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Lisa McKenzie

Awaiting abstract.

Fraser Mycroft

When we found one another in lockdown, in a Zoom room called Solidarity Thinking Space, we also found our voices. Not that we’d been silent before; we are outspoken activists. Coming together around our shared identity as ‘working class thinkers’ (still an uncomfortable label) enabled us to be unguarded in a way which caused us to reflect on how guarded we’d been before.

The Solidarity Thinking Space is jointly facilitated in a Thinking Environment (Kline, 2020), a set of processes which enable people to think well together. We hope to model this at the Working Class Academics Conference 2021.

Our topic is finding our voices as working class thinkers. We will think together about the micro-aggressions we have experienced in our lives, when we have spoken, or – especially – have ‘spoken back to’ (Knott, 2021) those who hold real or perceived power over us. The live nature of the Solidarity Space means that we don’t know now what we will say in July, but our conversations so far have focused on:

  • Language/swearing/accents/dialect/being told to talk proper by your Mam.
  • Fitting in.
  • Being exposed by what we call ‘dinner’ and ‘tea’.
  • Regional/RP accent doesn’t equal class but can create bias.
  • Being told that if we want to succeed we need to drop our regional accent.
  • Coming ‘home’ from having lived away to be told that we’re now ‘posh’ (but not posh enough for others, so being left in limbo).
  • The ‘novelty’ factor of a regional accent (aka being patronised).
  • Being silenced because we’re too emotional/sweary/common/gobby/outspoken/radical, and the associated shame.
  • School uniform, it isn’t the equalizer people say.

By ‘speaking’, we mean both verbal and non-verbal ‘communication’. By modelling the process, we hope to encourage others to form their own Solidarity Thinking Spaces.

Jacqui Brewster

The NHS faces a shortage of 40,000 nurses, yet one in 4 nursing students leave or suspend their degree before graduation. The majority of students cited financial difficulties as the main reason they leave. Nursing students spend 50% of their time on practice placements working 40 hours a week and as such it is difficult for them to also work through university to support themselves.

I work in a university where 23% of its students are from low income/low participation backgrounds compared to the UK average of just under 12%. As an academic from a working-class background myself, and the first person in my family to go on to higher education, I recognise the struggles working class nursing students face. Many of these students come to university through different routes to A level; they have worked as care workers and come to nursing through access courses. They have no option but to carry on with part time work whilst working long hours on practice placements and juggling academic work with family commitments. For many university is often an exhausting and frustrating experience.

Nursing has a fascinating place in the UK class system and in many ways, nurses have been an oppressed group in terms of class and gender throughout history. Nursing also has a complicated relationship with the university system. Unlike other health professions the legitimacy of nurse education at university is often questioned despite the growing need for highly qualified, autonomous practitioners.

I would argue that working class student not only understand, but many have lived experience of health inequalities and therefore play a vital role in meeting health needs. I will explore the many barriers to qualified nurse status for these students and suggest different ways to break these down.

Amanda Price

The education Department that I manage requires improvement! I am sitting in the middle of a moderation meeting listening to two education managers from other sites discussing the improvements that they have made over the past year. They have been graded good by Her Majesty’s Inspectorates and Ofsted.

My palms are sweaty, and my mouth is dry, I have read and re-read the site action plan for my department. I am listening intently, but I cannot see properly…the other managers are so good, and my god… every word out of their mouths sounds like poetry!

Its my turn to talk, I must sell this…my team are hoping that I put up a fight, that I push back and give the other sites a run for their money…but I cannot remember a thing…my head has gone blank…my voice is cracking and suddenly, the words coming out of my mouth just do not match the voices in my head!

Where have I gone? Why is my heart beating to in line to Queen’s rendition of dum dum dum “another one bites the dust” whilst imagining all the other participants eyes getting bigger and bigger…looking at me over the teams meeting, watching for signs of weakness…in my mind’s eye I see a pack of wolves, foaming at the mouth…waiting to eat me alive…chew me up and spit me out!

And then it was over…please do not ask me what I said…I am far too embarrassed to re-live the experience, but just take my word…it was not powerful, it was not poetry!

I am left with one question…why even after six kids, six promotions in six years, a first-class degree and a Master’s in Education and guest speaking at universities do I still feel like an imposter?

Pamela Dale

I am going to discuss my academic journey and my battle with shame, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness as a woman.  I am going to discuss the reasons I was able to find my voice, embrace my vulnerability and live wholeheartedly.   

I want to take you back to the 1970s.  I grew up in a small Northern village: Holmfirth.  This is where my inner critic was born.  I was mercilessly bullied, and my life tong tormentor was internalized because of outside influences and other people’s criticism.

My parents moved to England from Southern Ireland.  I was born in England, but I was told by my peers: “You are Irish.” The feeling of shame was worsened, even at such a tender age, because the inference was that being Irish made you an IRA supporter; I was 7 years old!  My shame was that I was ‘Irish’, Catholic, freckled faced, plump, ginger haired and ‘sub-working class’.

I was bright, but academia and university were not the path that society had chosen for me.  My inner critic took over the narrative of my life; I perfected the art of making myself small and unseen.  I lived that way for many, many years…

Fast forward to 2021. I have a degree, I have a PGCE, I have been a teacher for almost 10 years, and I am a researcher.   However, it is only in the last 9/10 months of my academic life that I have been able to rid myself of feelings of shame, silence my inner critic, shrug the crippling imposter syndrome from my shoulders, step into the arena and embrace my vulnerability.  How did I do this?  I met Lou Mycroft  and became part of JoyFE, Communities of Practice, Constellations, The Ideas Room, read Brene Brown….and met lots of wonderfully inspiring and supportive women.

Adam Poole

Reconciling the working and middle class sides of my academic identity: forging a new hybrid identity.

My presentation will explore my ambivalent relationship to the ‘working-class academic’ label. This presentation will be the first time that I have publicly embraced this label. Previously, I had thought of myself as a working-class academic, but always considered that it had little relevance to my academic identity. However, I have increasingly found that I have been researching in bad faith. I have felt compelled to pass myself off as the ‘middle-class’ academic, recycling the correct clichés and appropriating the same hackneyed academic phrases. Every time I write an article, I feel as if it I were not me writing, but rather this other version of me. The closest I have come to finding my ‘authentic voice’ was in a recent book on International Schooling in China, where, for the first time, I drew upon my working-class experiences. The process was liberating and enlightening. I finally found a style that was congruent with my lived experiences. This process has led me to embrace my working-class identity. Yet how to integrate it with my middle-class academic identity is still an issue.

This presentation will see me attempt to reconcile these two identity positions by synthesising them into a hybrid identity. This presentation will briefly recount my experiences of schooling and university, as well as the many struggles I had to overcome in order to succeed (though I am still very much in a situation of precarity). It will then deconstruct my ambivalent relationship to the working-class academic label. On the one hand, I embrace the term ‘working-class academic.’ It functions as a kind of oppositional identity or even a nom de guerre. On the other hand, I also find myself rejecting the term ‘working-class academic.’ Perhaps out of fear of being judged by my middle-class peers. Perhaps because my past was somewhat traumatic. I end the presentation by reconciling the working and middle class sides of my academic identity, forging a new hybrid identity.

Nick Stevenson

Here I seek to outline a critical politics of heritage in respect of the class based cultural politics of English heritage. The ascendancy of complex struggles over what constitutes ‘our heritage’ has become especially important to the politics of class in the early part of the 21st century. The rise of Right-wing populism has explicitly sought to start a war against a so called ‘woke’ culture in respect of popular memory and heritage. Here I argue that museums and heritage sites remain important forms of popular education and should be taken seriously. However missing from more contemporary debates are questions related to class and the history and traditions of the labour movement. In this respect, I seek to explore the pedagogic potential of a number of museum and heritage sites in the context of a culture where the working-class are not only written out of history, but whose own radical histories continue to be mostly ignored by the overwhelmingly middle-class heritage industry. Here I seek to explore the on-ongoing potential of a number of critical heritage sites that continue to connect the working-class to more radical versions of the past.

Michael Hepworth

In this presentation, I aim to exemplify some of the ways in which working with photographs in the language education classroom can challenge neo-liberal ideologies and empower students by developing their skills around language, literacy and critical thinking. More precisely, I aim to share and exemplify what I have learned about ways in which teachers and students can work productively with visual argumentation in photographs. I aim to demonstrate how this can foreground issues around inequality and provide opportunities to draw upon teacher and student activism as a resource in the language classroom.

I do this by drawing upon punk pedagogies (Bestley, 2018; Dylan-Smith et al., 2018) as a broad heuristic, exploring their value as an alternative to traditional ways of conceptualising language education. Similarly, I aim to draw upon social class, a much neglected variable in applied linguistics generally and language education in particular (Block et al., 2013). Throughout, I adopt an ethnographic approach, which uses interview and observation data collected through Exploratory Practice (Hanks, 2017) conducted in my own adult migrant language classroom.

Alex Dunedin

This presentation will explore the pernicious cultural stereotypes which come from the inherently class ridden and hierarchical society of Britain in context with sustainability and environmentalism.

As the world faces global crises of climate breakdown, pollution, loss of biodiversity and habitat we are seeing vital initiatives emerge as responses. It is recognised that everyone has a role to play in creating local responses to such macro problems.

