Kit de Waal
‘Oedipus Unbound: Heutagogic Journeys Beyond a Working Class Wilderness’. Oedipus (which translates as ‘swollen foot’) had his ankles bound as a child. My own ankles were bound by an education system that structurally situated and treated me as a working class child. This operated to identify – and label – me as being destined for a particular set of socio-economic roles and expectations. Furthermore, school bored me; I found it incredibly difficult to fit in to the pedagogic models of uncritical, lifeless rote learning and knowledge regurgitation for exams (which dominated in the 1970s and 1980s). It wasn’t until the 1990s, when I was in my early 20s, that I realised that knowledge, learning, and discovery could be so much more – and, could lead to so much more. But to succeed, I had to learn how to unbind my ankles by navigating away from a particular heritage, and ultimately start to transform my identity and expectations, in order to make sense of and succeed in Higher Education.
In this presentation, I’ll use Spinoza’s ethics of affirmation to explore my academic journey from bright adopted working class girl, through the onset of crippling impostor syndrome and hedonistic dropout, to life as a Deleuzian nomad in pestilent times. It maps out some of the terrain I navigated, the wrong turnings I took, the mountains, impossible rivers, marshland, hidden depths and – yes – dragons I encountered.
Could I have guessed during the years which formed my early political education in the South Yorkshire coalfield (1979-1985) that I would find a design for life in impenetrable French theory? Well, no. But so it turned out.
The presentation will consider lived affirmative ethics, breaking free of monuments and documents, constellations and lines of flight and whether it’s ever possible (or indeed desirable) to break free of what you once were.
And, terrifyingly, it will conclude by making a strong case for why it’s ok to like avocados, Pilates and good red wine and still be just as ‘working-class’ as you ever were.
“A Degree of Maturity on the Road to No where?” How much value is there in a degree for working-class people returning to education? Having spent most of my life (30 years plus) studying for qualifications in the hope of getting a decent job I am still searching! Having picked academia, I have hit barriers mainly involving elitism. More to the point, it is not only me who has had their aspirations stunted, there are others like me marginalised who listened to all the sound bytes of what a degree could bring only to be short-changed by the system.
I recently switched from industry to academia where I am pursuing a doctoral research on the career experiences of women and BMEs in one subsection of financial services. I come from a working class and marginalised background and, while my career has been in white-collar jobs, I still consider myself working class. While in industry, my awareness of my background was latent, but since moving to academia, this has reversed. Perhaps, it is because my reading and learning have been widened as a result of my research. But the feeling of injustice I feel is also down to hearing upper-caste Indian academics writing that race issues trump class issues in the UK. To compound my discomfiture further, I was told that if I were interested in looking at my research through critical race and post-colonialism lenses, I ought to read the works from three high-profile academicians, all of whom, as it happens, are from India. As someone with Indian heritage myself, their surnames alone indicate to me that they are upper-caste Indians. I have decided not to include their works in my research out of principle and the values I hold.
The UK, like many Asian countries, is steeped in class. Everyone is defined by class which is what I had learnt when I mixed with the upper-classes while working in industry. I hid my class through my accent, my interests and an intrinsic desire to do well in my career. Employment data in the UK shows that Indians are successful participants in the employment market. Research from US academics show that majority of Asian upper-echelon executives come form upper and middle classes. For Indian academics to assert that race issues are more important than class issues in employment and, thereby, disregarding the advantages and disadvantages of class backgrounds in their works, seems to me, that they want to play the victim while being the victor in the employment market. More academics working in this space need to probe into class issues that predict career success in white-collar professions.
