programs. Sociologists confirmed that opportunities were expanding for white, working-and middle-class Americans, and were hopeful for African Americans. David L. Featherman and Robert M. Hauser wrote:

Americans assent to the awarding of widely different prizes to persons depending on their performance in the economic ‘race.’ But we [that is, we Americans] insist that all run the race under the same set of rules so that ability and talent show themselves in a fair way …. Our social programs to increase equality of economic opportunity – to overcome the ‘handicaps’ of social background – issue from this logic.