As sustainability becomes more recognised as an imperative, and as resources are moved towards dealing with the problems of environmental crisis, we are seeing a cultural reproduction of elitist and exclusionary structures in these contexts – as is the case with education, healthcare and other recognised areas of importance.

I will explore the sociology of Norbert Elias whose work illustrates how the more financially advantaged come to colonise positions of agency in community hierarchies overshadowing those with fewer resources and agency.

These configuring structures recreate the inequalities endemic in our societies. They fuel prejudices which uproot working class and financially precarious communities from the intellectual and practical activities essential for appropriately collective responses.

The forging of the identity of environmental consciousness, as it has risen and become valuable in our current times has resulted in a displacement of working class people from the discourse as the mantra of elite meritocracy once again produces a devalued representation of those not in privileged positions.

In this presentation I will explore examples of working class people who have been involved in pioneering environmental consciousness and discuss the behaviour of forming hierarchies as an inherent paradox of organisational practice producing ingroups and outgroups. The paradox is particularly important to apprehend as a property of human psychology not isolated to a given class or socio-economic grouping.

Claire Sedgwick

Though stand-up is a genre that was developed in working men’s clubs, in recent years there has been much discussion of the extent to which working class voices can be heard in the industry. This paper will present results from a research project on the cultural economy of comedy in the East Midlands. The project explores the experiences of comedians in the region and the impact that class, race and gender have on their ability to progress in the industry. This is a particularly timely topic given that the pandemic has led to increased insecurity in the industry, an insecurity that is most likely to impact working class comedians. The paper will situate the research within the context of recent debates around access to the cultural and creative industries. Findings from the research project will be discussed in relation to analysis of both historical and contemporary case study to examine how working class life and culture has been both celebrated and denigrated in comedy.

Jack Whatley

The working class make up the majority of the population – the masses whose efforts make the wheels of society turn. In times of crisis, be the turmoil rooted in international relations (or lack thereof), environmental assaults or economic distress, those at the lower rungs of the social ladder are hit hardest yet most commonly discarded by the very society their efforts maintain. Where the richest are safe in their ivory towers when storms come, those without the level of income to call it disposable are rarely granted sanctuary within those same towers. But why? It is not as though the working class are disposable; without them, the society breaks down, the social contract gets torn up. One would expect those who are needed for the running of a civilisation to be given regard equivalent to their contributions, but the contrary is often true – manipulated, charged for amenities that should be rights and frequently demonised for it – the working class are the first casualties of disasters despite their stations being on the front lines.

Similar to this plight is that of the Adventurer in fantasy literature and games such as Dungeons and Dragons: saviours of the world, from all places, peoples and walks of life, united by their status as adventurers which transcends creed and colour. Despite their efforts to defend against the dangers of such fantastical worlds, the adventurers are toyed with, disparaged and discriminated against by all and given no quarter. This paper will use an analysis of the adventurers of fantasy, a group of frontline workers treated not as people but as commodities to be discarded when inconvenient to gain greater insight into the reasonings as to why the working class of our world are treated identically in crises like the one we are now living through.

Andy Griffith

Adopting the ‘right’ definition of social justice/injustice will help schools, colleges and universities to be more effective in tackling it. When organisations set a mission to reduce social injustices great things can happen, most notably the creation of a more united body of staff where collective efficacy is high (the chief determinant of a school’s success according to Professor John Hattie). I’ll provide some examples of what an organisation might do to effectively build this collective efficacy and to create ‘deliberate and specific interventions’ to reduce educational gaps and mindsets.

I’ll share a case study of a project that I have led which deliberately aims to reduce social injustice in Kirkby, Merseyside called The Scholars Programme. Exploring the impact on students and their parents and carers. I’ll go on to explain the context I’m working in, model that I have adopted, the results so far and the design principles behind the programme so that others may learn from it. 

I intend to also spend some time addressing certain obstacles or elephants in the room to achieving more social justice such as where resources can be obtained and how hard-pressed professionals can best re-allocate their time towards those who may need it more.

Aidan Teplitzky

I am a composer whose work explores the creative potential of embodying working-classness in new interdisciplinary compositions. As part of my inquiries I am examining the significance of swearing in relation to working-class identity. Swearing can be perceived as an attack on authority. For others as a sign of low intelligence and illiteracy. In reflecting on my own use of swearing and its use by other working-class individuals, I consider it to hold a greater meaning than either of these understandings. However, I am aware of the complex nuance that exists in the use of swearing and the challenges of expressing this nuance within creative outputs. In my practice-based research exploring the embodying of working-classness in classical music, the idea of affectual value is considered in relation to compositional processes. Derived from Skeggs’ concept of ‘Person Value’ in recontextualising working-class identities, affectual value focuses on the evaluation of objects/cultural practices through the “gift of attention over time” (Skeggs, 2011: 505 emphasis in original).

In this paper presentation I will be sharing my piece “_ _ _ _” and analysing how I have encapsulated the affectual value of swearing through considerations of censorship and intent. By exploring the translation of subjective considerations to compositional language, I aim to open a dialogue in exploring the creative potential of working-classness and the original creative opportunities to be found within this research.

Sinead Blackledge

I grew up in Derry N.Ireland which let’s just say had its troubles, the norm growing up was army on the streets, riots, petrol bombs and marching season between the 12 july and they 12th august.

No one ever really put any focus on education growing up; it was just something that you had to get through and not get expelled.

Students’ schools places are decided on what religion you were, not where you wanted to go. We had nuns teaching us in school and not just Religious Education.

Nobody went to University or even thought about it, people from Derry didn’t do that, you finished school and got a job, university was for the rich people we were a town of people that worked in factories, or Tesco if you were lucky.

I remember my first day of high school, going to my science class and the teacher did the registration and when she said my name she was are you anything to michael and caroline (my sister and brother) I was a geeky 12 year old and said proudly yes, to which the response was “get out of my classroom im not having another one of you in here”.

People already have made their mind up about me because of where I lived and my family.

Growing up here was hard enough but growing up with dyslexia was made even harder, and even to this day people say that it doesn’t exist, that it’s an excuse for being lazy.

Stacey Salt

My discussion area is around the idea of academic and vocational. What is the difference? Is there a difference? How does society sit within this? As a business tutor in a vocational college I can say that the course I teach on is very much ‘academic’. As far as assessment goes, essays, reports, research based with very little ‘practical’ or ‘work place’ involved. Furthermore, I have found limited assumptions around the progression routes from school, to college and further ahead whether that be employment, HE or apprenticeship programmes. FE is not just a stop gap but holds the power to develop and nurture students.

The ideologies around social class to academic and vocational routes, and the stigmas attached have not changed since I was school/college age despite developments in other areas such as legislation, availability of courses at different settings and the research which exists. I found my voice in my thirties, I found my purpose and confidence, the question is why is this not happening sooner? Why is there still the notion that vocational colleges are not academically focused? And why are young people and adults still struggling to stand out?

I have the following statement many times in the last 5 years, however I suspect it has been around a while ‘if you don’t achieve English and Maths then you will have to go to a vocational college’. Research suggests that many students who don’t achieve Maths and English are from working class backgrounds – the statement above is what I have heard at schools when attending their GCSE results day – this is the type of advice which is being offered, immediately applying negativity around attending a vocational college. How can the communication change? Why is education not seen holistically from infant through to HE/employment/apprenticeships despite which route is taken?

Mike Scott

Mike’s perspective of Seeing the Unseen in society.

Mike discusses his working-class background and his journey through work and education as a mature (disabled) student. 

This will follow by the premiere of Mike’s micro-film which showcases the unseen disability in society and the impact it has on mike through spoken poetry.

Aamna Khokhar

In light of the tragic death of Sarah Everard I wanted to talk about the position of women in our ‘modern day’ society. In 2021 a woman cannot feel comfortable and safe walking alone on our streets and this is embarrassing. I sat and read many of the shares on social media about women having been harassed and assaulted from a very young age. Feelings of anger and sadness filling me up. Feeling unsafe as adults to walk the streets alone in what is considered a civilised society. How much do we need to do to change ourselves to be safe? When will we educate men instead? Until I was reminded of this opportunity by a friend who knows how to lift women up! an opportunity to turn that negativity into something positive. To begin to change that narrative.

The sense of safety and the ability to challenge what is wrong is snatched out of our hands even before we reach adulthood, we are left believing that have to accept the status quo! The clear and false message that we hold no power. What happened to Sarah Everard is the tip of the iceberg and a tragic consequence of a systemic issue surrounding gender inequalities in our society, even today. I want to explore the issues surrounding the real need to uplift women and educate men. To remove those glass ceilings together for mutual gain and moving humanity forward. To empower women to fill spaces where we have been afraid to go. To upskill men on ways to communicate that demonstrate respect towards women who occupy new spaces. Spaces women have the right to occupy. The conversation is crucial to change. Crucial so women like Sarah Everard get to live.

Eileen Mary Fitzgerald

Using findings from my 1997 PhD research based on an Arts Access programme, I will examine the decline of access opportunities for working-class people during the intervening years of ‘Widening Participation’ – “It’s the money stupid” – which is of course a class issue.

