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Deconstructing Social Class Identity: Qualitative Analysis of Poverty-Class and Working-Class Faculty Histories

This qualitative study used personal histories from faculty from poverty-class and working-class backgrounds (N=56) to investigate social class identity dimensions. SPSS TAS generated 6 dimensions of social class identity (Social Class Issues,
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  SOCIAL CLASS IDENTITY 1 Deconstructing Social Class Identity: Qualitative Analysis of Poverty-Class and Working-Class Faculty Histories Jim Vander Putten University of Arkansas-Little Rock Author Note: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Jim Vander Putten   Department of Educational Leadership 2801 S. University Ave. Little Rock, AR 72204 (501) 569-3549 (office) (501) 569-3547 (FAX) Paper presented at the 2013 Association for the Study of Higher Education conference, St. Louis, MO, November 14 – 16, 2013. Please do not cite or distribute without permission of the authors. Comments and suggestions are welcome.  SOCIAL CLASS IDENTITY 2 Deconstructing Social Class Identity: Qualitative Analysis of Poverty-Class and Working-Class Faculty Histories Burton Clark (1973) reviewed the extant literature in the emerging field of the sociology of higher education and analyzed the salient areas of scholarly inquiry. He assessed the scholarship in the field as being comprised of four areas: “the study of inequality of education  beyond the high school, particularly the search for the sources of inequality in social class, race, ethnicity, and sex” (p. 5), “the study of the effects of the college years on the character, belief, and thought of students,” (p. 5), the study of “academic man,” or higher education as a  profession,” (p. 7), and the “organizations of higher education” (p. 7). Speculating about future research in this emerging field of study, Clark identified complementary dangers of intensive research efforts on individual topics that may lead to tunnel vision, and wide-ranging and unfocused scholarship that prevents the development of a coherent body of knowledge in this emerging scholarly discipline. Gumport’s (2007) discussion of Clark (1973) established important additional societal and organizational contexts for each of these four areas of scholarship and traced their development since 1973. Focusing specifically on the study of the “academic man,” or the academic profession, Gumport identified several societal influences that shaped the dimensions of scholarship in this area; economic turbulence involving financial retrenchment spurred inquiry into academic labor markets and careers, and societal demands for knowledge raised attention to faculty as knowledge producers. Organizational influences on scholarship addressed faculty  political orientations, faculty employment status and the starkly different working conditions of full-time and part-time faculty, the effects of organizational restructuring that eliminates faculty  positions and fragments the academic workplace, and faculty race and gender in the context of the diversification of student populations. The social inequality scholarship in the sociology of higher education literature on college students is constructed in terms of race, gender, and socioeconomic status or social class srcins, however, the parallel line of research on the  SOCIAL CLASS IDENTITY 3 academic profession focuses almost exclusively on race and gender with much less attention to social class. These issues have often been discussed using the term  faculty diversity , and Sharlet (1999) described the race-class-gender view as a triumvirate and raised the question, “Is there a more familiar mantra in fin de siècle academe?” Unfortunately, much of the literature on faculty diversity has narrowly conceptualized it to issues of race and gender (e.g., SREB, 1999; Trower & Chait, 2002; Moody, 2012; antonio & Muñiz, 2007; Evans & Chun, 2007; Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Maher & Tetreault, 2007; O'Meara, Terosky, & Neumann, 2009; AFT, 2010), and issues of social class srcins from poverty-class to upper-class have received much less scholarly attention. Examining the sociology of higher education scholarship on the academic profession in this area more closely, Rhoades’ (2007) discussion of the literature on faculty race, gender, and social class also primarily addressed issues related to race and gender. This included hiring  patterns for faculty of color, feminist scholarship, and gender stratification in the professoriate. According to Rhoades (2007), “the sociology of professions in academe would benefit from an exploration of the role of professionals in relationship to social stratification and institutional and social change” (p. 135). The mainstream higher education media have periodically reported on this social stratification (Sacks, 2003) as well as faculty and social class srcins, including challenges faced  by working-class intellectuals (Benton, 2007), intersections with working-class studies (Sharlet, 1999), influences on choice of academic careers (Schmidt, 2010), and the Chronicle of Higher  Education’s  2010 Diversity in Academe report titled ‘Social Class on the American Campus.’ Unfortunately, as Kahlenberg (2010) observed, “the advertisements in the 64-page supplement almost always defined diversity in a way that excluded social class.” The purposes of this qualitative study were to identify and analyze the primary dimensions of social class identity for faculty from poverty-class and working-class  backgrounds. Ten years ago, the title of one article posed the provocative question ‘Is Class an  SOCIAL CLASS IDENTITY 4 Identity?’ and this spurred a rhetorical question: What are the dimensions of these academic self-identities from a social class perspective? With the recent legal challenges to affirmative action, social class srcin represents an additional option as a criterion for defining faculty diversity. This topic is particularly important, because it can yield deeper insights into specific background characteristics of a generation of faculty who have benefited from expanded access to higher and  postsecondary education, and it can provide alternate explanations of faculty life. Neglecting to consider these alternate representations may contribute to incomplete conceptualizations of college and university faculty, and prevent organized efforts to prepare future faculty from being optimally effective. Theories and Definitions of the Social Class Construct The concept of  social class  means different things to different people. To some, class refers to categories of people occupying common positions within stratifications of status (Parsons, 1970). To others, classes are defined as conflict groups determined by their positions related to authority or power structures (Dahrendorf, 1959). Sobel (1989) used the working definition, “economic and structural conditions within which social actors contend.” (p. 2) In addition, Weber and subsequent theorists have viewed social classes as groups of people with similar opportunities in life that have distinct economic and educational implications (Weber, 1922, Giddens, 1973; Lareau & Conley, 2008; Durrenberger, 2012). Finally, Marxists have defined social class in terms of the common structural positions within the social organization of  production (Wright, 1979). As would be expected from the nature of these definitions, analysis of social class in capitalist societies is most often accomplished by using the theories of Marx, Weber, or Durkheim, among others. Given the distinct usefulness of Marxist theory and the relevance to higher education of recent work by his successors, this perspective was used to focus on issues of social class in general, and working-class in particular. From this perspective, however, differing perceptions of class exist; viewing class as states of consciousness among individuals (Poulantzas, 1975), viewing class as collective actors in competition (Thompson, 1963), or  SOCIAL CLASS IDENTITY 5 viewing class as structural relationships and locations based on objective criteria (Wright, 1978). Because objective criteria are a necessary component of research, I use the third perception as the foundation from which to review concepts of social class. Wright (1979) analyzed the definitions of social class from a series of three nested theoretical dimensions; whether class is understood in  gradational   or relational   terms; if relational, whether class relations are located in market   or  production  forces; if in production, whether production is analyzed in terms of division of labor  , authority   relations , or exploitation . The first dimension is directly relevant to the scope and nature of this study. In this dimension, the primary characteristic of the gradational view is a hierarchical, spatial arrangement in which some classes are ‘above’ or ‘below’ other classes; upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class, etc. These “divisional units within systems of social stratification” (Barber, 1957) can be further defined in terms of income or social status. Using income as a definition reflects a commonly held, if not overly simplistic view; rich people constitute the upper class, middle-income people comprise the middle-class, and poor people make up the lower class. Defining class in terms of social status also lends itself to a gradational interpretation, in that class distinctions indicate positions within a status hierarchy. However, these positions are negotiated based on status terms, such as prestige rankings social interaction groupings, common beliefs and values; in short, individuals that occupy broadly similar positions on a scale of prestige (Williams, 1960). Defining and Locating the Working-Class in Society and in Higher Education In examining various definitions of working-class, I have conceptualized the literature to  be dichotomized into external and internal loci of definitions; external definitions are those created and applied by individuals to the corresponding groups that fit their definitions, while internal definitions describe those that individuals create for, and apply to, themselves. In this study, I use Marxist theory in general, and the work of Erik Olin Wright (1978; 1979) in particular, to analyze social class in the context of the working-class. It is important to acknowledge that the concepts used to analyze 19th and 20th century capitalism cannot simply
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