In Britain there remains a huge gulf between the leaders of the country and the working-class population. Nowhere has this be made more obvious than in the handing of the Corona virus pandemic with regards to the hospitality industry. On 20th March 2020 I stood in room above a London pub watching Boris Johnson the prime minster of the UK state live on TV: “We are telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight… and not to open tomorrow”. It was an announcement that everyone working at the pub had been expecting. It was a move that was needed to help tackle the spread of the virus, but it left thousands of businesses and 3.2 million people (predominantly working-class) employed in hospitality uncertain what the future for them will hold. The government has set-up a much-needed furlough scheme, business rates holiday and hardship grants. Unfortunately, these will not go far enough to save many small independent businesses who to date haven’t been told when they will be allowed to reopen and who have been left speculating that this might be as late as December 2020 meaning many will have gone bust and millions will lose their jobs.
This paper will explore a small in-depth participant observation of a traditional London Pub during a global pandemic, a pub case study that I was already 4 months into the process of doing when Corona virus hit the UK. Ethnographic data will be presented from the lead of the closure of pubs and subsequent data during the lockdown in which I lived at the pub attempting to support the owner navigate the various schemes of government assistance. The paper will offer insight in the daily life of a pub during lockdown, its fight for survival and the impact pub closures have had on furlough bar staff. It will also describe the resilience of the working-classes involved with the pub in the face of adversity.
Emma Louise Hammond
How is it that I have got to 48 years old to realise that I am capable of studying at this level of Higher Education. Or is it possible that I was always capable of studying at this level, but the opportunities were never presented to me in ways that were conducive with my 30-year established role as parent / housewife / chief cook and bottle washer. As part of my presentation I will be comparing my experiences of accessing and engaging with academia, as a working class woman, to those of my husband as a working class male.
The geographical location of this study are the former coalmining and steel working communities in North East England that experienced de-industrialisation in the 1980s.
This paper argues that subjectification of the working classes begins in primary school and the emotional consequences of this are fear of failure, a loss of confidence and feelings of inferiority. These emotions are internalised in the psyche and resonate into adulthood. Historically the schooling of the working classes was for the economic prosperity of the country rather than to educate and liberate them on a pathway to higher education. Discouraging children’s aspirations through this dominant economic model of education left many positioned with nothing in the way of qualifications and facing a life of socio-economic inequalities. Different models of lifelong adult education provided lifeline opportunities and gave confidence to working class adults to reshape their lives for the better including a route to higher education.
Has the experience of those overcoming the social barriers to access a university education been a redemptive experience that has enabled them to gain recognition and respect and to take control of their lives or one that has further devalued them? To make sense of this autobiographical account the author (steelworker’s daughter) has used a life history approach for data collection to tell her story. Life history belongs to the “family of biographical methods” (Denzin, 1989, p.28). This life history study is underpinned by a socialist feminist research approach that views gender and class as being constructed through the “symbolic power of a capitalist system” (Merrill and West, 2009, p.65).
The theoretical framework of Hirschman’s (1970) model of “Exit, Loyalty and Voice” was applied to explore ways in which the author studied at 3 different universities from 1982 to 2018 to Doctorate (PhD) level; while remaining ‘loyal’ to de-industrialised communities to ‘voice’ concern on issues that matter through adult education.
The piece I would like to submit is a 3-minute performance poem. Through family biography, the poem explores the lost chances of education experienced by working class people through intersectionality. Written from the perspective of the educated granddaughter of the main character, the poem also interrogates how these stories of lost chances are passed down through families in ways which reinforce intersectional disadvantage. If wanted, I can also supply discussion questions to be used alongside a performance of the poem. This piece could also fit with the confernece theme of ‘autobiographical journeys beyond the divide’.
Through a collaborative undertaking of Action Research; could we as a community of diverse creatives in Blackburn, re-establish the narrative of ‘Creative Placemaking’ within a working-class town in which we co-exist?
I propose this question in reflection of first my research into creative placemaking and its affiliation with wider social issues of urban change and gentrification, and second, my own undertaking of Action Research. A process which I have conducted as a strategy of un-picking contradictions and exploring tensions between current artistic projects in Blackburn and developing a critical voice within a community of creative practice. This has provoked more reflection of my own practice, ways of engaging communities and the importance of taking my findings back out into the community through my work. This in turn has informed my delivery of ‘Peepers’, a live artwork which stands as an intervention within the practice of socially engaged art and the notion of creative placemaking.