I will explore the drives and the motivations which have brought people to study in my discipline of English Literature and The Arts in general over my working life of 30 years. I will argue these have not changed, only the opportunities have.

I will raise the scandalous legacy left by my generation in the ruins of our Higher Education system which is a group, forlornly referred to as Lost Learners. I will ask colleagues to think of ways we can address this outrage. Continuing Education is a political issue.

I will look at the diminished opportunities for working-class people to engage with education in The Arts, in part through the eyes of Janet and John from the 1950s Ladybird Books. I will argue that Janet and John have acted as subalterns in the Neo-liberalist colonisation of Higher Education. They have turned our Universities into expensive training institutions. Many ordinary people who want to participate in Arts education can neither afford to nor can they justify doing so in terms of family economics.

I am not insensitive to the irony of finding myself, a working-class woman, wishing to argue in defence of old-fashioned liberal values using poetry. I will argue that this irony is born of a disingenuous misunderstanding of the educational aspirations of ordinary people. To explore this I may use the BBC Creative Diversity report and the work of Tony Harrison.

I will look at these issues through the lens of my home discipline of English Literature. Inevitably there will be English Poetry of Protest from the Romantics through to modern writers in English such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Kate Tempest, Tony Walsh, and Amanda Gorman.

Sorca McDonnell

As a Doctoral student my research is a co-operative exploration, and reflection on the experiences of working class women who have attended Higher Education (HE). I have used a group process based on key principles of Co-operative Inquiry and Participatory Action Research. I plan to co-construct knowledge based on the experience and impact of going through HE on working class women.

One aspect of my Doctoral journey so far has been the role of affect and emotion. My research is with a group of working class women who attended Higher Education (HE). We have met as a group over a period of eight months and worked in a democratic, collective and reflective way to explore experiences of class and education. Power and decision making has been shared in the group (Ledwith, 2007; Heron, 1997; Reason, 2011). There has been lots of really interesting discussions but one aspect of the research that has struck me is how important emotion and affect are, both as part of the process of being an insider in the research and in reflections within the group. My presentation will explore this aspect of my research journey and explore how it contributes to the knowledge being created in this process.

I want to think about how being working class and the values of relationship and affect have created a space where emotion is welcomed and valued. Skeggs (2004) describes being working class as “living a life with a very different set of values” (p. 91). While Folkes (2021) stresses the importance of community and the rejection of individualised journeys of social mobility by her working class research participants. It is in this space that I see the importance of emotion and its role in building relationships, that has become an important aspect of this research.

Garry Nicholson

This presentation recounts the inspiration for a postgraduate research project which considers the place of the European lifelong learning concept of Bildung (self-formation) in the English adult education system. Set on a social housing estate located in a large city in North East England, it is the tale of how a group of working-class women and one persistently maverick tutor abandoned the grim motorway of functional English classes and instead travelled the happier back roads of Bildung. Along the journey a series of autobiographical writing activities allowed the women to write, reflect and talk freely about the challenges they had experienced in life and question their own cultural norms of educational antipathy, proving to be the catalyst for their increased self-authorship.

Questions are raised about the lack of real agency in adult education. Many of the person-centred principles of andragogy are becoming less prevalent in an adult learning landscape that increasingly focuses solely on the need to increase the human economic capital of the working classes and make them ‘functional’. Many of us would like to see an alternative educational paradigm realised that lends itself better to developing agency and broadening horizons. The Scandinavian countries are considered to be some of the most equal societies in the world and Bildung is at the heart of their education systems. Perhaps it is time then that it enters our educational discourse as an underpinning concept that can begin to challenge class inequalities.

Julie Devon

The aim of the PhD is a study of Community Health incentives, focusing on Hedonic vs Eudaimonic approaches, utilising discursive analysis, creating an inclusive, user-friendly resource, to help people talk about their health, with an embedded sense of ownership of one’s voice. I would like to create a resource, that would benefit short and long term physical and emotional wellbeing of individuals, within education/high deprivation environments. This potentially may look at students/learners. The PhD will explore a sense of self or lack thereof, within current times: environmental issues, climate change, austerity – a chance to re-connect with self, nature and community. To encourage a reflective outlook on their own health, which could lead to more positive, beneficial and informed choices in self-care/lifestyle, to embed a respect for ‘self’, becoming an expert in one’s self, reclaiming own voice.

Richard Hudson-Miles

Jacques Rancière’s anti-disciplinary book Proletarian Nights (1981) is based primarily upon the diaries of manual labourers in nineteenth century France. At a time when the discourses of revolutionary socialism were at a high, and Marx and Engels were writing some of their most important works, Rancière reveals various conflicted class identities behind the image of the worker valorised with the Communist imaginary. Instead of pride in the honesty of labour, these workers resented the factories which imprisoned them. They also resented the proletarian condition, envied the free time of the leisure classes, and used time in between shifts to produce art and poetry which imitated bourgeois culture.

Informed by the lessons of Rancière’s nineteenth century worker-poets, this paper forwards some autobiographical reflections on the author’s decision to study Fine Art, at Manchester Metropolitan University, as a working class, first generation HE student. These recollections are woven together with the ideas of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten (2013), Louis Althusser (1971), and Engels’ (1845) Conditions of the Working Class in England, to sketch an ethnography of the art school, and the beginnings of a critique of Marxist class critique.

Ben Hickman

My paper will attempt to describe the innovations and urgency of new research burgeoning in the Humanities on the question of labour: wage-labour, unpaid labour, zero-hours labour, forced labour and everything in between. I will outline the following: why work has remained all but hidden from the Humanities, despite the fact humans spend most of their lives doing it; why it is beginning to flourish now and what failures of critical theory it seeks to address; what it has and does not have to do with class; and what the key labour questions are for the Humanities now. I will do this in reference to both artistic productions and recent critical interventions.

Ben Campbell

We have held classclinpsych webinars since March 2020, focusing on the experience of applying to, training and working in the profession of Psychology. We compiled our speakers transcripts, chat transcripts from webinars, tweets and other qualitative material and analysed them using thematic analysis (TA) to produce overarching themes. The results revealed the many “hoops and hurdles” facing working class people considering a career in psychology, and the felt sense of shame of occupying a traditionally middle class space, both in academic and some clinical settings. We hope to highlight the additional challenges for working class young people approaching a career which can feel ‘othering’ and recognise the intersectional nature of class.

Maria Impedovo

This contribution is based on the analysis of desire and interests that shape academic research topics. What brings us as working-class academics to focus on some issues and not others? How to valorize a working-class experience in what or how to do social and educational research?

There are personal features embodied and an enacted social capital as insider and outsider of various communities. Also, the own biases and preconceptions may be influencing the process to approach the research. For this, especially for social and educational research, the researcher must be aware of what effect their research (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994).

Starting from the analysis of my current academic position work and complementary interviews with colleagues with similar social capital and class experiences, I would like to identify some dimensions in the barriers, orientations, and strategies that influenced research topics selected and modalities to be engaged in research and as a researcher. The concept of Funds of Identity (Esteban-Guitart, 2016), in the different declination (geographical, practical, cultural, social, and institutional) – also extended as dark funds of identity (Charteris, Thomas & Masters, 2018) and the existential funds of identity (Poole, 2020) – is combined with the socio-material resources to understand the personal and professional path shaped in research interests and modalities to perform the academic role. Dimensions considered are conflicts of motives to act; wandering actions in global cultural (dis)fluency; activation of resources toward an (in)definite interest; temporal and spatial mobility of the social and cultural artefacts. The working-class experience could be a Fund of Identity liminal between private and professional role. The analysis will invite a positive harness of past experiences to create connections between Working-Class Academic and constructive externalities for research and how to be a researcher.

Shona Smith

It is no secret that our existences and productions are situated as participants in exchanges with co-existing “racist, sexist, capitalist” power relations (hooks, 1984:4). Since whiteness, masculinity, and eliteness are prioritised throughout these dialogues, we are all categorised as either dominant or inferior insofar as our visibility cements these hierarchical structures. Britain’s recent Sewell Report (2021) and its denial of institutional racism evidences this practice in action, given that scholars and non-scholars alike have continuously identified how such harm imposes on lived experiences. Indisputably, then, a periphery for erased voices is automatically brought into play when assigning a central space to vocalise and receive information.

And herein lies the problem: how can we truly know ourselves and our explorations, when we are all governed by these forces in one way or another? Power is not a natural expectation of being human, nor is oppression. In this respect, recognising that mainstream narratives arise at the expense of so-called insignificant voices must direct us to concerns about the effects these falsehoods have on granting authority to some knowledges and displacing the truths of others. Black women academics- for instance- are no stranger to structural inequalities limiting our access to material rewards in academia. By this logic, white men’s increased awarding of professorships should invite a similar awareness.

Correspondingly, my presentation engages with ongoing Black feminist and decolonial conversations about Western boundaries of favourable knowledge and what needs to be retrieved beyond this. By referring to my use of lived experience as data, I explore lived experience as sites of authentic meaning about the self and society. It is my hope that speaking as a mixed-race, working-class, disabled woman will emphasise the fluidity and wholeness of identities. Equally, I aim to demonstrate the wealth of truths there are to embrace.


