The Lives of Working Class Academics

Cover of The Lives of Working Class Academics

Getting Ideas Above Your Station

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Synopsis

Table of contents

(18 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xxiii
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Abstract

This chapter is a Marxist Critical Realist inspired discussion of my interest in, and experiences of, being a working-class academic from Indian/African heritage. I begin my autoethnography by problematising the limits of defining social class from a gradational approach, which is the most common way to make sense of social class in academia and beyond. I argue that neoliberal capitalism organises people into workers and owners of production and without this acknowledgement, discussion of social class in the gradational approach is limited. I then go on to critique the de-centering of social class, for which I used Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a case study. My intention is to promote the explanatory power of approaching social class as as an organisational relationship, which assimilates racism, in the service of capitalism. Throughout the chapter, I provide examples of the way that I navigate this intellectual standpoint in the classroom, specifically through utilising the concepts of mystification and feasibility that I developed through my PhD that focussed on social class in Sweden. Without dismissing the value of the gradational approach of understanding social class in toto, and also the importance of personal identities (indeed I have focussed on my ethno-racial identity), my basic argument is that without the centralisation of social class, and crucially its articulation with neoliberal capitalism, social class becomes a descriptive category rather than explanatory, rendering the possibility of radical social change as severely diminished.

Abstract

This chapter is an autoethnographic account of my journey from a working-class childhood and youth to becoming an academic in a large UK university. Using the techniques of poetics (Bachelard, 2004), the chapter focuses on several pivotal periods in my life, where I encountered a sequence of events that were to influence my journey towards transformation. Back in my early 20s, I knew that I wanted to change and to grow in new directions; however, infused with a particular heritage, set of experiences and cultural values – none of which embraced, recognised or understood learning and university as a possibility – I struggled to make sense of my feelings of frustration and being stranded. This is where my strange fascination with the airport, music, daydream and the notion of flight emerged (see Bachelard, 2011; Seres, 1993). Here, the nebulous and seemingly futile ache for an alternative and better future emerged as a potent hope and journey towards transition.

Abstract

Education is, or should be, a gateway to a better life, a better understanding of ourselves in a complex and hierarchical social world. As a political scientist from a working-class mature-student background I have been fortunate enough to build a career that not only celebrates and embodies the possibilities provided by educational access but also aims to highlight the staggering lengths the socially advantaged go to in their denial of educational opportunity for the vast majority of people from my background. Like all autoethnographies, I guess this contribution may seem an idiosyncratic take on working-class life and academia; it is at once a primal scream against ingrained classism we have to confront every day, but also a recognition of the intellectual pluralism and tolerance of academia that allows and rewards even members of the ‘awkward squad’ like me if we stick it out long enough. It is a rage against the machine, but hopefully, also a small step towards changing the definition of academia.

Abstract

Scholars have made important inroads to theorising and understanding working-class people's experiences of higher education (HE), as well as the broader complexities of navigating overlapping and sometimes competing middle- and working-class spaces.

In this chapter, we hope to add to this body of literature through examining the experiences and histories of two working-class women currently in the early stages of academic careers. Through the use of ‘experimental autoethnographies’ (Read & Bradley, 2018) and based on an assemblage of autoethnographic artefacts, we trace our journeys from undergraduate to post-PhD employment, picking up on key moments of pain, disconnect and isolation on the one hand, and celebration, support and pride on the other.

Through the tracing of these key moments in our recent academic trajectories, we make visible the difficulties of navigating elite spaces of academia as women with no family history of HE participation, exploring the ways in which we take on the role as ‘academic translator’ for those around us when discussing the labyrinthine meanings of academe. At the same time, and reflecting on these experiences from the perspective of navigating the margins of academia, we reject the pathologising narratives of working-class people and communities as uninterested in or hostile to HE through the unpacking of joyful moments shared with those around us related to our academic successes.

Finally, we point to ways in which we, as academics – however early career or precariously employed – are now in the position to support marginalised students or colleagues, ending our chapter with a series of practical suggestions for making academia ‘thinkable’ for future generations.

Abstract

It is a rare challenge in academia to be asked to write about yourself, and rarer still to engage with the multiple (social, spatial, political, embodied and private) selves that impact on our practice. In this chapter I consider how who we are in academia is not simply a matter of adopting a professional role but rather involves identity management and negotiation practices to obscure, perform or disclose identities in professional contexts. This chapter is informed by my first ethnographic research project at a non-profit youth media centre in New York City; a study exploring innovative visual pedagogies for investigating how pre-service student-teachers articulate their views about the effects of poverty on educational attainment and my practices as a teacher educator on the MSc Transformative Learning and Teaching: a two-year, initial teacher education programme designed from a social justice perspective and working to produce graduates who position themselves as activist teachers. In this autoethnography I explore the complex temporalities of my academic identities, arguing the need for a critical spatial practice.

Abstract

This chapter is an autoethnographic account of my working-class background into the lonely world of academia. It shares a small glimpse into my life journey from an intersectionality lens of being British born, of Pakistani heritage and a Muslim male. Thus, my working-class identity is one of several challenging identities amalgamated into one and silently interchangeable. This chapter is a rare occurrence to view my world from an introspective position. It shares the heavy constraints and challenges those of us who come from marginalised groups face daily. You will read how I cannot sever integral parts of myself which are deeply infused with the academic I am becoming. All of which I have struggled to maintain both personally and professionally. Subsequently, this chapter shares the complexity of these identities, my constant negotiation of them and my ongoing adaptation of now being uncomfortably viewed as middle-class.