‘Peepers’ re-imagined and re-united a self-organized community from the 1970s which created a sub-cultural atmosphere of heavy sound, fluorescent psychedelic murals, UV lighting, smells of patchouli and incense, and an overcrowding of denim-clad teenagers. Through collaboration and participation, the artwork facilitated an excavation of memory and imagination, incorporating participatory, performative and ethnographic activity; relying on a concoction of sensory elements but foremost on the participation of its invited community to make it a success.
The methodological process and understanding of Action Research and the delivery of ‘Peepers’ has helped me to develop my artistic and critical ability and become dedicated to self-critical reflection on the aims, ethics, impact and value of my work within an un-avoidable narrative of Creative Placemaking; allowing professional development of my practice; therefor allowing participation in wider discussion and critical ability within my surrounding community of practice and wider community as a whole.
Adventures in Academia: Demystifying Research and Building Working Class Solidarity Networks Through Zine Making.
This presentation (which can be delivered in either a 15 minute or 30 minute slot!) would be an exploration of zine making as reflexive writing for a working class academic. At the beginning of my PhD (which explores archiving DIY music spaces) I committed to developing a reflexive writing practice to situate myself in relation to my study. I chose to do this as zine making has often been used by insider researchers in DIY cultures (Jones, 2018; Griffin, 2015; Downes, Breeze and Griffin, 2013) for dissemination of knowledge production. The haphazard and freeform space of a zine, “authorial autonomy” (Stanley, 2015: p. 152), and controlled circulation makes them a suitable space through which to develop ideas and voice.
In Stanley’s case, a zine also formed a space in which she could process the emotional and exhaustive impact of her own PhD research as well – “the dark places, the badlands… the anxiety and loneliness that traveled with me, the emotional “journey” of the PhD” (Stanley, 2015: p. 160). Over the course of the past 18 months, I have used zines as a valuable para-academic space to speak freely about my experiences as an attempt to demystify academia to/build solidarity with others from similar backgrounds. Through this presentation I would argue that zines can be a powerful tool to explore the affective dimensions of research, build connections and honour working class knowledges both in and outside of the academy.
Inside film began in HMP Wandsworth in 2006 teaching serving prisoners to make their own films. We have worked with serving prisoners/people on probation/foodbank users.
Students who take part in the project are excluded in many ways but ultimately because they are working class. I am not using the notion of social exclusion to present the working class as a homogenous mass but to bring attention to discourses of social exclusion functioning to negate class putting in its place programmes to include those previously excluded in the social /cultural life of the country always on terms that do not question that exclusion in the first place.
The aim of the project is the integration of film making and politics within the framework of working-class lives- connecting the biographical, historical, and structural by mobilizing radical pedagogic strategies focussed on lives of working-class people.
Working within the context of neo liberalism we consider neo liberalism as both an economic and cultural phenomenon having both material and symbolic affects. Arguing its an ideology of colonization –cultural practices, forms of subjectivity and media representations are the means by which middle class cultures of competitive individualism based on career success and material acquisition are effectively premised on the continuing exploitation of the working class. The most effective tool of cultural colonization is media representation, representations of the working class as old fashioned, work-shy and welfare dependent legitimizes attacks against them and de-legitimises working class cultures, history and memory at the same time imposing as the norm middle class ideas and ways of being as universal. The continued domination of the cultural industries and education institutions by a predominantly privately educated Russell group elite results in a working class known both to themselves and others through external categories constructed by people with no experience or knowledge of working-class life. Inside film works to change this.I would like to show some of short films made my the Inside Film students.
How can the field of astronomical photography, viewed through the lens of new materialism, alter our collective perception of ecology? How does the entanglement of astronomy and materiality alter our perception of the photographic object?
