The Psychic Landscape of Social Class & My Cleft Habitus | Part 8: Pessimism About Practices of Resistance and Social Mobility

In the previous article in this series, I returned to Reay’s article and gave supporting evidence for her ideas from my own experiences. Firstly, I discussed how being aware of one’s social class or privilege carries with it an emotional component. Some may react to the realisation that their social position is the result of privilege with guilt, others may rationalise it as proof of superiority, always this seems to be a product of habitus. Lastly, following Reay’s discussion of how class affects parenting practices, I wondered about my future practices in this regard. Reay’s pessimistic conclusion about how these practices don’t impact the logic of capital and the (re)production of social class reinforce my cynical plan to send my own children to private school.

Further reflection on Reay’s pessimism, along with plenty of other research, especially by those whose rationale resonated with my own general project, has deepened the cynical turn in my thought and practices. In my notes for this series, which has been one of my most involved projects for well over a year, I had originally written to include a discussion of my individual practices of resistance to class stereotyping and stigma.

One of these practices was to retain my North-West English accent. This was already less local than that of members of the working class from places I’d grown up in such that, even before I moved to the South-West six years ago, my accent was rarely correctly identified. Mancunians and Warringtonians thought I was Scouse. Scousers could usually see I was a “Wool” (from around St Helens), or at least not one of them. Over time, my accent has become more unique and wherever I go, it is misplaced and I realise that trying to retain my original accent is not only difficult and inauthentic, it is ineffective at reducing classism and regionalism.

Another, perhaps stranger still, practice which I still do, but for more pragmatic and cynical reasons now, is wearing cheap clothes. Like retaining my accent, this strategy was meant to diminish stigma by going against common stereotypes about what an educated person looks/sounds like. For similar reasons as above however, I doubt the effectiveness of this practice. Nevertheless, I practice it now for more cynical and pragmatic reasons. More expensive clothes are not necessarily better quality, but when they are and I find myself needing them (for example last year I bought a decent waterproof coat), or they will certainly last longer so save me money in the long term, I will pay the extra. I still have no interest in fashion and believe it is mostly harmful to the world currently, particularly environmentally.

Perhaps some readers will interpret aspects of this article as a confession that I have given up on the rationale most associated with critical theory, that my pessimism about the efficacy of certain theories and practices means I am giving up on the examination and critique of society. Yet, much as I am dismayed by much of what I currently see, I am still working on my own theories and I still do my best to follow Horkheimer’s famous dictum on the purpose of critique, that it is “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.”

In the last few articles in this series, concluding similarly to Reay in her article, I will be discussing the emotion of class mobility, mostly upwardly since most of the research available to me considers it. A couple of larger papers I will be referencing in particular are “Habitus clivé and the emotional imprint of social mobility” by Sam Friedman (2015) in The Sociological Review and “Conflicts in the habitus: the emotional work of becoming modern” by Helene Aarseth, Lynne Layton, and Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen (2016) in The Sociological Review.

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