On a blustery, cold winter night in Blackpool we got back to the car after walking the illuminations. A bit shattered and glad of the warm, by chance I happened across a radio show by a brilliant woman that led to this website, this conference and the creation of this brilliant group of academics, students and thinkers of all kinds.
The woman on the radio was Rachael Gibbons and she talked of her experiences in academia as a working-class person; of imposter syndrome, of a Jonah Complex and of the often traumatic, emotional turmoil that ‘getting an education’ meant. I felt every word, it resonated, and we listened attentively, not a word was spoken in the car as Rachel’s reflections stung, burned and then warmed the soul.
This chance encounter over the airwaves triggered a punctum, a drawing back from the now as I whizzed through the decades of learning and struggle and realised how much class defined almost everything – and still does. Yet it remains undiscussed all too often.
Most of my life as a troubled and troublesome student, boy, adolescent, youth and adult has shaped my direction now as an educator. Having been marginalised, outside and dismissed often enough, I know education offered me both a way ‘back in’ – but was also the place that made me deeply aware that I did not fit. Listening to Rachel that evening, I realised I had let all of this slip away, allowed the domination of philosophies and theories of others cloud my own experiences and those of the people I work with.
Everything seemed clear, we needed a conference – or at least a different type of conference that did not begin with the conventions of exclusion, the practices of an academia that see working class as a condition to be cured, but only for the few. This is that conference. Once spoken aloud, it was clear so many others have felt the same, laboured under the expectations of a diminishing of where we come from and toward ‘the light of a middle-class salvation’.
The conference began with the recognition that we are continually stripping the brilliance of the working-class communities, relocating the poets, writers, thinkers, academics, researchers, artists, educators, designers, sociologists, scientists, mathematicians and other professions considered the domain of others, of another class.
This conference is different, and I am looking forward to working with all of you as a collective, to find different voices that recognise working class spaces not as places of deprivation, of poverty and unending misery. Nor are they places of utopian idealism and beauty. They, like everywhere else, are complex, rich and contested places and it is here we can reveal what that means for those of that have moved into academia.
I am Peter Shukie, I am now a doctor and focus my work on exploring what ‘education’ is, the complexity it brings and the ways that my working-class background have been at odds with it most of my life. My work now is brilliant when I work with students as we look at how education can be made vital and real in their communities. Still looking at the thinkers that shape the academic discourse, but testing them by applying them for real, in active projects that seek to make a difference. I created a digital platform to take learning outside institutions, COOCs (Community Open Online Courses) provides a place that recognises everyone can teach, and everyone can learn. It focuses on doing this for free and by empowering everyone to have the responsibilities and the rights to be an educator.
The conference follows a similar principle in being a collective, where we all as speakers and delegates create the conference.
The fire and the drive to make this happen comes from knowing that working class means much more than my academic self is allowed to express. I am interested in being part of a conversation in which we all get to speak our experiences and revitalise the concept of class not as deficit but as inspiration. I look forward to hearing you, supporting you and being empowered by you as a working class academic – something we do not correct, but that we celebrate.
I have recently completed a master’s degree in Education and Education Leadership and Management at Liverpool Hope University. In this conference I share my story of being a working-class lone parent. I feel between the working class and the middle class and this leads to interesting observations about how women of colour are faced with boundaries of culture and labelling whilst aware of their realities.
My story is one that explores how class has been a salient feature in my journey to maintain a sense of identity, self-content and dignity.
I am the Coordinator for the conference and will be actively involved in being the link between us all. If you require further information or have any questions, I am the one you will come to. Together we will make this a brilliant conference and I look forward to hearing from, and meeting, you all.
Kay Sidebottom is a Lecturer in Education and Childhood at Leeds Beckett University. Her current research explores how teachers can work with posthuman ideas to facilitate meaningful and disruptive education spaces for our complex times. With a background in community and adult education, her pedagogical specialisms include radical and anarchist education, arts-based practice and community philosophy.