This practice-based research considers what it is to capture light that has been travelling thousands, if not millions, of years onto photosensitive film. By analysing this interaction between astronomy, new materialism and photography, I provide new insights into how this collision of theories alter our collective perception of ecology. Jane Bennett’s concept of the vitality of matter is compared with Karen Barad’s theory of Agential Realism, to enhance our understanding of the intimate connection between human and non-human beings. Leading on from this, these new materialist texts are compared to theories surrounding the materiality of the photograph, and the concept of “the photographic object”.
This body of research is anchored by my fieldwork within the UCLO Observatory and Kielder Observatory, utilising large telescopes to expose light from distant stars (such as Arcturus, Mizar and Alcor) onto photosensitive film. Fieldwork also includes residencies within rural areas, away from light pollution within Ireland, Italy, Spain, Iceland, and the UK. During these residencies, I have had the opportunity to take long exposure photographs of the stars, using 35mm, 120mm and 16mm film.
My research combines contemporary scientific innovation with historical photographic practice, maintaining a focus on the materiality of the image. Due to this focus on materiality, the sustainability of the analogue photographic development process has come under scrutiny. From studying the stuff of photography in depth, I consider the vitality of matter within my practice. Within this text, I will consider how photographic materials come to be, and how they may affect our environment.
Throughout this practice-based research, I have maintained the methodology of a reflexive practitioner. My approach is autobiographical and open-ended, to allow for discoveries that I may find whilst working in dark sky locations. I discuss the importance of solitude for the creative practitioner, and the perspective that can be gained from looking at a dark sky full of stars. Here, I draw upon the research of Schon, Bolt and Hannula.
This body of research is supported by interviews with artists such as Katie Paterson and Liliane Lijn, considering their approaches to astronomy, light and materiality within their practice. This research includes study within a number of astronomical archives, including the Royal Astronomical Society, the UCL Space History Archive, the Carnegie Observatory archives and the Hale Solar Laboratory in California, amongst others. Here, astronomical photographic objects (such as glass plates, tintypes and silver gelatin prints) were analysed, considering both their scientific and philosophical meanings. These archives hold photographic objects which have changed our current understanding of the universe during the past century. In the case of Hubble’s variable plate, a glass plate photograph held at the Carnegie Observatory Archives, this photographic object provided evidence that the universe was expanding – shrinking Earths’ place in the cosmos whilst simultaneously opening up a vast arena for new discoveries.
This research provides new insights related to new materialism and photographic theory embedded within the practice based research. I consider the materiality of Ancient Light, taking into account the materiality of photographic film, life-forms and the stars. To this end, I also consider my own use of photographic materials, enabling me to invent new ways of developing film that are more sensitive to the environment.
Analogue astronomical photography, viewed through the lens of new materialism, uniquely allows us to understand the intimate connection between the cosmos and the Earth bound. Silver is found within distant stars, yet it can be mined from the depths of our Earth and used to create photographic images. Our collective perception of ecology is altered as astronomical photographs continually remind us that conscious and diverse life is rare, both within the timeline of the universe and the dark depths of the cosmos.
This entanglement of astronomy and materiality alter our perception of the photographic object as we learn that the materiality of the photographic is born of the stars. By understanding more about the materiality of photography and astronomy, we more deeply understand the importance of innovating new methods of eco-friendly photographic practice.
This research is specifically aimed at those interested in fine art, photography, materiality and astronomy. I believe it to be of interest to this demographic, as this practice-based research provides new perspectives on the photographic object that is produced by ancient light travelling immense distances through the void of space. Distinct from contemporary astronomical photographic images which are often made of composites and false colour, Ancient Light aims to demonstrate the intimate connection that humans share with the stars.
