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[personal profile] snippy posted about an interactive feature on CNN.com that attempts to determine whether you, a person residing in the US, can correctly identify whether you count as "middle-class."

Here is the gist of the comment I left over at [personal profile] snippy's post:

Income is not a great gauge of class by itself. Net worth matters a LOT.

Have you read The Millionaire Next Door? One of the main themes is that some professionals with high incomes believe that appearing wealthy is an important part of their professional reputation. So they have big houses, expensive cars and clothes, and are deep in debt. Some rich people think it's important to save money, so they have lots of assets but they don't live in fancy houses, drive beat-up cars, etc. (The book is rather simplistic in its judgements but I agree that those patterns exist.)

Those rich folks and professionals might have similar gross incomes. But are they the same class?

They are defining "middle class" where I live as a household income of $68,420—$107,815.

They're counting it as the middle fifth of income, which means they're assuming five classes. One wonders what the results would be like if they took the middle third of income (I suspect the results would be more boring, although I'm sure some people would define themselves as middle class when they aren't in the middle third of income).
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
via [personal profile] jae, who describes it as "A piece from the New York Times about the damning influence of social class on success at university in the U.S., even among those with intellectual and scholarship resources."

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/education/poor-students-struggle-as-class-plays-a-greater-role-in-success.html
SAT coaches were once rare, even for families that could afford them. Now they are part of a vast college preparation industry.
Certainly as the payoff to education has grown — college graduates have greatly widened their earnings lead — affluent families have invested more in it. They have tripled the amount by which they outspend low-income families on enrichment activities like sports, music lessons and summer camps, according to Professor Duncan and Prof. Richard Murnane of Harvard.
...
The idea that education can be “selfish” — a belief largely alien among the upper-middle class — is one poor students often confront, even if it remains unspoken."
This seems kind of victim-blamey and armchair-psychologizing (discussing a woman who had problems with financial aid at her college and ended up being suspended):
Ms. Newton, Angelica’s former supervisor at the library, wondered if her conflict went beyond money, to a fear of the very success she sought. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say she was committing self-sabotage, but the thought crossed my mind,” she said. “For someone so connected to family and Grandma and the tamales, I wondered if she feared that graduating would alienate her.”
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/06/21/the-new-elite-attributing-privilege-to-class-vs-merit/ (emphasis in the original)
sociologist Shamus Khan...argues that new social mandates to diversify elite education may have some pernicious negative effects. A generation ago, when most students who attended the high school came from rich backgrounds, St. Paul’s students knew that they were there because they were members of the privileged class. Today about 1/3rd of students do not pay full tuition. Students, then — both those on scholarships and those who aren’t — learn to think of themselves as individuals who have worked hard to get where they are.

The problem, as Khan articulates it, is that identifying as a member of a class acknowledges that privileged individuals are lucky and may owe some gratitude to a society that has boosted them up. Thinking of oneself as a uniquely talented individual, in contrast, encourages a person to attribute all of their privilege to their own merits, so they not only feel no gratitude to society, but also fail to notice that our social institutions play a part in disadvantaging the disadvantaged.
The first comment is really insightful (emphasis mine):
EXACTLY! This process is alive and well in many institutions of higher learning. In law school, the same process is at play. Class privilege brought many of the young lawyers to law school, but the 3 years of hard work (which is fetishized) transforms that class privilege into something 'earned' - something that the individuals have to hide.