Mollie Louise Baker
Mollie is a PhD Education student at Newnham College, Cambridge. She grew up on a council estate in Colchester, Essex and spent her teenage years watching a family member fade due to addiction. She has mixed feelings about her current student status. She is proud on some days and mortified on others. Mollie’s PhD explores the classed and affective(ing) dimensions of resistance amongst academics. Her research is motivated by a hatred for the New Labour lies about social mobility and meritocracy – bastards, she says, utter bastards.
Alex Dunedin has been a part of developing the Ragged University project over the last ten years which has been using available infrastructure and common technology to pursue educational processes in the community.
The working class conference is important to me because the diffuse intellectual lives of people in general are under represented in cultural terms. Education and learning are a part of our social fabric performing critical functions of human development which should be celebrated as such.
There are long traditions which have come from the instinctual behaviour to collaborate and share knowledge. Experimentally open forms of educational practice like this conference are exciting opportunities to understand our living landscape as containing the means of constructing an educational process.
Research focuses include how Education performs critical functions of human development and the effects of stress and trauma on cognition.
Maria Impedovo is an Associate Professor at the Aix-Marseille University, France. Originally from the South of Italy. She holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Psychology. She currently teaches at the School of Education. Her research interests sit at the intersections of identity and professional development, learning, and the use of technology for individual and collective empowerment.
Lou is a nomadic writer, educator and thinker who tries to channel rage into affirmative practice. She uses Thinking Environment practices to create spaces where people can think, feel, plan and dream…safely.
She would like you to know that, as an adopted, working-class woman with a heritage conjured up out of other peoples’ agendas, she has rarely felt ‘at home’. No wonder the liminality of posthuman thinking appeals.
Lou is a friend, a mam and a slow but determined runner.
Elaine J Laberge
Elaine uses playwriting, creative non-fiction and poetry to make visible systemic inequality and inequity in Canada. She focuses on the structural reasons for poverty discrimination in Canada and Canadian universities. Elaine’s PhD research explores how hope and imagination can create taxpayer-funded universities that focus on education for public good.
I am a library director at a modern university. My work and practice is informed by critical theories of librarianship (or ‘critical librarianship’) and critical sociology of education; and professionally I am interested in the role of academic libraries in supporting equity and widening participation.
Northumbrian born with a Celtic heritage from Galloway, Caithness and South Ronaldsay in Orkney. His family moved to the West Yorkshire coalfield in the late 60s where he attended high school which sought to prepare young boys for a working life on the railways, glassworks or in the mines.
Ian is an award-winning teacher (albeit a long, long time ago) and an education and training consultant with comprehensive experience in curriculum planning and partnership development across the 14-19 sector. His recent teaching has been on intervention and engagement programmes.
A former development advisor with the Learning and Skills Development Agency and 14-19 advisor for three London local authorities, Ian is currently LSRN convenor for East Anglia, Norfolk NEU post-16 officer, Norwich Trades Council education officer, quality improvement partner for Norwich schools and a member of the Socialist Educational Association’s national executive as well as a governor of two schools in Norwich.
I work and live in beautiful, rural, southeastern Ohio, and hold a BS in Education (elementary), BA in History, MEd in Classroom Teaching/Humanities and PhD in Cultural Studies in Education. As a first-generation college graduate, I strive everyday to make higher education more accessible to others, like myself, who are ready to make that leap.
Caroline Bald is a working class academic currently working in the Social Work and Social Justice Division of the University of Essex, where her work focuses on social injustice. Her work explores the politics of suitability in public sector professional education currently researching criminal records. Caroline positions herself as a researcher activist interested in exploring power and ‘class’ selection decision-making at the point of admissions to higher education.