Liberating Education: ‘So right yer buggers then’ (Tony Harrison ‘Them and [uz]’)
I will question the purpose of a University, specifically with regard to the Arts in 2020. I will look at the peculiar intersectional elements which conspire against me, working in the Arts in English Universities where my potential remains untapped because I am a working-class woman of a certain age. I will argue the University business models of grossly overpaid Vice Chancellors inhibit creativity, damaging our society. The focus is on training and careers, on conformity and money. Universities stifle the meaningful discussion, innovation and intelligence they need to fulfil the social mission to which they pay lip service. Here we see in action DBC Pierre’s ‘governing ideologies’ mentioned in ‘Release the Bats’. Before the days of President Trump he writes, ‘I stumbled upon the quantum place where yes meant no, where black was white, where losing an election made you president. The more I examined the space between the real and what we construe as real, the more it felt like… a key to our central dilemma’.
This paper will inevitably be influenced by my own biography. The opportunities for study I had are no longer available. The scandal of Lost Learners will also be addressed and the political catastrophe this is for our country. My generation is failing our young people and the universities are preventing us from helping. It is time for a different model.
Academic conferences held within business schools on topics such as ‘difference’, ‘diversity’ and ‘equity’ are ‘about them’, the ‘others’ and the oppressed, but occur, at times, ‘without them’. This means the voices of the marginalised are not truly heard. This conference paper explores the process of silent exclusion, with a focus on social class, through an autoethnographic inquiry of my experiences as an early career scholar. As an adjunct lecturer, I offer a view into the entangled process of class privilege production and my own making as a working-class subject. In doing so, I attempt to illustrate how unspoken privilege boundaries exclude those at the margin of lucrative academic conference spaces by preserving class privilege, even within venues discussing difference and equity. In theorising from my narrative accounts as a precarious academic worker from an Italian working-class background, I reflect on how my own socio-economic obstacles have allowed me to see how elite class power in academia is reinforced by a reproduction of a maintained economic inequality. Drawing on the interdisciplinary nature of autoethnography inquiry, this paper elucidates how fictional academic conferences which celebrate equity and difference, keep perpetuating and reproducing class privilege. By failing to put class, gender and race together within an already gendered and racialized discourse, conference rooms remain luxurious fortresses filled with economic injustice.
This presentation is a critical reflection on the limitations of academic libraries’ attempts to support widening participation in higher education as a neoliberal political project, and on our potential to support working class equity, self-actualisation and liberation. Critical sociologists of education have developed a rich body of research and scholarship which addresses working-class exclusion from higher education, especially in terms of access, and feelings of marginalisation and impostorship of working-class students. However, relatively little attention has been paid to working-class experiences of academic libraries as a site of marginalisation within higher education.
Libraries should be key to learners’ independent formation of their academic identities and in finding voice as writers. They provide spaces free from assessment, and librarians select and provide access to print and online collections which form reserves of cultural capital. These, alongside practices and ways of knowing developed within educational settings, represent those capitals most valued and legitimated by universities and wider society. In our practice however, librarians misrecognise working-class students (in the sense meant within Nancy Fraser’s model of recognition and theory of justice). This misrecognition is facilitated by librarianship’s constructed white middle-class culture, and broadly uncritical acceptance of deficit models of working-class communities which employs middle-class experience and knowledge as representative markers of ‘good’ students. Working-class exclusion from professional librarianship based on economic inequality, as well as cultural hierarchies, also limits potential for change from within.
These misrecognitions and potentials will be explored, and a way forward based in the theory and practice of critical librarianship (or Critlib) movement and its connection to critical pedagogical practice outlined.
Reference: Fraser, N. (2007). Re-framing justice in a globalizing world. In Lovell, T. (Ed.), _(Mis)recognition, social inequality and social justice_ (pp.17-35). London: Routledge.
The proposed session will explore the challenges and opportunities for Higher Education Institutions in engaging with and supporting students from working class communities in the north of England. There has been a significant increase in the numbers of students from working class backgrounds studying in higher education over the past two decades or so. The session will comprise of three presentations:
Andy Mycock (University of Huddersfield) will explore the impact of higher education on how students from working class backgrounds understand and realise their identity on campus and in their local communities.
