C.R.E.A.M. (Class Rules Everything Around Me)
September 27, 2016 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Why class won't go away (slTheGuardian)

Note: this long read is an excerpt of the book, Respectable: The Experience of Class by Lynsey Hanley.
posted by Kitteh (27 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a really good article. I thought this particularly succinct:

For two generations now, the state has presented ever more forcefully the idea that working-class individuals need to change in order to qualify as full citizens. In the words of the sociologist Val Gillies, the education strategy of recent governments can be summed up thus: “For the sake of their children’s future, and for the stability and security of society as a whole, working-class parents must be taught how to raise middle-class subjects.”

Relatedly, Selina Todd's Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910 - 2010 is a pretty good readable social history. The article's point about the shift from working-class-as-producers to working-class-as-successful-or-not-consumers dovetails with her observation that in the seventies the class discourse moved from "you rise with your class, via the union and political change" to "you aspire to rise out of your class via individual striving and individual use of state programs".

Rising with your class is the only thing that makes sense - otherwise someone still has to be on the bottom, getting exploited. I always think of Blake's "The Human Abstract": Pity would be no more/ If we did not make somebody Poor:/ And Mercy no more could be/If all were as happy as we.
posted by Frowner at 8:39 AM on September 27, 2016 [32 favorites]




Rising with your class is the only thing that makes sense - otherwise someone still has to be on the bottom, getting exploited.

To achieve goals of social change and to minimise suffering by the poorest members of society as a whole it makes sense, but for the individual then trying to rise out of your class is logical to maximise the personal benefit. And this goes double if your class is on the losing side of 'society' as the working class has been for the last 40 years or so in the UK.

On a more personal level, the other problem of rising with your class is that the links between class and opportunity in the UK in terms of accessing different career options, etc, mean that the options for someone opting to stick with rather than rise out of their class are very limited. Would they widen with a rising working class? Or is a member of the working class stuck with the limits and the slower expansion of opportunity, even where their class as a whole might be rising?
posted by biffa at 9:10 AM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


In the UK, the term “working class” can also be used in a pseudo-ethnic sense, much in the way Americans may talk about being partly Irish or Cherokee. One can have a degree, a paid-off property and a professional job, but identify (with some degree of quiet pride) as working-class because one's grandfather worked in a colliery or a shipyard. This is probably because class here is encoded into so many things, from terminology for household objects to types of football one follows (and in the upper strata, minefields of shibboleths such as types of cutlery, rules of dress, and illogically pronounced names, that evolved to weed out pretenders), that a socioeconomic stratum becomes a heritage and a culture.

A logical point would be to accept that class is ethnicity and decouple it from socioeconomics. Have quotas for Workingclass doctors and barristers, and eliminating systems of privilege, allow those Posh who would otherwise be dead-weight as executives or officers, or those who would be better at hands-on skills that they'd otherwise have to wait for their post-retirement hobby farm to exercise, to work in traditionally proletarian jobs. Eventually, the economic roots of the two ethnic groups would become a trivia question.
posted by acb at 9:21 AM on September 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ooh, ooh, if you think the U.S. version of this (whether gradual or sudden) is going to be any less dramatic than Brexit, I've got loads of bridges to sell you. We can't lead the industrial world in inequality for too long before some real comeuppance.
posted by anarch at 9:23 AM on September 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


+1 for title.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:38 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Really glad to see this here, generating discussion. For other Liverpool John Moores working-class-experience related material, see the Writing Lives project, which gives final-year undergraduates in English the chance to write about memoirs from the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiography and see their projects go online.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:40 AM on September 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Or is a member of the working class stuck with the limits and the slower expansion of opportunity, even where their class as a whole might be rising?

But it seems like rising out of one's class doesn't work very well either...I mean, if you're a superstar, sure, it would be a waste and a tragedy if Pat Barker (and all the mute inglorious Pat Barkers) end up working in call centers. But is that really true for the average person of average interests and abilities?