She is a second career academic after twenty years in criminal justice social work, reclaiming radical social work. Caroline found her haem in Working Class Academics in 2020 writing a blogpost and attending a conference like no other. (Read: https://workingclass-academics.co.uk/caroline-bald/)
Dr Anastasia Christou is Associate Professor of Sociology at Middlesex University, London and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Anastasia is a long-term committed academic activist, trade unionist, feminist and anti-racist. As an interdisciplinary critical scholar her work is fully immersed in the humanities, social sciences and the arts in the pursuit of a public sociology which is relevant, meaningful and impactful.
Anastasia extensively researches, publishes and teaches on issues of identity, emotion, inequality, intersectionality, ethics, decolonial and feminist pedagogies, social justice and exclusions as regards gender, class, sexuality, race and ethnicity in migrant, minority, youth and ageing groups, and, has engaged in multi-sited, multi-method and comparative ethnographic research in the United States, the UK, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Cyprus, France, Iceland and Switzerland. As a writer and editor Anastasia works across disciplines, geographies and cultures conducting empirical field research and extensively theorizes from her findings. Anastasia’s research has been published with University presses (Harvard University Press; Amsterdam University Press), as well as in international journals and she has edited a number of book volumes and special issues, while her recent poetry appears in the Feminist Review and forthcoming in the International Human Rights Art Festival and Menelique.
I am a first-generation university graduate from a working-class family in South Yorkshire. Having attended university of York I went into teaching. Following a successful career in which ended as a deputy headteacher, I left school leadership in 2015 I gained a part time post in an FE college teaching adult on an Access to HE programmes.
I had not taught adults before and had no previous experience of working in FE or teaching on this particular programme: all my teaching experience was A level teaching and young adults. This teaching experienced re awakened my own working-class identity and the cultural dissonance I experienced in moving away to university in the early 80s.
Jo Fletcher-Saxon has been in further and college higher education since 1996. She is an Assistant Principal and is the college’s Practitioner Research Lead.
Jo’s remit includes leadership of adult and higher education, teacher training and a large vocational area for 16-19 year olds. Jo is an advocate of practitioner research. She is a convenor for the Learning and Skills Research Network, she works with colleagues across the sector supporting and running #FEresearchmeets, she runs an annual #BrewEdFE un-conference and co-hosts #FEresearchpodcast – these are all platforms and spaces with a mission to bring college academics, teachers, lecturers and support roles together in non-hierarchical, non-institutional spaces around practitioner enquiry, research and scholarship. Her interests are in grassroots movements that effect change in further education. Mum, dog lover and shepherdess!
Laura Bentley is a Research Fellow and Teaching Associate at the University of Birmingham. Her work seeks to examine how inequalities are established and reproduced through policies and practices in education, employment and wider societal structures, and she then works to eradicate these.
Laura currently works on a research project which aims to uncover hidden social need in Sutton Coldfield and identify how provision and policy can best fulfill these needs. She is due to begin hosting a weekly writing retreat for working class women throughout Summer 2021. If you’re interested in joining the mailing list, please contact her at: L.J.Bentley@Bham.ac.uk
Lisa (she/her) is a working-class, emerging early careers academic and is an Education and Early Childhood Studies Lecturer at the University of East London. Lisa entered HE as a mature, single parent to two children who had no expectations of ever teaching in HE, until embarking on the transformational journey of critical education as an undergraduate at the University of East London.
She is a practising critical pedagogue with a strong focus in Freirean pedagogy, social justice and educational equity.
Teresa is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at Bangor University. She’s not the typical academic as she still lives on a council estate and her family biography includes poverty, the ‘dole’, low paid employment and various social problems.
She recently published a book ‘Higher Education and Working-Class Academics Precarity and Diversity in Academia’, written because she wanted her students to know that not every academic is posh.
I am a Senior Lecturer in Engineering Mathematics at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). Prior to moving to SHU three years ago, I taught across further education and college based higher education for 10 years.
I appreciate that class and gender have been issues in the work that I do and I am interested in what other people have experienced. As a STEM Ambassador for women, in my areas of expertise, I know that these barriers are real and can take a lot to overcome.
I helped develop this website and will continue to offer a range of support to the conference and hope to help make it a successful event.