Sarah Ward (University of Huddersfield) will draw on her research to explore the challenges and opportunities of working-class students in universities, and how they can support and nurture first generation learners.
James Coe (University of Liverpool) will draw on current research to explore how a better understanding of local working-class communities can help Universities support local social mobility.
Curriculum development has, for me, always been concerned with three interwoven strands: the development of skills, knowledge and general education/enrichment with entitlement as its strong backbone.
In this attempt at what is essentially a pedagogical history and historical pedagogy of the significance of skills over the past 40 years. When I use the term skills I am referring to the various incarnations of government sponsored generic skills initiatives from common skills to core skills to skills, the dabbling in essential skills and, most recently functional skills as they relate to mostly a narrow vocational curriculum but at a times a broader and more meaningful wider curriculum that has attended to cross the academic/vocational divide and generate a genuine learning curriculum. In short, these can be termed working class skills and have been narrowed, undervalued and down graded by the ruling class.
While skills like problem-solving, teamwork, study skills communication have a crucial role to play in post-16 education I agree with the argument that the notion of either a knowledge-free curriculum or of a content free pedagogy is a manifest absurdity. As the basic skills only model of skills development still seems to be winning again over a fuller, more developmental version of skills comprising improving own learning, working with others and problem -solving, the need for a core module on ‘learning to learn’ is as important as ever.
Being the son of a Yorkshire Miner becoming an artist was not an option, I had to get a real job. Sadly as I discovered in the eyes of my father I had even failed in this pursuit and in later years we became estranged due to his abusive behaviour towards my mother.
In primary school teachers regarded, ‘My father was a ‘Bad un’, so I would be, little expectation was made of me. In high school my brother had developed a reputation as a trouble maker so I was tarred with the same brush. Two inspirational teachers influenced my behaviour and shaped what I would eventually become. I kicked against an educational system of low expectation which prepared boys for a career in the mines, railways or glass-works. The result was that I would be the first person in my family’s history to follow an academic route into Higher Education beginning with Teacher Training College and later University to successfully complete two Master Degrees.
I have been married for 40 years, we have 3 beautiful, intelligent, successful and Independent daughters. To change I had to leave so they didn’t have to.
This presentation looks at the autobiographical reflections of my journey as a Muslim working-class woman in academia and what getting an education meant to me. It also illuminates my aspirations, experiences, and challenges and how my encounters made me realise how much class, colourism and culture still dominates in our society. Since education is viewed as a process of identifying and labelling people into classes, this constantly reflected my outlook of education as a means to mould my presumed identity into desired socio-economic roles, societal expectations and vision of success.
Through this platform I explore the shifting emotions of a women struggling to coexist between conformity and resistance. By understanding that This is not just about sharing my story but about challenging conventional norms, misogyny outcries and cultural conflicts that still dominate our society and the importance to offer equal opportunities, breaking stereotypes, notions of oppression and changing mindsets.
The Kashmir region of South Asia has been a contested territory between Asian countries – primarily India and Pakistan – since the Partition of British India in 1947. Indian-administered Kashmir recently underwent significant political changes with the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A – which guaranteed Kashmir’s special semi-autonomous status – on 15 August, 2019. What followed was a seemingly endless physical lockdown accompanied by what is now referred to as the longest communications blackout in a supposed democracy. The epitome of “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” the lockdown imposed in August 2019 became a health-focused lockdown on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
This paper considers the historical conflict surrounding Kashmir – a region targeted for its profound natural beauty, capitalist potential, & as the only Muslim-majority state in a Hindu nationalist India – and interrogates India’s treatment of Kashmir preceding and during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to problematize the nuclear power’s colonial desire of the region.