I suppose that rising with your class doesn't make much sense unless it also emphasizes breaking the power of the ruling class, since "rising with your class" kind of has to mean a weakening of class distinctions and economic distinctions. That is, if working class people are going to be able to be doctors and broadcasters and professors or even actuaries or human resources reps and so on - so that these become "working class jobs" - the class landscape has to be flattened out a lot. You also need things to work so that being a supermarket checker is an okay job so that you have a wage floor, which seems like it's the very obvious part of raising one's class.

I was brought up not to make the mistakes of my parents, jobs-wise, and I've ended up just like them but poorer with the times - in a job that doesn't use my real skills and doesn't have much status. Looking back, I can see how large a role class played in this - we're all smart in my family and do wonderfully well in school, but none of us have ever really understood the pre-professional stuff, we don't emerge from school with the right things on our resumes, we don't know how to make the leap into a professional career path. The only aspirational thing we as a family have understood is getting the training for a job, but that doesn't necessarily help.

I mean, it's okay - plenty of people would be thrilled to have a 40 hour pink collar insurance-bearing gig and I often feel lucky to have it - but I feel like I'm capable of a lot more than I'll ever get the chance to do.

The US and the UK seem virtually tied for class mobility - it looks like the US is worse on some measures and the UK is worse on others. I get the sense that a big difference is that the US does not have as clear an articulation of class distinctions as the UK - partly because I don't think we've ever had anything really like Mass Observation, funnily enough. So while class is very deeply encoded into all that about silverware and clothes and haircuts and...oh, everything, kitchen implements, paint colors, a lot of that remains unexpressed. We also don't have a literature that is about class in the same way. I always think about a bit in a Margaret Drabble novel where the main character reflects that she would have thought gilt and old rugs vulgar and/or shabby-looking until she met the upper middle class literary family she's brought into when she gets a scholarship to Oxford. That's not a very American passage, even though it's not like we're short on novels about class aspiration. Edith Wharton is probably the closest, and she was a total stan for all things English.
posted by Frowner at 9:42 AM on September 27, 2016 [17 favorites]


The US doesn't have classes, but it does have neighbourhoods.
posted by bonehead at 10:15 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Frowner's comment reminds me of a brilliant thread here on the Blue (which I'm not managing to find) that was about people gatekeeping jobs based on how people dressed- (the difference between a tanktop and a shell came up). That thread really hit home for me because y'know, I'm not stupid, I know to wear a suit to an interview. But the subtleties of formal dress- of what "wear a suit" means- were completely lost on me and it's just one among many signifiers of "one of us".

Some middle class aquaintances of mine were once shocked when I told them that neither of my parents had ever been interviewed for a job. My dad left school the Friday he turned 15 and on Monday he was working alongside his dad as farm labourer. Ever since then until retirement, if he needed a job he'd put the word out and if someone needed a labourer he'd get hired. Same for my mum.

The part about middle class parents and middle class teachers struck home. Plenty of my teachers were openly contemptuous of working class kids.
posted by threetwentytwo at 10:22 AM on September 27, 2016 [9 favorites]


Some middle class aquaintances of mine were once shocked when I told them that neither of my parents had ever been interviewed for a job.

It strikes me that this is one of the things that's particular to middle-class work, since both the working class and the upper/leisure class can bypass interviewing (but for entirely different reasons).
posted by psoas at 10:32 AM on September 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


When I was growing up, in the 1980s and 90s in Solihull, no one ever used the term “working class”.

It was the same for me, but only because nobody had ever met anyone who wasn't working class. You had interactions occasionally with people like doctors and teachers but they were sullen interludes to be endured before you got back to the real world.
posted by Coda Tronca at 10:35 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


U.S. version of this (whether gradual or sudden) is going to be any less dramatic than Brexit


Dude, did you see the debate last night? Read people critiquing -- of all things -- the Republican candidate's grammar and sentence structure? I get it, for some reason it can reeeally get under the skin, but this stuff is real, and it's happening now.