1. hooks, b. (1984). Feminist Theory from Margin to Centre. South End Press: Boston

2. HM Government. (2021). Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: The Report. Available at: [Accessed: 01/04/21]

Please note: bell hooks’ name is deliberately not capitalised to reflect her ideas more than her personality. This is something that hooks, herself, does.

Lisa Kelly

Student feedback and consumer rights processes in Higher Education have been designed with the intention of assuring a level of supposed quality to apparent consumers. This has resulted in a paradoxical representation of student identity and the learning experience, fuelled by misnomers and borrowed, globalised perceptions. Ultimately, we ask our students to understand exactly what they want out of education, prior to the reaching a point where they could possibly understand the wide-ranging benefits can be unpredictable, and context dependent.   Ultimately, the combination of limited understanding of Higher Education learning, a focus on the transactional nature of fee paying and the student held responsibility of policing their own education, ultimately turns the educational process into a restrictive one, rather than a liberating one. Inadvertently, the student becomes the guard, trapped within a panopticon of their own making, alongside the institution trying to help them. Given that knowledge and understanding of Higher Education is limited, dependent on your educational background, I would argue that this has disproportionate impacts upon our working-class learners, who arrive in education expecting a service, and can struggle to understand the level of responsibility they themselves hold over the outcome.

This talk aims to prompt a discussion with those who are affected by the consequences of a confused and constricted student identity, focussing on how we, as academics, negotiate the impacts of such a conflicted discourse and how could changes in policy landscapes support the liberation of our students from their own preconceptions.

Becka White & Dan Alefounder

I will read my short poem, Academic Terminology, which is about the gatekeepery of academic discourse. I’ll talk through my poem and about this particular form of class exclusion through my own experience of attending and working at ‘redbricks’ (UCL and LSE). 

The illustration is just as important as the words it accompanies. Since language for me serves as both gate-keeper (to the academy) and also a class-marker (of my background, via my accent), going beyond language – by way of an illustration – is very deliberate. It shows me climbing steps and pushing at a large, looming door, unable to enter despite my proximity.  

This was drawn by my elder brother, Daniel Alefounder, who is a former lecturer (Regent’s College) and administrator (KCL). The fact we have been able to co-create a piece of work, with our shared background and different strengths, is poignant for me. Our career and educational paths have been very different but classism has been our constant companion.

Clive Trusson

This is a personal reflection on feelings of class alienation felt decades apart within two ‘prestigious’ educational settings: a highly selective Grammar School (as a school pupil) and a highly acclaimed University (as a lecturer). I offer to the conference two angry class-conscious poems (one of 23 lines, the other of 82 lines) I have recently written that recall incidents that reveal a consistent biographical positioning with regard to class alienation within competitively minded educational institutions. The first reports on a classroom incident at the Grammar School in the late 1970s when I was ordered to stand up so that I might be ridiculed by the class on account of my accent. The second reports on being required to work for my employing University in an unsafe working environment at the start of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently getting ill. I connect the poems by pointing to my self-awareness that, simultaneously, I have striven for recognition from these institutions of privilege while also having a sharp awareness of being tolerated by them as an adjunct – i.e. ‘othered’ – rather than embraced and equally valued with those of my peers who were/are more adept at clearly signalling themselves to be insiders via processes of revealing and asserting their social, cultural, symbolic and economic capital (Bourdieu, 1984). The poems reflect how symbols of prestige casually on display within such educational domains are central to the reproduction of privileged authority and serve to remind working-class students and academics of their interloper ‘otherness’ and inequality.

Anastasia Christou

This presentation combines commentary with poetry reading to make an intervention on how both mould affordances of ‘unhoming pedagogies’ and the affectivities of being a working class migrant academic activist in the neoliberal Academy of the ‘hostile environment’ in Brexit Britain. The contribution grapples with how societal trauma triggered by a number of crises exacerbated by exclusions and divisions is a challenging arena, and one which for academic activists trying to imagine futurities of freedom and utopias of social justice, equity and humanity, demands an intersectional awareness. I share auto/ethnographic and poetic reflections while engaging with cultural politics, intersectional and feminist approaches, decolonial and post-colonial epistemologies, narrative analytics and the critical sociologies of public scholarship, and, while embracing a feminist ethics of care and a social justice for community development activist and anti-racist agenda. These contextualise the public and pedagogic sphere as spaces of what I term ‘unhoming’ and can yield experiences of displacement through processes of rupture, exclusion, racialisation and by extension as a form of gendered violence which is psychosocially and emotionally saturated in the toxicity of how classed and ethnicised groups are othered through everyday sexisms, ageisms and racisms.

My critical intervention draws from a threefold theorisation of a discomforting of politics (cf. ‘politics of discomfort’: Chadwick 2021), through bridging liminal affectivity (cf. affective liminality: Waerniers and Hustinx 2020) while interrogating radical praxis of the ‘human condition’ (Arendt 1958). As a form of feminist affective radical praxis, engaging with discomforting politics is integral to the development of inclusive, emancipatory and alternative feminist knowledges. Along the line as theorised by Chadwick (2021) in exploring ‘discomfort’ as ‘sweaty concept’, transformative as an epistemic and interpretive resource with intensity and resistance, I push for ‘discomforting’ feminist politics to engage with an Arendtian political participation in society as the exemplification of action in becoming ‘human’.

Jamie Holman

My research locates football hooliganism and the terrace cultures that emerged since the league was founded in 1888 by mill workers in the North of England, as an important textile heritage. The textiles narrative extends as the great grandchildren of weavers, wefters and warpers roamed Europe, fighting, stealing clothes and bringing them back to their home towns in a working class version of ‘the grand tour.’ Sportswear and brands became an intrinsic part of their class-related identity as they reclaimed luxury brands not intended for council estates in Blackburn. The town remains at the centre of these activities as both a founder of the football league and as the migration of language and identity now carried in adidas Spezial trainers, sees kids in Milan, Paris and New York wearing trainers that carry a discreet codification, as they memorialise working class individuals, acid house activities and public spaces and buildings from Blackburn that are linked to terrace cultures. Presenting video works and a paper presentation I will challenge the nostalgia of textile heritage and interrogate football hooliganism as a space of resistance and as a catalyst for international cultures that have emerged as a consequence of the league being formed by cotton workers.

Elaine J Laberge

Canada is a curious case. We’re seen as egalitarian and democratic on the international stage. Domestically there’s another story: As a colony of the Commonwealth, there’s been an unwillingness to address that Canada was colonized on Indigenous genocide and the intersection of racism, ableism, sexism—and, classism. Class discrimination, and in particular poverty discrimination, influences every aspect of Canada from regional, provincial/territorial and federal governments to laws and legislation to private and public organizations to education to communities and society. Yet, we continue to embrace the myth of the classless society and American Dream trope. The remnants of this are that social class is taboo even considering how COVID has made visible the profound social class fissures in this country. However, for the first time, poverty- and working-class folks are coming together in solidarity to address class-based issues. Canadians working in class features diverse topics from libraries to hostile architecture to higher education and will come together with a found poem created from discussions.

For more information contact the session organizer Elaine J Laberge at

Tina Marie Beddington

Tina will reflect on her personal and observed experiences  of class, entitlement, and disadvantage in libraries and librarianship, and suggest some meaningful ways to combat these inequalities, for both individuals and institutions. These issues and responses, whether highly practical or merely empathetic,  are equally relevant to any educational setting where students’ expectations and entitlements vary, from libraries, to the classroom, and beyond.

Jes Annan

Hostile architecture is one medium through which social exclusion is enacted in the common areas of our cities. By limiting who is allowed to occupy space, and how they may do so, it functions to define the contours of inclusion in urban space. All of which is predicated on one’s engagement with the zones of consumerism that have overtaken the cities commons. As a result, those without the means to partake are pushed aside, despite the inner-cities historical relationships with the poor, unhoused, and marginalized. By exploring hostile architecture in Calgary, this thesis addresses a specific question: How do people with lived experience of homelessness understand hostile architecture? Through Community-Based Participatory Research and Photovoice, this question is addressed through collaboration with community members with lived experience of homelessness. One key theoretical concept grounds the research. Henri Lefebvre’s right to the city is used as a starting point in discussing what an equitable city might look like. The purpose of this study is to explore how lived experiences and knowledge of discriminatory architecture can inform a sociological analysis of hostile architecture. By doing this, the lived experiences and knowledge held by those who have dealt with homelessness can sensitive the public, and inform regional and national policymakers about this exclusionary mechanism.

The research is currently underway and expected to be completed by summer 2021.

Tim Haney

Awaiting abstract.

Chelsea Thomas

Awaiting abstract.

Charity Slobod

Charity will discuss what it is like working on campus as an administrator, when a class hierarchy exists so clearly yet is ignored.

Budd Hall

Awaiting abstract.

Megan Holly Burns

My paper examines the tensions between poems as both political objects and aesthetic objects in texts from Glasgow’s Red Clydeside period. Spanning around twenty years (c. 1910-1930), Red Clydeside refers to a radical period in Scotland’s history in which thousands of working-class men and women took place in a number of historic strikes and anti-war efforts. Whilst a significant amount of poetry was written and published throughout the period—from books of verse handed out at factory gates, to texts published in newspaper poetry columns, and even the song and hymn books of Socialist Sunday Schools—like so much working-class writing, this poetry has so far been neglected in the field of English literature.