It is a way of laundering class privilege. And just like money laundering - turning the ill-gotten proceeds of crime into legitimate business ventures - the appearance is fundamentally altered. Instead of rich brats who had everything handed to them; they become bright, hard-working, intellectual go-getters who earned everything they have. Brilliant.
I'm not sure I like the implication that scholarships are responsible for the loss of understanding of class privilege. (Because then it's too easy to say "Let's do away with scholarships.") But the "laundering class privilege" metaphor strikes me as very powerful.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
Wiscon panel report: Class, Culture, and Values in SF&F
Tracks: Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction (Power, Privilege, and Oppression)

Description:
Class isn't just how much money you have or what work you do; it also involves cultural beliefs, values, and attitudes that are expressed in how you talk, what you do in your free time, and all sorts of less tangible elements. (See Barbara Jensen's book Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America, due out in mid-May.) The SF&F writing and fannish communities are mainly middle-class folks, which makes the class values of SF&F works mostly middle class, too. What works and creators explore classes outside the mainstream, white, European, middle-class value systems? What class markers tend to show up most, or least, often? Do these works show the non-middle classes positively? negatively? realistically?

Panelists:
Moderator: Debbie Notkin
Eleanor A. Arnason
Alyc Helms
Danielle Henderson
Rose Lemberg

[My notes aren't a complete transcription and may represent my own language rather than the actual words of the panelists. I welcome corrections. I did not identify all audience commenters by name. If you said something I paraphrased here and want your name to be used, please comment or send me a private message.]

[The book mentioned in the panel description, Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America by Barbara Jensen, is available at http://cornellpress.cornell.edu/ For a 20% discount use promo code CAU6.]
Read more... )
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Untangling Class
Tracks: Power, Privilege, and Oppression (Feminism and Other Social Change Movements)

Description:
What do we mean when we talk about class? Is it about how much money we have? How much education? How we grew up? Our position with respect to a global capitalist world system? There have been a lot of WisCon panels in the past focused on speculative fiction that "does class well"—but how can we know whether something's being done well if we don't even know what it is? This panel brings together WisCongoers with expertise and experience in talking about class to hammer out (if not actually decide upon) some definitions.

Panelists (and key to my notes):
JA—Moderator: Jess Adams
BC—BC Holmes
AL—Alexis Lothian
CW—Chris Wrdnrd

[Firecat's note: Going to this panel was like walking in on an ongoing discussion, because the panelists have been discussing class together for a while, and some of the audience appeared to have been in on the discussion as well.]

[My notes aren't a complete transcription and may represent my own language rather than the actual words of the panelists. There are parts I definitely didn't catch or came out garbled, still trying to get used to my tablet's onscreen keyboard. I welcome corrections. I did not identify audience commenters by name. If you said something I paraphrased here and want your name to be used, please comment or send me a private message.]
Read more... )
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via [livejournal.com profile] moominmuppet

"How Unpaid Internships Perpetuate Rampant Inequality in the US," by Anna Lekas Miller

Excerpt:
Recent graduates, disturbed by the dearth of job opportunities, began to take internships as a last resort to stay competitive in the labor market. Although an internship used to be akin to an apprenticeship—a temporary stint of unpaid, hands-on labor resulting in an eventual job offer—the explosion of both college students and recent graduates taking internships no longer guarantees a paid position. Instead, as more and more young people demonstrated they were willing to supply an unpaid labor force so long as it was framed as an “internship,” internships have become a means for companies and non-profit organizations to re-package once paying jobs and cut corners in a tight economy.

Internships are the new entry-level job—the same duties and basic experience, only this time without compensation or benefits.
Unpaid internships were common when I was in college in the early 1980s, but I refused to take one. I had an idea that it was important for me to work for a paycheck. Nevertheless, my parents and I paid for my first career job in three ways: (1) I got a bachelor's degree (my parents paid my tuition); (2) I went to the Denver Publishing Institute summer program (my parents paid my tuition); (3) I took an entry level publishing job that paid $10K a year to start, which didn't cover my expenses (and my expenses didn't include student loans). However, the job did have health benefits.