Have you heard people talking about how they feel the Democrats feel disdain for them? Or about how they're trying to embrace being "deplorables"?
posted by amtho at 10:37 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


brilliant thread here on the Blue (which I'm not managing to find) that was about people gatekeeping jobs based on how people dressed

If anyone can find this, I will be very obliged.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 10:42 AM on September 27, 2016


brilliant thread here on the Blue (which I'm not managing to find) that was about people gatekeeping jobs based on how people dressed

Reasonably Everything Happens, is it either of these?

Pink Flamingos Palm Trees and Class Warfare

The Logic of Stupid Poor People
posted by kyp at 10:48 AM on September 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Pretty sure it was this one
posted by Mchelly at 10:50 AM on September 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


So while class is very deeply encoded into all that about silverware and clothes and haircuts and...oh, everything, kitchen implements, paint colors, a lot of that remains unexpressed.

This is why I remain fascinated by style blogs, decor blogs, DIY blogs, and mommyblogs. It seems like the entities that are doing the most to articulate and codify class differences in America are ad networks and companies that work to sponsor bloggers. In turn, the bloggers define and reinforce the aesthetics and material sphere on their rung of the class ladder. I find it helpful when bloggers self-sort into different class strata based on their tastes and their chosen sponsors; it's even more interesting when readers police bloggers for jumping or sinking a rung or two on the ladder.

On the Internet, nobody may know you're a dog, but they can sniff out your social class without much effort.
posted by sobell at 10:56 AM on September 27, 2016 [5 favorites]


Are there working class interiors bloggers? All the bloggers I follow seem to be of one class (um, mine, not surprisingly), so I am so curious what is out there!
posted by dame at 11:07 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


They generally don't last long -- blogging is tough, readers are shitty, and it's demoralizing to not be able to make money off it because you (and by extension, your readers) don't have money already. I tend to find blogs outside my usual urban/liberal/college-educated bubble when I hit my old birth board on Babycenter and start clicking around.

(There's an entire other post on how relentlessly class-targeted parenting and baby-advice sites are.)
posted by sobell at 11:15 AM on September 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Please make that post sometime!
posted by dame at 11:45 AM on September 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


That was a fascinating article, thank you for posting. It was interesting to read, and at some points experience a deep, visceral agreement at the examples about class being made, and then a paragraph or two later being completely baffled at UK examples that are totally foreign to my USA-class-steeped brain.

To the second point: The part where the writer was speaking about programs that in the US would be termed "Head Start", as inherently classiest and using language you'd expect to see in an article about Native People's forced Boarding schools. Are there people here in America who see Head Start and similar programs as a form of class-warfare? I just...I can't wrap my head around it.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 12:32 PM on September 27, 2016


I've been kicking around some thoughts on Britain and colonialism for awhile that resonated with this article. I feel like Britain was so good at colonising because it had the experience of being repeatedly colonised. The diamond metaphor rings true to me if you consider it as the upper colonising class that knows themselves to be essentially foreign/european/international with different manners and language etc. A large middle grouping that tapers in both directions dependant on how much of the language and manners of the colonising group they have adopted, and a bottom grouping that attempts to maintain their original language and manners.

It seems to me that the construction of whiteness in Britain has allowed colonisers to paper over this, to say we are all the same people, just our ways are better and you must adopt these if you wish to rise in this country. If we ignore the similarity in skin colour as a red herring then we can see this is quite evidently bullshit. Someone that has been raised in say a Northern town, whose family has been there for generations, as has the families around them, is different, has always been different, to someone of the upper class even if they had been raised in the same geographic area. To dismiss the regional cultures of Britain, to demand that they be relegated to a few tourist friendly traditions, to be replaced by the culture of the rulers so that people may rise in society is classically colonial. I feel like this used to be acknowledged more, when I read books from 18th century Britain I feel like there is often a horror for those outside the ruling class, that the people outside the South East are barely human.

