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  1. David Hockey
    05/07/2020 @ 10:11 am

    I have a similar experience. I came from a low-income, low-education and low-aspirational background on a run down council estate where no one knew of anyone who had genuinely advanced. I now have 2 degrees, 3 masters degrees a PhD and some academic publications in my area(s) of research. I’ve been apply for lecturing posts in Criminology since 2012 and here in 2020, I’m no further on. Lived experience as well as the organisational skills to do that amount of studying, whilst self-funding by working as well, don’t seem to be as convincing as looking and sounding middle class at the interview stage, even though the other candidates might not have ever left school and had their qualifications via a funded route.


    • Ruth
      05/07/2020 @ 8:28 pm

      Thanks so much for your comments. I feel exactly the same in interview situations – I can’t stand them. I even felt like that in my monthly supervisions for my PhD, as I can be articulate and confident sometimes and then other times I can’t find the words to say what I want to say and then end up feeling misunderstood and underestimated. It’s awful that you have spent that much time applying without any success – I really hope you end up getting the job that you deserve. I wish that universities would guarantee PhD students some form of work when they complete – even if it’s just a few hours, so they can get their foot in the door. It’s the same old story as other jobs – the employer expects you to already have the exact experience to do the job but you can’t get the experience unless someone gives you a chance.


  2. Alan Smithee
    05/07/2020 @ 3:19 pm

    Good article – I want to pick up on two specific bit:

    “My father’s side could be described as “respectable” – my grandparents (who were very kind to us), lived in a two-bedroom house in Anfield, another one of the most deprived areas of Liverpool. But they owned their home, and both had steady, manual jobs and traditional family values.”

    You have cut across a lot of my problems with a lot of writing about working class academics – it is flat – it presents a one dimensional take where everyone suffers from impostor syndrome and there is an attempt to “three yorkshiremen” each other to the bottom “I had to sell my kidneys while living in a sewer to become an academic”.

    I am from a working class background, I grew up on a council estate – *however* I’ve never been poor, I have no experience of the benefit systems, I have honestly never found academia difficult to navigate and so on.

    However I’m starting to think I’m being gas-lit by people trying to convince me my past never happened.

    “because of the illusion of a meritocracy ”

    So I think this is where the difference comes in – I was taught from an early age there is no meritocracy and no direct relationship between effort and output – it’s more to do with the game and the ability to do a deal. So the idea that academic is not a meritocracy is not some amazing disappointment to me – it’s entirely to be expected.


  3. Ruth White
    05/07/2020 @ 9:21 pm

    Thanks very much for your comment Alan. I have just gone on Youtube and watched the Yorkshireman sketch and have been in tears, laughing. I hadn’t seen it for years. It’s interesting that you bring up the Yorkshiremen because that’s what I meant when I said about fearing people would think I wasn’t really working-class because of my parents’ jobs. I probably worry more about being seen as an imposter by other working-class academics (who I have not met) than I worry about being seen as an imposter by middle-class academics.

    In my PhD thesis I analyse two photobooks about the domestic lives of British working class families and make a similar point – one family represents a more extreme form of poverty ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ (1996) in which the father of the family, Ray, is an alcoholic and they live in a crowded council flat and the other family in ‘Livingroom (1991), are still obviously poor but it is more of a middle-of-the-road poverty (if that makes sense). Documentary photographers have always tended to favour showing the extremes.


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