I see that the long and venerable tradition of paying for entry into a career path continues, although it sounds like it's somewhat worse than it used to be. Another excerpt:
It's becoming more and more expected for college students to have had at least one, if not several, internships by the time they graduate. Students that come from a privileged background, with parents who are willing and able to finance sometimes serial internships, are able to survive in internship culture financially unscathed. Eventually, they intern for long enough to make the connections necessary to break into the white-collar world. But students from lower- or even middle-income backgrounds feel financially stressed taking on unpaid work, but many do anyway to compete with their more privileged peers in the job market.
firecat: red panda looking happy (Default)
SF writers are supposed to be good at building compelling and believable worlds. So why is it so hard to build a world featuring working class characters in working class settings, especially given that a lot of SF writers come from that kind of background? What has worked, for you? What hasn't? Who clearly hasn't tried? Who has tried, but failed spectacularly? SF fans have done a good job of demanding better–written women and minorities in SF; what about their working class counterparts?

Panelists: Eleanor A. Arnason, Chris Hill, Michael J. Lowrey, Diana Sherman
Moderator: Fred Schepartz

[personal profile] badgerbag has detailed notes on most of this panel here. I'm including my notes from the beginning of the panel. My notes aren't verbatim so don't blame the panelists for any words I am putting in their mouths.


Panelists introduce themselves:
Eleanor: Writes science fiction and fantasy
Diana: Writes for a video game company
Fred: Novelist, cab driver, union organizer, shows communist party card
Chris: British working class origins
Michael: Union organizer, NWU


Fred: We aren't going to have a debate on class because that panel has been done before and it hasn't worked well. But let's define "working class"

Eleanor: Can get fired by boss, doesn't own means of production
Diana: Personal schedule is defined by job, can be fired
Chris: Opportunities are limited by upbringing and attitudes
Michael: Economic well-being is at the mercy of someone else


Fred: What's the status quo with regard to working class characters in SF?

Eleanor: Blue collar workers are not represented -- there are no plumbers in the future, e.g. Shadow economy is represented. Blue collar work is repetitious and doesn't include creative problem solving (e.g. in construction -- because you don't want creative problem solving in construction work). So it's not inherently exciting. SF came out of pulps, and has a bias toward stories of individual action.

Diana: Working class people exist in SF&F but are usually a secret prince or an apprentice who saves the planet. They are "hidden" and then they "leave." Working class job is seen as a trap. SF is escapist adventure.

Chris: It's a generic truth about literature that working class people don't generate story unless they are escaping. Dickens gets a cooking for writing about the working class, but actually all his working class characters were either tragic or comic.

Michael: Soldiers are working class people who show up in SF. Roots of SF are in American pulp literature, which has a bias against collectivism. Leader stories are about leaders, not the movement. Exception: Some Harry Turtledove, and Eric Flint's 1832 series. (Eric Flint was a union organizer.) There is potential for greatness in working class people, so unleash it in your writing.

Fred: Labor struggle is difficult to talk about in America because it's difficult for us to talk about class. Some writers are working class but write escapist SF because they want it or think audience wants it. Also to portray a labor struggle requires an ensemble cast which is harder to write (more characters).


Fred: Will there be a working class in the future?

Michael: Who built the Death Star?

Audience: Robots!

Eleanor: If robots built the Death Star they would also do the fighting. In Charlie Stross book Saturn's Children, only robots are left. People are versatile/cheap. (So there will continue to be a working class.

Diana: Humans are more flexible than robots.

Chris Hill: People are cheap. In utopias, who is doing the work? These societies are often untenable because the author is not interested or isn't thinking about those issues.

Michael: Writers of magic utopias should be required to work at jobs where they have to maintain something. "There's no such thing as 'away.'"

([personal profile] badgerbag's blogging begins here)

During this section of the panel I was thinking about Jeanne Duprau's book City of Ember (which is also a movie), because it's all about work. spoilers ) A number of jobs are described including courier, maintainer of electrical systems, maintainer of water pipes.

In a later section of the panel, one of the panelists was describing a story by Kornbluth about a Puerto Rican dishwasher who is a math genius. The panelists were lamenting that this kind of story is no longer being written. But it reminded me of a story in Walter Mosley's Futureland in which a technical genius is born into a poor family. So maybe some of them are being written again.

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