Elaine J Laberge
“No Landscape for a Good Underclass Woman” (drawn from Steedman) is a poetic exploration of the gendered nature of poverty. and trying to access university in Canada as a woman born into generational poverty. A woman whose research and advocacy focuses on this very thing. Through poetry, we begin to make visible the violence that poverty-class women experience when they seek HE to escape poverty. I imagine not only sharing this poetry but also creating the opportunity for us to create and publish a found poem. This is not an abstract. I understand. I am stressed, scared, worried.
The Tragedy of the Commons People; A Marmot Overview. This presentation explores working class in terms of permissions and allowances. Making an analysis of classifications as forms of empirical topography rather than cultural insignia, this examines notions of how intersectionality and verticality play out in terms of recognition, valuation and dehumanisation.
Making use of Ann Cahill’s work on ‘derivatization’ as a means to move beyond objectification theories, it offers further explanatory power articulating the barriers and challenges met by those at the bottom of power differentials. Cahill’s work gives an essential means to recognizing the dehumanization psychology at work in forms of exploitation and which offers critical criteria to understanding what we do with our bodies, through our work and the ethics landscape we operate in.
This analysis is set out against the historical view of working classes and other peoples who are displaced from ancestral commons. These groupings of people have as a pre-requisit for subsistence the necessity of performing to the desires of a sanctioned hierarchy which offers permission and validation within the hierarchy. Without performing people are excluded.
The presentation looks at the lack of representation of performative peoples in history understanding how multiple outgroup signifiers intersect in the circumstance of an individual. This framework offers a sense of verticality in account of the non-homogeneous schemes which manifest in hierarchies within certain trends, such as lack of representation of women.
These ideas are plotted against the backdrop of Michael Marmot’s longitudinal work on ‘status syndrome’ which documents how the lower the status, the higher risk of illness and death, and consequently the shorter the life expectancy. The tragedy of the commons people is that if nobody is looking after the rights and welfare of commons people then they are depleted and spoiled through collective action.
In this study of the American working class and academic success, the role of working-class cultural capital is examined through the perceptions of academically successful, white, Appalachian American men from the working class. Contextualized within the Appalachian region known as the state of West Virginia, what is most notable about this predominant social class group is that it is not well represented in post-secondary academic completion. In West Virginia, many of these individuals do begin post-secondary education; however, they do not finish. Previous working-class and Appalachian studies on post-secondary academic success have focused primarily on those who did not succeed and the barriers encountered. However, this study utilized an appreciative inquiry format, looking instead at those who were academically successful; their perceptions were gathered, with the hope that some common thread could be detected. The findings were intriguing and countered previous assumptions that to be academically successful these men must have abandoned their working-class roots. Instead, the findings revealed that it was their working-class roots that helped them prevail.
Although scholars have documented differences between social classes in terms of higher education attendance and attainment, very few have addressed working-class students’ experience in higher education (Walpole 2003). There is mounting evidence suggesting these students experience alienation, marginalization, and isolation in higher education. Working-class college students also report greater feelings of inadequacy, intimidation, exclusion, and inferiority than their middle-class peers (Soria and Bultmann 2014). These experiences and feelings are often attributed to the difficulties of navigating a culture that differs markedly from that of their working-class background. Without discounting the cultural barriers working-class students encounter in higher education, it is important to consider the institutional obstacles affecting these students. Colleges that profess to be committed to making their campuses more inclusive to students from diverse backgrounds largely neglect social class issues in their diversity and inclusivity conversations and initiatives. For instance, while most colleges track the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of their student body, they omit collecting data related social class. Another problem working-class students encounter in higher education is their academic advisors failing to acknowledge and attend to issues, concerns, and needs common to their social class. For example, my institution pushes a “15 in 4 Campaign” in which advisors are instructed to persuade their advisees to take fifteen credit hours each semester, regardless of student’s personal situation and/or circumstances, in order for them to graduate on track. Campaigns such these neglect the fact that many working-class students cannot afford to take fifteen credit hours per semester, and assume the students’ only responsibility and/or concern is attending college. These are just a couple of the many examples of classism on college campuses that I would like to address in my presentation.