Working-class texts from periods of class struggle are too often reduced to the status of historical sources or documents, rather than rich aesthetic objects deserving of serious literary study. Using contemporary poems from the socialist newspaper ‘The Worker’ as illustrative examples, my paper challenges this view by proposing a reading of several texts which argues for their worth as literary objects, whilst simultaneously examining their potential as political tools for encouraging collective action. As T. V. Reed writes in his work on protest literature: ‘any aesthetic text can be put to political ends, and all aesthetic texts have political implications, but no aesthetic text is reducible to its political meanings’. I argue that it is only through consideration of the complex, dual-purpose of these texts as both political and aesthetic objects that we best understand their importance.

Amy Todd

The Peckham Publishing Project was one of the many groups that made up the international Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers in the 1980s. This group met at the Bookplace, Peckham High Street – a community bookshop, adult education, and coffeeshop built on the same principles of Centerprise (Hackney). The group was established by local working class people wanting to use their local knowledge, social history of the area, sometimes recently acquired literacy skills and many times political activism to come together to write collectively about their individual experiences. The writings of the PPP show the diversity of experience, thoughts and feelings of working class people in Peckham in this decade in which working class identity was heavily under threat. The collection includes diarised accounts of working mothers, migration narratives from children experiences of moving to Peckham from Africa, Vietnam and the Caribbean, honest accounts of difficult family relationships, abject poverty that can’t be hidden and mothers that were not the martyrs that many working class narratives depict – all which widen the genre of working class life stories and challenge the dominant narrative of British working class identity to offer an alternative, ‘a working-class identity without guarantees’. Out of this I hope that the research shows a re-imagining of working class identity, that fits our world today, as even though the language of class might not be as strong a tool to mobilise social action, the injuries of class are still deeply entrenched. As Jon Lawrence explains, ‘Community hasn’t died, but it has changed’ and inspired by the FWWCP’s redefining of class to fit their era, there may be hope to do the same in 2021.

Michelle Jamieson

I use an autoethnographic approach to explore and reflect on my everyday experiences as an early career researcher who is working-class and care-experienced, at a UK based university who also studies what I live with psychosis. The framework was adopted from the traditions of autoethnography (other self studies into lived experience practice that have employed an autoethnographic approach include Brooks & Thompson, 2015; Wilkinson, 2019) and included diary keeping and daily sketching over a two year period.

Lynn Arner

A stunningly large number of English doctoral recipients in Canada are first-generation university students (FGS), as I discovered when processing publicly unavailable raw Statistics Canada data. Even more surprisingly, the majority of these FGS are women. Despite Canada being a land of public universities with relatively cheap tuition, FGS are routinely tracked into low-ranking doctoral programs and, upon completion of their PhDs, disproportionately teach as non-tenure-stream faculty, while faculty whose parents have university degrees disproportionately hold the tenure-stream positions.

Focusing on original data that I collected through a nationwide survey of faculty in the discipline of English (a survey funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada), this presentation discusses FGS who teach in the discipline of English at universities across Canada. With attention to both class and gender, I explain what my survey revealed about why FGS chose the doctoral programs that they did. Although FGS students are, of course, unable to shield themselves against much of the overdetermined classism that seeks to track them into poorly regarding graduate programs, I explain how to better work with the agency that FGS do have. More specifically, I explain what types of interventions could help FGS choose their doctoral programs in a more informed manner so that they earn English doctorates with greater weight in the job market and thereby increase their chances of better representation among faculty in the tenure stream.

Wayne Reid

In Ambition Navigation we follow the story of Wayne, as he starts life as a second-generation Black British young man from a working-class background. With a raw Yorkshire accent and love of the beautiful game (football), he leaves school with a clutch of decent GCSEs. Despite this, Wayne describes landing a series of unplanned and largely unfulfilling administrative roles made more bearable by weekends brimming with music and friends.

Yet it was ‘just another admin job’ that introduces Wayne to social work – the career that he pursues despite obstacles and challenges. As Wayne navigates his ambitious journey into social work, he pays tribute to male mentors and Black male role models who have influenced and shaped both this personal and professional life.

Wayne’s story is a testament to how with the help of a supportive family, key individuals, dogged determination, and authentic curiosity, we can zig-zag our way successfully towards a career of our choice.

I was particularly struck at how Wayne was able to reflect upon each experience, regardless of how challenging, confrontational, or uncomfortable it might have been at the time and take something positive away from each one. His thirst for knowledge meant that Wayne gobbled up all the feedback he received that ranged from genuine warmth, ‘tough love’ and as he puts it ‘Caribbean swagger’.

Wayne’s story ends with a series of tips based on lessons that he has learned along the way that new aspiring professionals will find uplifting and aspirational.

This is a candid and personal insight into a colleague’s journey towards a career where he is making a mark in his own right with his own brand of charisma.

This was a review completed by Angie Bartoli Principal Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University & Vice-Chair for BASW England

Aimee Grant

Societal values in the UK are misaligned with the rights of minority groups, including those who are working class, Black and Disabled. This has resulted in tokenistic attempts at promoting “inclusion” (Houston, 2020, p. 65). However, attempts to promote inclusion are often central at reinforcing exclusion and otherness, through lengthy bureaucracy and confusing procedures, which can be more successfully negotiated by less marginalised individuals (Johannessen, 2019). Furthermore, the use of systems and processes to challenge exclusion can identify an awkward “killjoy” (Ahmed, 2017), or an angry “madwoman” (Donaldson, 2002), who may be ridiculed, further stigmatised or even excluded for attempting to challenge the status quo (Ahmed, 2021).

Autistic people, like myself, “mask”; that is, we copy the behaviour of others in order to be socially accepted. Within academia, I argue that working class academics are expected to “mask” their working-class-ness; failing to do so can result in being “othered”, which can end a career in the neoliberal university. I consider the use of the objectives “awkward” and “angry” that have been used against me within the academy, when I challenged disability discrimination and experienced “loss of office” in my settlement. Ultimately, however, I argue that leaving the academy, seeking diagnosis as Autistic and learning to “drop my mask” has enabled me to feel authentic in my research practices on the fringe of academia.

Lys Stone

What does it mean to be ‘looked after’ by the state throughout your childhood? As a child living in the UK care system, I felt tethered to my ‘corporate parents’ through a paper trail of state surveillance since birth. Like many families, our daily lives were plagued by keeping secrets of abuse and inter-generational trauma. Only not everybody can afford shutters on the windows. To grow up in the care system is to grow up without artefact, community, and those shutters which keep the prying eyes of the state away. What emerges for many is a lack of understanding of who you are and how you came to be. I grew to be a ‘historian of the self’ as I sought identity and meaning-making in the fragmented governmental archives presented to me by subject access requests. In their research, Horrocks and Goddard (2006) suggested that social care records represent a significant intersection between sources of identity; self-understanding and the self as understood by professionals. This intersection has implications on the way I have negotiated my ‘spoiled identity’ as a care-experienced, working-class and disabled woman.

My undergraduate dissertation centred around how care-experienced individuals grappled with their newly found ‘paper selves’ constructed through social care records. It explored how individuals ‘talk back’ to their stigmatised identities. The process of writing my dissertation became a subtle yet fundamental way that I ‘talked back’ to my own childhood paper self, reauthoring my ‘spoiled identity’ through the same institution which teaches that only 6% of ‘people like me’ actually make it into higher education. Through self-authorship and positionality, I was able to reconstruct my own ‘paper self’ that I once considered static, unchangeable and spoiled. Now that I can afford the shutters, I choose not to hide anymore.

Kaidong Yu

Extensive research has focused on the working-class experience of higher education (HE) in the current period of expansion, but there is less attention on working-class transitions to HE when the participation rate was much lower. This paper sets out to examine the key moments in the history of expansion of educational opportunities in the UK, to understand how different generations of working-class students managed to access HE. Based on 22 life-story interviews with working-class students, the study highlights how the changing dynamics of the structure of compulsory education have shaped working-class students views of HE. Exploring the changing structure of opportunity, and how this has shaped working-class students sense of social position is key to understanding the uneven pattern of working-class pathways to HE across generations. It is evident that different types of secondary school experience affected working-class pathways to university with the nature of the school environment and social relations shaping various expectations over time. This article concludes that the contextualised educational opportunity structure plays a crucial role in how working-class students attended university.

John P Egan

It was a coup for our trade union: it was a loss for higher education. In 2020 a fellow working class academic activist left her academic appointment to work for the union full-time. At the previous annual meeting of our activists she outlined her “non-traditional” pathway to higher education study and onwards to a lectureship. The similarities of our paths struck me at that time, which gave me pause: how many of us are in this (union) room, or any other room of academics? Her departure resonated deeply with me: we have lost another one of us. There have been many times where the performative aspects of university life have rendered me disillusioned, anxious, perhaps angry. But having banged on the university’s doors in my 30s as a working class grassroots queer activist, I made a decision during my PhD that I would not reside in the hinterlands–either I would position myself here or not. In this presentation I would like to reflect on the following: 1. where did I come from? 2. what was my study experience? 3. what is the work for me as an academic? 4. How has my social class–and class consciousness–informed, influenced or perhaps determined this? Finally I would offer both a critique of the resilience discourse and a call for an assertiveness discourse, where we wedge ourselves into the rooms, at the table, leading the table, and holding the door open for more of us to follow.

