Typed notes from class because I arrived on campus too late to sketch, may not be as interesting to others. This post does not contain notes from Contemporary Sociological Theory (Wallace & Wolf, 5th ed. 1999) because that ended up being a 1-page comic on Marxism that Alice is going to scan.
Culture & Power: David Swartz, 1997
This book is a homage to Pierre Bordieu, who argued that “education actually contributes to the maintenance of an inegalitarian social system by allowing inherited cultural differences to shape academic achievement and occupational attainment.” (p. 190). In other words, even if education presumably lets “anyone” play the game of getting-ahead-in-society, the rules of the game itself are set by those who are already ahead. The game-makers have created an education system that (1) conserves, inculcates, and consecrates a cultural heritage, (2) reproduces existing social-class relations, and (3) legitimizes them. I think the fuss over unschooling/badges/credentialing and other forms of adding formality to informal educational systems is in large part due to this: people are skipping around the system entirely, so the game-makers try to turn that skipping-around into a system of its own.
My favorite quote is on p. 191: “By consecrating the cultural heritage it transmits, the education system deflects attention from and contributes to the misrecognition of its social reproduction function.” (Bourdieu helped originate social reproduction theory, by the way.) A related quote: “Education’s virtual monopoly over recruitment, training, and promotion of personnel allows the educational system to adapt its programs and activities to its own specific needs for self-perpetuation.” (p. 206)
Sure, it’s possible for “disadvantaged” kids to make it — but they’re still disadvantaged. For instance, lower-class children are less likely to have access to language that sounds high-class and refined, which is the selection criteria for acceptance for things like literary studies. It’s true that social-class background effects lessen somewhat as you move into higher levels of schooling, mostly because the surviving lower-class students represent a highly select subgroup. But it’s still detectable. Lower-class students “smart” enough to make it to the upper echelons of schooling are much more “scholastic” in their cultural style than their higher-class classmates. They’ve somehow acquired a broad base of scholastic cultural capital, but don’t have broader cultural knowledge outside their studies — think of the stereotypes: the international student who wrecks the curve on math tests, but is lonely and isolated from her American classmates in the cafeteria because she doesn’t know the music, the culture, the way party invitations get handed out — or the scholarship kid who writes brilliant papers on the history of Scandinavian cuisine but fumbles awkwardly in his tuxedo when brought to a lobster dinner.
(I had a slight jolt of recognition on this part — growing up as a deaf nerd, I was a lonely kid who learned about the world through books. So while my adolescent self could tell you about the stages of foetal development in great detail — cell division, zygotes, Mendelian inheritance, DNA, the composition of amniotic fluid — I didn’t know sex existed until the assigned health class reading. My scholarly knowledge was great; my broader cultural knowledge was slim to nonexistent, both among my American classmates and my Chinese-Filipino family — whose Chinese dialect I never did manage to learn.)
A close second for favorite quote was on p. 197: “Whether students stay in school or drop out, and the course of study they pursue, Bourdieu argues, depends on their practical expectations of the likelihood that people of their social class will succeed academically.” This was the root of the first — and only — time I’ve (deliberately) flat-out gone against an elder in public: the ancestor in question had expressed views that people of group X didn’t seem to get that studying hard and getting a college scholarship was The Way To Success, with strong implications that group X was stupid/lazy. I stopped and argued that it made rational economic sense not to gamble on something long-term if (1)you had strong evidence that it was an impossibly long shot out of your control, and (2) it had a massive short-term opportunity cost (namely, less food for your hungry family right now).
My dissertation is on faculty development, so I started thinking: how does Bourdieu’s work apply to faculty development? He found a bipolar structure among French faculty: some (like natural sciences faculty) were scientifically dominant but socially subordinate, and others (law/medicine faculty) were the other way around. In other words, law/medicine professors tended to be richer and more politically powerful than, say, chemistry professors.
The middle levels: engineers and the “working middle class”, Robert Zussman, 1983
Zussman argues that engineers are a funny sort of middle class (based on a study of 40 engineers at 2 companies). Although only a few of the engineers in the study had formal “technical knowledge,” they were all valuable because of their “production knowledge” of how to get real things done in the factory. Compared to the factory laborers, they had a lot of autonomy; engineers were allowed to freely physically roam through the space, could decide when to work on which of their multiple projects, and were encouraged to initiate projects. While not the direct bosses of manual workers, they had authority over them via QA checks and so forth.
Zussman differentiates between the employment of engineers and manual laborers; engineering isn”t just a “job” like that of the manual laborers, where labor-time was simply exchanged for salary; it’s a “career” which lets you accumulates more skill/training/performance for future advancement possibilities. (Marx would disagree with this: since neither the laborers nor engineers own their “means of production,” they both belong to the proletariat.) The engineers in Zussman’s study described themselves as middle-class, complaining both about the lower-class (freeloaders who live off public handouts without working) and the wealthy (folks who use tax loopholes to avoid doing work).
Despite attempts to “professionalize” engineering in the mold of more “upper-class” professions like law and medicine in the 1930′s-1960′s, it never quite worked the same way. Unlike doctors and lawyers, engineers don’t have strong orientations to colleagues (rather than employers – also unlike doctors/lawyers, engineers don’t often have “private practices”) and the control over the right to practice, also known as “licensing.” I mean, they sort of do. And this article was written in the early 80′s, before little design firms started springing up everywhere. But it’s still hard to be a “freelance engineer” these days — generally, you need to be employed by a company to have access to what you need to make things.
Zussman’s 1983 article feels mostly current, but there are places it shows its age, as when it describes engineers as working 9-to-5 shifts like manual laborers, unlike doctors and lawyers with private practices who get called out at all hours of the day or night. Nowadays, flex time is a common benefit of engineering positions, and doctors increasingly giving up their private practices to work shift rotations in larger medical groups. Zussman’s article also shows its age when describing the international situation; he calls the concept of a “working middle class” something that is a “distinctively American concept, rooted in the long-standing absence of either working class or bourgeois class consciousness as acute as that found in Europe.” (p. 229) However, I feel the Western world has gotten a lot more like America in this regard, and that America itself has shifted working middle class culture a lot because of the rise of the “creative class.”