As one of only a handful of Sheffield-born academics at the University of Sheffield, this paper adopts an auto-ethnographical approach to reflect on my experience of being a working-class, ‘hometown academic’ and the advantages, challenges, frustrations and (limited) cultural capital that this brings, highlighting particularly the strong impetus to engage with local communities and do ‘useful’ work – research, teaching or service – that seeks to generate positive local impacts. I explore the shifting emotions and geographies of my local rootedness, (un)belonging and the uncomfortable sense of in-betweenness noted by Hoggart (1957) that shape my academic life and priorities. Whilst experiencing the sporadic feeling of being a stranger in my hometown and the recurrent sense of being an academic imposter, my capacity to inhabit – and slip between – the environs of the campus and the everyday spaces of the city beyond, I argue, provides a basis for creative transgression, doing things differently and scope for a healthy injection of working-class counter-culture, collective solidarity and humour. At the same time, this feeling of being ‘out-of-place’ and not knowing my place to some extent frees me from the conventional norms and expectations of what a university academic should do and be and this state of ‘anachorism’ (Cresswell, 2004) provides an opportunity for me to creatively cross borders and find my own locally-focused space and academic identity that persistently seeks to mobilise the resources of the university to benefit local, working-class people. In the context of a beloved hometown that is suffering harsh and deepening inequalities the need for such a reorientation is long overdue. In turn, the need for compassionate, working-class academics who can broker trusting relationships within and beyond the university and reconnect (home-)town and gown has arguably never been greater.
Despite rising numbers of working class students entering higher education (HE), HE remains an institution dominated by the middle classes and by white middle class values particularly so within ‘elite’ institutions. As a consequence, working class students within HE often experience a cleft habitus whereby their experiences, embodied knowledges and tastes are at odds and come into conflict with the expectations and practices within HE. Alongside a hierarchical valuing of middle class values, working class students’ cleft habitus produces feelings of being an ‘imposter’ whereby class-negotiating tactics are often utilised to fit in or get by.
Through auto-ethnographic reflections of my experiences as a working class, ‘first generation’, student at a Russell group university, this paper situates my cleft habitus as resulting in and from structural and embodied ‘class conflict’ within HE. Within this class conflict, my working-class habitus is both a source of feelings of inadequacy and ‘not belonging’, and provides tools for survival and resistance within HE. This paper seeks to illuminate ways in which a working class habitus can be utilised as a resource for accomplishment within HE, and as resistance to HE’s middle class values and the rhetoric of working class adoption of middle class values as ‘social progression’. This chapter subsequently suggests that a cleft habitus is not solely a site of dislocation, but can be utilised as a resource to challenge the reproduction of hierarchies within an institution.
The image of the “proper academic” remains a white, middle-aged and middle-class man (Skelton, 2004). Ongoing attempts to achieve gender and ethnic diversity in academia highlight the lack of equivalent focus on the class background of faculty members. However, grammar schools alongside widening participation policies have led to greater numbers of ‘working class academics’. There are difficulties with this term, for instance reliable statistics on the class origins of academics are unavailable. Also, the descriptor ‘working class academic’ can be perceived as being contradictory i.e how can you be an academic, and still be working class? (Wakeling, 2010). Much of the existing literature on the academic success of this cohort suggests that alienation, imposter syndrome and micro-aggressions are common experiences (See Warnock, 2016 for an overview). While Haney’s (2015) research depicts the process of mobility into white collar professions such as academia, as traumatic. Yet my current research with 75 working class academics which takes an intersectional approach, presents an heterogeneous group with diverse experiences of academia. It also illuminates their additional forms of knowledge and experience i.e aspirational, social/familial, linguistic, navigational and resistance capital. This paper ends with how ‘we’ can move forward.
Professor Budd Hall