Cecilia Muldoon

Widening Access to Higher Education in the UK is a key concern for Government and policy makers, and typically linked to discourses of social mobility. Despite increasing numbers of working class learners entering HE, figures show ‘non-traditional’ students continue to be disproportionately under-represented in UK HE. My research began as an attempt to address the ‘access gap’ by investigating how perceptions of HE are fundamentally formed in order to develop widening participation (WP) initiatives that address these constructions, recognise the local context, and are linked to views of employment and local labour markets. However, as my study has progressed, I have become increasingly frustrated that HE simply represents a key site for the reproduction of class inequality, reinforced by the hierarchy of HE institutions. Using Bourdieu’s concept of capital, WP perhaps simply extends the ‘correct’ capital to individual learners to help them enter HE (addressing ‘deficits’) rather than fundamentally challenging which capital is valued and why. I have come to view HE as a form of symbolic violence whereby even when working class students do access HE, they will have very different experiences to their more advantaged peers, their degree may confer less value and, ultimately, they may still face challenges and barriers in securing employment and progression within the labour market. While I believe that HE can be transformative for working class learners, it often comes at an individual cost, and the relative relationship between the classes does not change. My question is, how, do we as a collective of working class academics, fundamentally challenge what, and by extension, who, is valued within education, employment and society as a whole today? How can we promote social justice through parity of recognition?

Laura Bentley

While more ‘non-traditional’ students are graduating from university to an extent almost unimaginable a century ago, this has done little to unsettle social hierarchies in the UK (Savage et al., 2015). Though social mobility is described as having ‘stagnated’ over the previous decade (Social Mobility Commission, 2019), there remains some individual upward mobility which can be attained through graduating from university.

This paper provides a response to the question: How do working-class women experience social mobility as a result of having graduated from university? The response draws on qualitative data collected from 15 working-class women over a six year period.

First, I examine whether these women were mobile from their working-class origins and whether the ‘class ceiling’ (Friedman and Laurison, 2019) and ‘glass floors’ (Waller, 2011) restrained their progression in the workplace and restricted them from assimilating back into their home environments. Then, I move on to discuss the psycho-social effects of class displacement and realignment post-graduation. I do this through employing the ‘habitus war’ concept which I constructed to enable a fuller exploration and articulation of the set of dislocating symptoms which comes with being socially mobile. Finally, I draw on the implications of social mobility for working-class women, their families and their communities, as well as making recommendations to policy makers.

Rachael Goodwin

Rachael will be sharing some of her early findings from her Doctoral research, which is hoping to shine a light on working-class women academics’ lived experiences of wellbeing in UK Higher Education.

Joanna Norton

The Durham Commission (2019) defines creativity as ‘The capacity to imagine, conceive, express, or make something that was not there before’.  This definition is weighed down with lexis that requires a willingness and ability to leave the known, to embrace the unknown. Such mental agility is not typically associated with working class communities.  Rather, next generation thinking is  branded as the preserve of Silicon Valley, or of belonging to corporate creative hubs in London that are linked to other global cities through a network of homogenised shared values.  For working class communities traumatised by deindustrialization, living with imposed austerity and unable to shield from Covid-19, current thinking does not assume that such communities contain a template for our imagined futures. 

Luton2050 takes the diverse lived experiences of working class communities as its starting point. Using explicit pedagogies and practices that cultivate creativity, young people are introduced to futuristic examples being developed in the following locations: Homs, Syria; Paris, France; Gando, Burkina Faso.  Young people are introduced to expert speakers on issues central to their lived experiences: housing, food insecurity, employment/unemployment, multilingualism, pollution and knife-crime.  Sessions ask them to ponder the following questions: Could empty and discarded buildings be used to cultivate urban agriculture?  Could growing our own food remove the need for food banks?  What would Luton sound like if the English language was banned for one day? The sessions conclude with the creation of an artwork exhibited locally. The wider community is invited to consultations to ensure the cycle of learning continues.

The session will share examples of working class communities imagining their future.


Durham University (2019) Durham Commission on Creativity and Education. Available at: (Accessed: 15th April March 2021)

Kharkhurin, A. V. (2012) Multilingualism and creativity. Bristol: Multilingual Matters

Lucas, B. and Spencer, E. (2017) Teaching creative thinking: developing learners who generate ideas and think critically. Carmarthen: Crown House Publishing Ltd.

Orr, S. & Shreeve, A. (2018) Art and design pedagogy in higher education: knowledge, values and ambiguity in the creative curriculum. London: Routledge

Lucy Harding

I propose that working class academics have an opportunity to be more creative in their research methodology. Our ‘unaffected simplicity’ enables us to have greater freedom from academic norms.

Working class academics have often been told they are too loud or brazen and it is this confidence that enables us in research to be more creative and to take risks that perhaps other academics wouldn’t. For me in an HE in FE setting, undertaking a doctorate in education, I am not tied by funding constraints or university REF agendas. I am free to explore the research methods that suit me, my enquiry and the participants.

I am inspired by other researchers; Lou Mycroft, Mollie Baker, Clare Danek. I would like to undertake a discussion between myself and these three practitioners (From varying backgrounds) about their own experiences of choosing research methods and how they may have been impacted by their class status.

Influenced by my textiles background, Thinking Environments (Nancy Kline) and the work of Claire Wellesley Smith; I would like to create a space for those involved in the discussion to think whilst sewing. Stitch is a thoughtful action, a think-full process and gives the participants time to consider their thoughts, quietly before responding. I invite others to join in with the thinking through sewing task whilst we talk.

I have created a guide sheet for others to download and join in with the event (emailed as a PDF).

Lee Crookes

Many urban university campuses occupy areas of cities that were formerly home to working-class communities and many universities continue to be agents of gentrification in urban spaces, through the construction of new university buildings, associated processes of studentification and the privileging and reproduction of middle-class identities, values, culture, knowledges, forms of speech and modes of being. Yet, in looking for evidence of gentrification beyond university campuses, many critical gentrification scholars may overlook the subtle and more overt practices that are happening in their midst. Seeking to extend the concept of gentrification and related notions of place, belonging and ‘displacement pressure’ to higher education spaces, adjoining neighbourhoods and staff and student bodies, this paper draws on asset-based approaches to community development to provoke discussion on how the success of the 2020 Working Class Academics Conference – in terms of creating a supportive and collaborative virtual space for working-class academics – might be translated into institutional settings to de-gentrify the university and support those colleagues who seek to claim space for working-class epistemologies, ontologies and pedagogies. In particular, the paper seeks to take up the challenge laid down by the Civic University Commission’s recent series of reports to consider how we might move to a situation whereby working-class staff, students and members of local communities are better able to express a sense of belonging and to talk about ‘our university’ (rather than ‘the university’), to feel more comfortable in university spaces and, most importantly, to not be forced to abandon their working-class ways of knowing and being and to exercise their ‘right to stay put’ in the face of the ongoing pressures of gentrification – in all its forms – that attend contemporary higher education.

Darren Bowles & Katie Ketcher

An autoethnographic, authentic dialogue between two co-researchers.  Interrogating Freirean theory, through a chronological story-telling narrative of a first year male, working class undergraduate with one of his university lecturers. This dialogue will explore power dynamics within Higher Education, both culturally and institutionally through the experience of a working-class student and lecturer lens.  Our motivation is to discuss who affords authority to the access of/to higher education. This autoethnography will explore the enhancement of agency, challenges to power structures, and the therapeutic value of making sense of the self for and through transformation (Ellis et al. 2011). This dialogue aims to destabilise constructs around academic identity, through the co-constructed story-telling of student and lecturer.  We will be interrogating Freirean theory within the method of autoethnographic dialogue rather than as a separate aspect (Hesse-Biber & Leavy 2008; Stahlke Wall 2018; Throne 2019). This method provides us as researchers the opportunity to examine our educational philosophy through lived experience.  Through this dialogue, we will explore the ‘value-added’ to working-class students, and by working-class students within the first year undergraduate context; the dialogue is underpinned by the concepts of access and knowledge exchange.  A clear focus is given to examining experience, and transformation in higher education, when spaces and environments afford co-creation and autonomous learning for students, with academic staff.  Our meaning of ‘value added’ is an equivocal reference to the value-added metrics (OfS 2020). Value-added research lead by Kingston University (Ibid.), highlights the importance of students working with university staff, specifically in the area of curriculum and inclusivity.  This focus upon co-creation holds value upon academic worth and lived experience and has informed the researcher partnership for this study (OfS 2020, HC Education & Skills Committee 2003, GOV.UK 2020).  Within this dialogue we explore accountability and co-creating transformative experiences of a student in a post-1992 university.  We want to encourage more conversations around the attributes and significance of working-class values in the Higher Education arena.

