The Limits of Reflexivity | How Class Mobility Impedes Your Ability to Research

In previous articles, I have alluded to the poorest experiences of my childhood- parental neglect. I feel like I have perhaps touched upon it in an almost wry manner, inappropriate for the kind of discussion that it warrants. In part, this dryness is a reflection of the mental distance required of “survivors” to be able to tell others about their experiences. Much more detail about my own experiences is forthcoming in the next few articles in the current series “The Psychic Landscape of Social Class & My Cleft Habitus” which I cannot avoid because of the obvious links between them and my habitus, which need explaining in order to better understand the development of my habitus and it’s current structure.

Reflecting on this need to go back in time, as I did in the series “The Indignity of Service Work”, has given me a new problem to think about when considering writing about events before and after studying social sciences. A key point about reflexivity and why Bourdieu came to see ethnography as lacking the insight to explain another’s subjective world in terms of the objective world they objectified through research, is the researcher tends to see the subject’s vision of the world through their own vision. Back when I was tacitly experiencing the world of service work I wrote about previously, I had not studied social sciences so my experience of the world was more likely more consistent with the kinds of experiences other workers in similar positions had.

Returning to it with a new perspective allowed me to construct the objects of experience in a more articulate way, but the actual experiences of humiliation and indignity, the pseudo-terror of economic uncertainty, and the crushing authoritarianism of managers, was as real in my writing as it was in my experience, even though I know now that I would never experience such things in the same way, precisely because I can articulate the experiences with the new understanding borne of this new understanding.

This is problematic now because I may like to write about my experiences working in a factory, as I do now, at some point in the future. However, now I have studied social sciences, now I have different doxa, capitals and quite a different habitus. The field is similar and still incongruent to my habitus, manifesting in increased BPD symptoms, most notably my tendency towards alcoholism, depressive thinking, and dissociation. My habitus fights against the field I’m engaged with but is severely limited by the job’s basically zero chance of promotion, an inability to talk about intellectual things and retain my cultural capital and lowering my social capital (remember this is a scientifically constructed variable, not a moral judgement about the quality of people) by restricting my ability to socially engage with anyoone with different volumes and structures of capital. The field fights to make my habitus fit but it embodies the scholastic disposition, disposes me towards seemingly antisocial behaviours like taking breaks alone so I can read, and the field cannot fight against the structure and volume of capitals I possess apart from by limiting my potential investment opportunities (time).

In summary, I do not have the same social position as others I work with so cannot, as with my experiences as a fast-food worker, objectify my experiences in the same way. Just as the ethnographer experiences the world of the research subject through his own categories of perception and dispositions (his habitus) and so can never truly experience the subjective world of the subject they research, I would be trying to see the world of the working-class (in this case more specifically “precariat”) worker through more middle-class eyes (my class position is difficult to articulate as will be explained later in the main series).

Hopefully these notes will be useful for understanding the idea of “classed doxa” which will be introduced later in the series and is also supplemental to one’s understanding of the idea of a “classed disposition”.


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