Abstract

This chapter will examine the intersectionality of race, class and gender as defining my experience of being a Black, working-class woman in academia over a 30-year period in the United States and United Kingdom. Drawing on Critical Race Theory (Delgado & Stefancic, 2013) as the framework for positionality, early childhood experiences will be discussed along with my entry and journey in academia. My early experiences are important to document as they are influential in defining my working-class heritage. I will also discuss the importance of intersecting issues related to being a Black working-class woman such as my accent and the politics of my hair in the academy. There are unique challenges faced by Black working-class women, so I conclude with some personal tips for staying in academia.

Abstract

Higher education (HE) in England and other parts of the United Kingdom (UK), traditionally and historically, has been dominated by privileged and powerful social groups. In recent decades, universities have opened their doors and encouraged participation by a diversity of learners including women, working class, minority ethnic groups and many others that might be deemed historically under-represented in HE. This movement came to be known as ‘widening participation’. I consider myself to be a product of the widening participation movement having returned to learn in 1994 after a 10-year break in education. However, providing access to participate is only the first step. For many HE students from under-represented groups, like the working class, the journey through the academy, while earning their degree, can be fraught with profound and difficult experiences. This chapter charts my own journey into HE as a student, and back into HE as an academic, with some equally fraught and profound experiences.

Abstract

What does it ‘feel like’ to be working class and an academic? This chapter explores the significance of working-classness both from influences in childhood, and experiences as an adult, when entering academia. Asking what feelings are involved makes autoethnography the perfect lens for analysis, while immediately challenging the objectivity of a distanced neutrality preferred by much academic process. A provocation comes from the question, ‘who do you think you are?’ that reverberates through my life and reinforces that as autoethnographers, we become both subject and analysts; as such working-class subject analysts, the reflections amplify the importance of experiences lived and offer more than mere diversity in research methodologies. This is an account of what it feels like, and how these feeling have altered what my work in the academy looks like, how theory, pedagogy and practice have changed and how a working-class praxis emerged.

Abstract

The development of ‘desire’ in a working-class artist/academic is explored through an analysis of the reminiscences between the author and her mother. It is argued that the notion of cultural capital implies a deficit in working-class subjects that is deterministic and does not fully explain those who are successful in the art world and/or academia. Rather than thinking about works of art and art practice in terms of cultural capital, they are conceptualised as resources that can have existential significance for some people. This is because early interactions with the arts enable people to connect with the world and at the same time enable them to recognise their own desires and talents while learning to think critically about their lives. The findings of this study suggest a nuanced approach based on cultural assets and resources rather than cultural capital should be considered in educational policy and practice.

Abstract

This chapter makes the assertion that social class is a verb, which is to say, an individual's class identifications are not fixed and ascribed at birth but must be understood as something that is practised and lived. In an era in which hyper mobility is the norm among a growing segment of the global population, social class identifications are increasingly fluid, context-dependent and could only be understood in relation to ‘other’ social class categories. By taking a discourse analytic approach to closely look at the episodes of my interactions with a range of interlocutors in my biographical trajectory across multiple contexts, this chapter provides accounts of the complexities of my class identifications as an academic in the UK higher education (HE) sector. Following Marxist scholarship in general, this linguistic autoethnography shows how class is not depicted as an attribute of people that is stationary in contemporary stratified societies. It argues that class must be understood as a social relation, as evolving in the social interactions with human subjects and the cumulative relationships that people engaged with, all arising out of the economic order in societies. Second, the interactional episodes highlighted in this chapter also shows how social class is interconnected with other identity inscriptions, such as gender, ethnicity, race and nationality. As such, this chapter shows how the nature of social class identifications in contemporary times are impacted by an individual's alignments with a range of social categories.

Abstract

In this chapter, I use an autoethnographic approach to explore my everyday experiences as a senior lecturer at a UK-based university. My academic trajectory covers over 20 years when I, a working-class person with no qualifications, entered university. I outline my journey from student to academic. My day-to-day experiences of being a working-class academic (WCA) have been generally positive, but I've still encountered microaggressions, and feelings of isolation. This chapter also illuminates the cultural wealth that I bring to academia by virtue of my working-class heritage before ending with some points for reflection.

Abstract

In this chapter, I reflect on the impact my Estuary English accent has had on me, both personally and professionally as a former social worker, now social work academic, and the impact it appears to have on others. From parental chastisement for dropping my ‘T’s, attributions of being ‘Cockney’ and ‘Essex’, with associated assumptions made about my educational background, class and indeed my very moral character. My accent appears at times, to disrupt some peoples' presuppositions – about who or what I am. I discuss some of the linguistic features of my accent and some ‘critical accent incidents’. I reflect on the challenges of managing academia as someone with an accent that I argue, is underpinned by gendered and classist assumptions. I argue why a critical focus on accentism remains important, generally and within social work education. The chapter utilises theory from a wide range of disciplines, including cultural theory, linguistics, education studies and autoethnography.

Afterword

Pages 219-221
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Index

Pages 229-233
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Cover of The Lives of Working Class Academics
DOI
10.1108/9781801170574
Publication date
2022-12-12
Editor
ISBN
978-1-80117-058-1
eISBN
978-1-80117-057-4