Jo Mcleod & Lisa Taylor

An autobiographical, ethnographic, Freirean pedagogical approach is used to create a critically paradigmatic conversation between a recent graduate and their former lecturer. Ethnographic studies are traditionally longitudinal qualitative studies (Hou & Feng 2019), a series of conversations took place over the course of a year, leading to a presentation of the graduates’ personal reflections. The narrative that follows will focus on a mature, working-class woman of Mixed Black Caribbean and White parentage, using an intersectional lens which considers, race, class gender and age. A conversation, from a personal and intimate retrospective inquiry of an individuals’ experience of what it means to be considered as ‘white passing’, will ensue. After conducting a recent research project, the graduate/researcher’s awareness of their outward appearance and its possible influence on their Higher Education journey, was roused from a more dormant stance. A journey of self-reflection began, concerning the graduates personal feelings of turmoil and guilt, at being perceived to be ‘white passing’. A reflective representation of an individuals’ internal perceptions of race, class and culture superseding external opinions of outward appearance will be discussed. Whilst acknowledging the differing experiences of this often unseen, but not unheard of, group in society, the graduate’s position as both a co-researcher and participant in this research are recognised. Embedded within Critical Mixed-Race Studies is the notion that race is fluid and that the intersectionality of all aspects of identity impacts on the processes of how Mixed people are racialised (McKibbin 2014), Albuja, Sanchez & Gaither (2018:172) further report how “[e]xisting monoracial identity frameworks fail to capture the experiences of biracial people”. Furthermore, these intersections are utilised to place ‘the multiracials’ (McKibbin 2014:184) within a hierarchical system of social stratification. The power relationship embedded in the lecturer/student dynamic is acknowledged/discussed and considers the support required, and the responsibility for students, by academics, to become co-collaborators of learning and knowledge production, recognising all students strengths regardless of their background (Freire 1970; Darder 2015).


Albuja, A.F., Sanchez, D. T. & Gaither, S. E. (2018). Fluid racial presentation: Perceptions of contextual “passing” among biracial people. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 77:132-142.

Darder, A. (2015). Freire & education. New York Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. London Penguin Group.

Hou, J. & Feng, A. (2019). Juggling multiple identities: The untold stories behind a PhD ethnographic study. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. 18:1-12.

McKibbin, M. L. (2014). The current state of multiracial discourse. Journal of Critical Mixed Race Studies, 1(1). Retrieved from

Jodie Pearce

This paper combines my experiences as a first generation, working class student, and of two years working in Higher Education outreach in West Cumbria to explore the empty rhetoric of ‘raising aspirations’ within the Widening Participation sector. I propose that the discourse around the underrepresentation of working class students in Higher Education often relies on a deficit model that fails to value our knowledge, experiences and cultural capital, instead almost exclusively valuing the perspective of the institution.

Drawing upon two research papers that I was involved in as an outreach practitioner – ‘Understanding the Rural and Coastal Contexts in Widening Participation’, and ‘An asset-based approach to Widening Participation for young people in Cumbria’ – I propose that the deficit-based approach to widening access arises from a neoliberal rhetoric of ‘aspiration’, and a middle class definition of educational success.

To further this, I situate the discussion in the context of my own experiences as both a working class student and an outreach practitioner to explore how the most transformational outreach projects I have been involved in have been asset-based and subject-focused. I propose that the ‘raising aspirations’ rhetoric places the onus on working class students to ‘change’ themselves, whilst exonerating existing structural and institutional biases.

To illustrate this, I will use my own PhD project to explore how outreach must work to show how academia can be a broad church, valuing voices from all cultures, in order to be meaningful. My PhD on poetry as testimony includes the close reading of rap and grime music written about the UK Riots in 2011, and argues that ‘literature’ is not merely defined by canonical writers. In tying these experiences together, I propose that meaningful outreach can only be achieved through the erasure of the ‘raising aspirations’ rhetoric and a shift in what the academy values.

Teresa Crew

Discussions of gender in academia are strangely silent on masculinity (Hearn, 2020). Perhaps because the white male template (Thomas, 2017) dominates university halls, the focus is often rightly on the barriers faced ‘queer subjects’, such as female and/or working-class academics (Hey, 2003). But a narrative of male academics as privileged ignores that there are multiple forms of masculinities besides the dominant, elite masculinity (Connell, 2005). A marginalised masculinity, one that represents nonconforming men (Cheng 1999), could be a more suitable way in which to understand working class men in academia (Crew, 2020). It is important we hear from these academics because as Hearn (2020) says, not all men operate at senior and leadership levels. This presentation will advance the scholarship on academia, by discussing the experiences of male working class academics. Highlighting that these men often experience overt discrimination from the middle class and elite in academia. On a more positive note, they may have funds of knowledge derived from manual labour. The presentation ends with a discussion of male working class academics as being allies for women from similar class origins.

Murylo Batista

Universities and researchers often target people from marginalised communities for social, behavioural, and educational study, establishing a relationship that is powered and prejudicial to poor people. Protecting the rights and welfare of humans in research is a key mandate of the profession. A significant history of abuses and torture by researchers against particular identities has brought on the need to establish ethics-based regulations and to review research before initiation. This presentation will provide a comparative analysis of US and UK research ethics and regulatory landscapes, which include national legal frameworks, institutional compliance, and administrative structures like the Institutional Review Board/Ethics Review Committee. The working class perspective is generally absent from the ethics review process in the US and the UK, even though over-researched communities are often economically disadvantaged. I will discuss how people from the working class are primary stakeholders and actors in the ethical review process and the barriers to their full participation on review boards housed in wealthy institutions. Furthermore, researchers who are university-unaffiliated, many of whom are working class, are often shut out from conducting human research because they lack access to an important administrative function and the review boards maintained by universities. This barrier makes it difficult to advocate for communities through independent research while still maintaining the highest ethical standards and ensuring compliance with regulations and policies. The presentation will end with a call to action to establish an independent ethics review board in the UK to provide access to regulatory review for independent scholar-activists working outside research institutions and for small charities/community groups who feel exploited by academic institutions.

Kirsty Fife, Lucy Brownson & Nenna Orie Chuku

Walls, Sara Ahmed reminds us, ‘only come up for those who are trying to transform institutions or who do not quite inhabit the norms of institutions’ (Ahmed 2017). For working-class people entering academia, walls throw themselves everywhere: in the multiple application rounds that nobody mentioned before; in the unfunded write-up year; in the vague platitudes and classed implications of ‘work-life balance’ and ‘wellbeing’ rhetoric. Brick after brick. Researchers exploring the experiences of students from marginalised backgrounds stress shared feelings of alienation, disorientation, strangeness and isolation (Thwaites and Pressland, 2019; Tsalach, 2020; Mitchell, 2012). As we try to surmount these walls, we may be confused or disheartened at the ease with which many of our peers seem to navigate the academy; it appears as though to them, these walls don’t exist and pathways through academia are clearer.

In this open panel discussion, we will assess what knowledge, tools, skills and strategies are needed in order to truly meet the needs of working-class people entering academia, whether for the first time or as a returnee. Along with several other panel members (each at an early stage in their academic career), we will invite attendees to contribute their voices and ideas to this open discussion of how best to approach and counter the barriers faced by working-class academics, making use of interactive online tools to collect their thoughts (which can be circulated afterwards as a resource). Mobilising the network that came out of last year’s WCA Conference, and building on pre-existing tools like the Postgrad Application Library (Horgan & Lazar, ongoing), this interactive conversation will attempt to address the ‘What now?’ of navigating life as a working-class ECR. It is our hope and belief that by working collectively, we can begin to take apart institutional walls, brick by brick.

Sharon Clancy

This presentation will consider my experience as a working class girl from a mining town as the first person from my school to be accepted at Cambridge University. I will reflect on Raymond Williams’ statement – ‘It was not my Cambridge. That was clear from the beginning’ (Williams, 1989, pp.7-8) – and the parallels with my own experience, within the framework of Williams’ concept of structure of feeling. I will specifically focus on his ideas of how everyday lived experience, in the lives of ordinary people, helps create the constitutive processes of culture, the ways in which it is made and shaped by human agency. I will describe through a slide and poetry-based commentary how this has become the lens through which I have been able to recognise and understand my own liminality, and frequent isolation, in accessing a world ‘beyond the divide’ and has become the motivation for all my practitioner and academic work in social justice, class consciousness and adult education. I will also consider the pedagogical implications of education for social change as an expression of collective agency.

Raymond Williams, What I Came to Say (London: Radius, 1989), p. 5, pp. 7-8.

Cheryl Hedges

In this presentation I will adopt an autoethnographic approach to my own biographical story and use narrative inquiry to construct case studies of 8 women with 5 of them contributing to multiple interviews as well the tutor experiences and perceptions of this programme and students. In this presentation I will share their accounts and experiences of class and. As a first-generation university student who accepted the social mobility and meritocratic narrative who moved into university education in the 1980s when very few working-class students attended.. I will discuss my own experiences of habitus clive ́ (Friedman 2020) and how I lost a sense of belonging, not fitting in the new middle class student identity but being excluded from my working-class community as “you’re too posh for us now” This cultural dissonance is now explored in my own research with working class students. It is the experience of working with adults returning to education in an Further Education College in the West Midlands to study on Access to Higher Education course that nurtured and encouraged my own return to study. Teaching this group of women during 2014/15 reawakened my own working -class identity and values in a way I hadn’t experienced in my 25-year career history working with young adults teaching A levels. These women in my classroom were committed to education as a transformative experience and believed that gaining a degree would enable a social and economic mobility currently not available to them in their vocations. Though they aspired to and valued university degrees they were reluctant to apply to the more prestigious universities, though geographically they were close. Instead, they reported that Open Days had left them feeling “not wanted” “not fitting in” and generally excluded and felt that other post 92 institutions were more “welcoming” and were more likely to include “people like us”. I shared my own educational qualifications at Russell group universities, but they described me as “Clever but not Posh.” It is this identity in the academy.