The rise of Welsh and Scottish nationalism seems to me to be the most obvious response to this, but I feel like Brexit is also a response, a naive decolonisation strategy.
posted by fido~depravo at 12:41 PM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


In the UK, the term “working class” can also be used in a pseudo-ethnic sense,

Yeah, it's called being English. We're the last colonized people of the British Empire, don't you know? Brexit was a revolt, but really it should be called Engxit.
posted by Emma May Smith at 1:49 PM on September 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was brought up not to make the mistakes of my parents, jobs-wise, and I've ended up just like them but poorer with the times - in a job that doesn't use my real skills and doesn't have much status. Looking back, I can see how large a role class played in this - we're all smart in my family and do wonderfully well in school, but none of us have ever really understood the pre-professional stuff...

it's funny you've internalized the idea that your lower ranking job doesn't use your "real skills"... and it's really the heart of your problem: the idea that what separates you from, say, an associate dean, is the sort of skills you apply in your job when really it's just power and authority. in my experience in academia, rising in a professional capacity is always about demonstrations of discipline and loyalty... which is how you become worthy of increased power. it's what people really mean by "selling yourself', "networking" or any of the other euphemisms for demonstrating your willingness to put your own interest in advancement above any consideration of other people.

every professional career crystallizes around that moment when you show that willingness to do what to takes to "succeed".
posted by ennui.bz at 3:32 PM on September 27, 2016 [8 favorites]


The part where the writer was speaking about programs that in the US would be termed "Head Start", as inherently classiest and using language you'd expect to see in an article about Native People's forced Boarding schools. [...] I just...I can't wrap my head around it.

The idea of the school system as being inherently classist is a very familiar refrain in Britain, because of our experiences with Grammar Schools. This idea streamed kids (at 11!) irrevocably into an academic track and a vocational track, and managed to very clearly position one of those things as better than the other. Of course what this meant was a majority-middle-class school and a majority-working-class school, and this was AOK because if you were a clever working class kid you could test into the grammar school and presto! social mobility! The qualifications that you could get from the vocational-track schools were explicitly worth less than the ones you got from the academic-track school. So, these schools have largely gone by the wayside and it's all integrated now, but they mostly did this by getting rid of the vocational-track stuff and measuring all the kids by their performance at the academic things. And you can read a lot of commentary on the class implications of this.

Now, when it comes to free early years education there's clear evidence that overall, it doesn't have a benefit on kids' attainment (as measured by the school system), but that it DOES have a big effect when you specifically consider kids from "disadvantaged backgrounds". You can hear people talking about things like "kids whose parents don't have books in the house". And while some of this is about really difficult/abusive/addicted family situations, it's hard not to read it as a criticism of families where a level of genuine deep expertise is traditionally passed down orally, within the family and then by an apprenticeship system. It's inevitable that the system is trying to teach kids the skills and values they will need in the wider world (in our future knowledge economy etc etc) and inevitable that if the wider world is biased against the working class, a lot of "the skills and values you will need" are going to be middle class skills and values. For example: learning how to tone down a broad regional accent - which is a class marker.

This is all particularly difficult when you take it in the context of former industrial heartlands where the jobs have vanished, so "low income" and "disadvantaged background" and "at risk" and so forth get a bit mixed up with the idea of "working class" and it's hard to separate the concepts sometimes. Which is where we get back to the topic of the article.
posted by emilyw at 2:54 AM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's called being English. We're the last colonized people of the British Empire, don't you know?

There are some republicans from the North of Ireland who would disagree rather strongly with that assessment...
posted by Dysk at 10:25 AM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


if working class people are going to be able to be...actuaries...

Hey that's me! Working class family, went to college, became an actuary. I really didn't have an idea of how much of a difference class makes until I started working in the professional world. It's super weird that almost no one I work with has or had student loans, their parents paid or they got scholarships. Almost no one has a strong accent. Almost no one smokes cigarettes. People talk about using credit cards for the benefits instead of just trying to get by. People right out of college are driving brand new cars instead of a beater (took me 4-5 years out of college before I could get there). People who can buy condos and all new furniture just a couple years out of school. People who have traveled all around the world, either by themselves or with their parents when they were younger.

It's really shocking how behind I can feel sometimes when people years younger than me seem to be already at a level above me. And that's due to a lifetime of being in a better financial position. It's not that they're being rich assholes about it, just that when you can't or couldn't do those things, it really makes you notice the difference.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:48 AM on September 28, 2016 [5 favorites]


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