Rachel Boyd

In our contemporary society, photography is conceived as a tool to engage civil-counter surveillance (Keenan) and as self portraiture (Spence) – that continues to expose institutional powers to public scrutiny.

The photograph visualises a type of governance that exists independently of jurisdiction, appealing to a common network in co-ordinating public appraisal and collective action (Azoulay). However, to be photographed is only one way to enact the photographic event – that is, it is only one method to direct and mediate attention.

In a field such as Art History – predicated upon theory and concept as the route for proper understanding and reflection – outdated methodologies often poorly reflect upon the contemporary climate of protest, alienating lived experience to the sidelines, as if our present day is all but a curious curatorial revival of the historical event, destined to repeat itself.

In bridging the narrative between past and present, I will propose that art historians need to be altogether more willing to participate, listen to and appreciate cultures and perspectives that exist outside established frames of reference. By demonstrating how listening can function as both methodology and as practice, I posit the photograph not simply as a ‘mode of encounter’ but as ‘meeting place’, embedded within and a demonstration of community. I hope to demonstrate how conversation can situate knowledge within the primacy of shared heritage and understanding, including that of their social class.

Joanna Neil

There is a persistence of transmissive approaches to art and design teaching and learning. A pedagogy underpinned and unable to shake off a legacy of skills acquisition, mastery, apprenticeship, academy models and training for an industry. The approaches: crits, 1-1 tutorials, conversations with more expert other, lectures and following instruction are rife with elitism, power imbalance and ego. Baldessari and Craig-Martin (2009) who refer to themselves as ‘acting like cupid’ and ‘teaching by your presence’, aligns to Elkin’s assertion that possibly art can not be taught or should be taught (2009, 2012). The expert transmission (Souleles 2013) or much cited ‘sitting-by-nellie’ (Swann 1986) approaches are to some extent remedied through peer learning, formative rather than summative critiques (Swann 1986), experiential learning and a wider spectrum of required knowledge and skills (Souleles 2013). However, these remain the usual pedagogic approaches that rely on others, the structure of the course as well as the usual power relationships between students and teachers, which, are not only democratically challenging but also not easily sustainable beyond the programme of study. The author proposes digital autoethnography as a pedagogy of empowerment for undergraduate students while on their degree programmes and post-graduation. This focuses on research into the self and research into the self in the culture of making. It offers multiple strategies for reflection and personal development which avoid students being “languaged” into being and the mystery or elitism so prevalent in art and design teaching (Orr and Shreeve).

Maria Fusco

Maria will make a performative reading of ‘A Belly of Irreversibles’, a hybrid creative-critical essay about poverty, nomenclature and working class method.

Sean Edwards

Sean Edwards will deliver a presentation reflecting upon his installation Undo Things Done, the tour of which comes to an end this summer. The work responded to the artists’ own experiences of growing up on a council estate, and included a live radio play produced with National Theatre Wales performed every day for 7 months by the artists’ mother from her home in Cardiff. The radio play was later adapted for BBC Radio 4. 

Roy Claire Potter

Roy Claire Potter will present Rich Curtains: On Stile, a performance in the form of a read-through script rehearsal, first commissioned by IMT Gallery, London in 2019. The title references Susan Sontag’s 1966 essay ‘On Style’ and its discussion of 19th century poet Walt Whitman’s metaphorical assertion that his writing would not have any effect hanging in the way like rich curtains. In this work ‘style’ is mistaken for stile and through a playful script of voices the motif is used to consider how linguistic affectations are ad-hoc manoeuvres between otherwise bounded contexts.

Honor Gavin

Using recordings of my dad presenting Birmingham radio station BRMB’s ‘Football Phone-in’ in the late 80s / early 90s, this piece will consider the thickening of my own vocal chords on account of HRT testosterone alongside the fluctuating intonations of my dad’s radio voice. At BRMB, my dad disavowed his Scouse background and identified, but maybe never fully passed, as a Villa fan. I’ll explore my own disidentifications and gendered aspirations alongside my relationship with my dad’s attachment to the narrative of the ‘self-made man’, a phrase which, in its adoption by some trans men who transition, signals both a knowingness about gender’s social construction and, perhaps, a problematic but sustaining fantasy of masculinity as resourcefulness and hard-won success. 

Sarah Madoka Currie

A critical close reading of recent news exposes of Ontario universities suspending or expelling students with complex psychosocial dis/ability or mental health crises is juxtaposed against long-form institution Diversity and Inclusion publicly posted rationales in effort to draw attention to the extent of willingness to accommodate psychosocial dis/ability and mental instability in higher learning institutions. The chapter author also presents an autoethnography of her own experience being expelled from an Ontario university for problematic mental health issues, foiled against their then-current Inclusion & Disability policy to demonstrate institutional unwillingness to practice frameworks of genuine inclusion and case handling of students enrolling with non-standard wellness occlusions. This dialectic is then framed in a macro-narrative of student “deservingness” and “readiness” for institutional pressures, drawing attention away from the burden of care and oversight required by universities to the ill-preparation or illness/disability of the student as key failure in the privilege of academy participation.

Jasmine Jade Plumpton

In ‘Ghosts of My Life’, Mark Fisher writes, ‘working class escape is always haunted by the possibility that you will be found out, that your roots are showing.’ As a first-generation student I often feel the pressure to bury my working-class origins, be it under a softened version of my Geordie accent, or behind the big words I get to use because I was privileged enough to be taught them. Treading the tightrope between working-class origins and the Academy can be lonely and daunting, and it is imperative that those of us who walk that line are vocal about it, that we leave footprints for those who come after us who may lack other guides (parents who went to university, etc.)

In my presentation, I will talk about coming to the work of Pierre Bourdieu and finding validation in his idea of ‘habitus dislocation’. I will discuss how writing poetry has helped me to make sense of my own ‘habitus dislocation’, and to articulate the liminal social hinterland I feel I inhabit as a working-class student. I will also give a short introduction to the work of British photographer Richard Billingham and talk briefly about how the process of ekphrasis has helped me to engage with my working-class origins. Some of the poems I will read are my responses to photographs from Billingham’s collection, Ray’s a Laugh (1996). My presentation will loosely take the form of a poetry reading (my own work), interspersed with contextual notes and research.

Clare Bell & Nathan O’Donnell

This paper outlines, reflects and draws upon the processes, experience and observations that arose out of two participatory projects, ‘The Mill: Clondalkin Paper Mill Action Group’ , and ‘Liberty Park: Street Work’ . The aim of these projects was to engage two communities of children and young adults, with a view to activating and augmenting individual and collective agency—politically, socially and culturally. Inspired by the history of the 1980s’ strikes at Clondalkin Paper Mill, Dublin, the first project engaged with a group of young writers, Inklinks (based in Collinstown Park Community College, Clondalkin) to produce content for a zine. Clondalkin was home to one of the last of Ireland’s paper mills; the closure of the mill in 1982 marked the end of a centuries-old traditional industry, as well as generating an important moment in the history of protest in Ireland. ‘This Being Where We Live’ takes its cue from these legacies, focusing on the history of paper-making in Ireland, as well as the intersections between print culture, radical publishing and protest. The programme facilitated the young participants in writing, photography and journalism exercises, as well as gaining hands-on experience with letterpress printing. The resulting zine published archival images of the strikers and workers, writing by the Inklinks members, letterpress work, the work of local poets, and oral histories of the workers and strikers themselves.

This methodology was employed in a second project, ‘Streetwork’ and zine, ‘This Being Where We Play’ . It focused on Liberty Park (an under-utilised area of green space in Dublin’s inner city), and children as creative agents of place-making. It was conceived as a consideration of Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and imbued with the philosophy of ‘Streetwork: The Exploding School’ , by anarchist Colin Ward.

Kevin Judge

Like the song made famous by the Scottish band, Deacon Blue, this presentation will discuss the search for dignity within academia for the working class. While the lyrics describe the process of hard work, graft, frugality, and sacrifice, the empowering message of the song is about autonomy, freedom, and movement. In navigating the mundane and the extraordinary, it is this song about the dream of self-belief that provides a relatable backdrop for the tempestuous experiences of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ in academia. To provide context, I served an apprenticeship and worked in the motor trade for over 13 years before pursuing academic qualifications. I registered onto an access course at a post ‘92 university and graduated with an honours degree that resulted in an invitation to become a teaching fellow. As an emerging sociologist, this biographical account will explore some of the barriers and limitations encountered in the dream of social mobility and self development. By sharing real life experiences, the story of working class academics can be demonstrated as the alternative lifeworld necessary within the increasingly complex system of academia. The concepts of Habermas will be used to illustrate how personal stocks of knowledge from working class experiences are invaluable for negotiating academic terrain and crafting validity. By participating in this conference, I want to contribute to the discussion of navigating the challenges and share my dream of dignity.