social mobility

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Book Review: Experiences of Academics from a Working-Class Heritage by Carole Binns

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 10:52pm in

In Experiences of Academics from a Working-Class Heritage, Carole Binns draws on interviews with fourteen tenured academics from a working-class background to reveal the complexities faced by individuals who have experienced social mobility in academia. Suggesting that a diversification of the academic workforce could be a valuable addition to the widening participation agenda, this book contributes to understanding lived experiences of social mobility and the social class inequalities that shape entry into ‘elite’ occupations, writes Ross Goldstone

Experiences of Academics from a Working-Class Heritage: Ghosts of Childhood Habitus. Carole Binns. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2019.

In Experiences of Academics from a Working-Class Heritage: Ghosts of Childhood Habitus, Carole Binns explores fourteen individual stories of social mobility, where individuals from a working-class heritage have ascended ‘the social ladder both in educational and career terms’ to enter the middle-class milieu of academia (3). Drawing upon qualitative data collected from these tenured academics, all of whom were employed at a single teaching-intensive UK university in the roles of Professor, Senior Lecturer or Lecturer, Binns discusses the lived experiences of being an academic from a working-class heritage. In doing so, she contributes to recent debates surrounding social mobility in the UK through demonstrating the complexity inherent in the process of ‘social climbing’.

This book has been written during a time of Higher Education (HE) massification in the UK, where over half of all young people now pursue a university-level education. This growth in HE participation is due to increasing numbers of ‘non-traditional’ student populations entering disproportionately ‘new’ universities as part of the widening participation agenda (25). However, whilst the diversification of the student population has ‘triggered academics to review their teaching styles, delivery methods, learning materials, modes of assessment and often by listening to the student voice’ (27), there has been less significant change in the academic workforce, particularly in more ‘elite’ institutions. In this context, Binns aims to understand ‘the lived experiences of the interviewees’ (51) to reveal the complexities faced by individuals who have experienced social mobility in academia.

The book begins with a chapter setting the context for this study by outlining prior literature on the constitution of the academy and the UK HE sector. Chapter Two develops this context-setting by detailing the widening participation agenda in UK HE, and ponders the importance of academics from a working-class heritage to this policy. In Chapter Three, Binns describes the sample of academics participating in the study and details their social class background. During this chapter there is a conceptual discussion where definitions of social class are introduced, with specific reference to the scholarship of Pierre Bourdieu, which is drawn on throughout the following three empirical chapters. In these chapters, Binns discusses findings related to interviewees’ educational career and university experiences (Chapter Four), entry into academia and subsequent trajectory (Chapter Five) and experiences of academia as an academic from a working-class heritage (Chapter Six). In Chapter Six, there is a focus on two emergent analytical themes: firstly, networking; and secondly, the impact of a working-class heritage on engagements with students. This is followed by concluding remarks and a short reflective epilogue.

It is Binns’s concluding discussion in Chapter Seven that will form the remaining discussion of this book review, not only because this section pulls together the central themes running through the book, but also because it thinks more conceptually using the ideas of Bourdieu. In this chapter, interviewees are categorised into three groups, depending on their reconciliation of their originary working-class identity with their contemporary middle-class occupation. The first group is those who had ‘moved considerably away from the original working-class background [… and] saw themselves as middle-class nowadays’. The second group concerns those who ‘comfortably straddled the two classes […but] occasionally, were not sure which class group they belonged to’. The third group is those who ‘found the process of social mobility to be painful’ and generally ‘considered themselves to be working-class despite their educational and professional achievements’ (106).

Over half of the interviewees recalled a number of negative experiences in their teenage years, either at home or in education, which Binns believes functions similarly to a ‘capital’. Unlike Bourdieu’s notion of capital(s) as convertible, advantageous resources in a number of social fields, this capital ‘appears to have had a reverse influence upon the interviewees’ future academic experiences’ (107). For these academics, particularly those in the second and third groups, a ‘cleft habitus’ had developed and the ‘ghosts of habitus’ reappeared throughout their transition and progression through academia. This involves an academic’s habitus becoming split between their original working-class habitus and present middle-class habitus as a result of social mobility. Thus, at the same time as experiencing several positive outcomes associated with entering a middle-class occupation – increased levels of economic and cultural capital, for instance – there was a simultaneous emotional ambivalence and consciousness of their social mobility.

Despite the three groups’ different experiences of social mobility, there were three shared experiences of academia across the cohort. These related to external networking; not wanting to move from their current institution; and interactions with working-class students (110). Only one interviewee did not express an unease regarding external networking activities. While many explained that they did perform these duties, there was discomfort with the artificial and strategic nature of such encounters. Another almost universal finding was a reluctance to leave one’s current institution and secure employment at a more ‘elite’ institution (112). Binns explains that although a small number of interviewees did expect this to happen in the future, most prioritised personal comfort and wellbeing alongside career progression.

The finding that the interviewed academics from a working-class heritage could instinctively recognise working-class students is very relevant to the book’s earlier discussion of the widening participation agenda in UK HE. The interviewees spoke of the role their background played in helping them to support and develop a rapport with working-class students. Although Binns does note that these qualities ‘do not only belong to academics from a working-class background’ (114), she does suggest that a diversification of the academic workforce could be a useful addition to the widening participation agenda.

In writing this book on the experiences of academics from a working-class heritage, Binns is able to contribute to a relatively under-researched area and also supplements recent research on social mobility and social class inequalities in entry into ‘elite’ occupations. In doing so, the policy of encouraging students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds to enter HE is problematised, showing that ‘the concept of ‘‘inclusivity’’ is not always understood ‘‘on the other side’’’ (116). While inequalities relating to ethnicity and gender were not the focus, this book does suggest that further research is necessary to explore different experiences of the academy, especially, as Binns argues, because more working-class graduates, and other ‘non-traditional’ groups, are ‘likely to consider opting to stay in higher education for advanced study and possibly a career in higher education’ (117).

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash.


Inequality from the Child’s Perspective: Social mobility in pandemic times

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/08/2020 - 12:22am in

Watch my presentation about the three ways the disruptions and stresses of the COVID19 pandemic threaten the future prospects of children, the implications they have for the conduct of public policy, and the possibilities for future research.

This presentation was offered to the “Inequality by the Numbers” virtual workshop organized by The Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. The workshop includes a host of other presentations by my colleagues at The Stone Center and the affiliated fellows. Check them all out at this link:

We ignore the fate of our young people at our peril.

If we value a better future for all, the secret will lie in asking them what sort of world they want to live in and using their talents to create it.

Student typing on a laptop computer with notes at her sidePhoto by Startup Stock Photos

“The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they – at some distant point in the future – will take over the reins. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely… because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.”
Alvin Toffler

This week emotions have been running high. Many of the students whose lives have been seriously disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic were further battered when their A level exam results were not what they had been expecting. At such a stressful time it is profoundly distressing that results have been reduced to an impersonal algorithm which has favoured those in private education and left many in the state education sector reeling and without the university places they had been hoping for. Hopes and dreams shattered in an instant.

According to Boris Johnson, the system was ‘robust’ and ‘dependable’. Yet many students who were already disadvantaged by social, economic and geographic divides as well as 10 years of disastrous government policies which cut spending on education, health and social housing impoverishing their families and reducing their life chances, had to deal with the fall out of months of remote learning and, for too many, little or no access to adequate technology as well. Where did the promised laptops and broadband access get to?

Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ promise has failed, at the first hurdle, to deliver for young people whose lives are still ahead of them and who face a future of uncertainty and further hardship, depriving them of life opportunities. They have been let down and not just by Gavin Williamson’s ineptitude. It will further split the generations, reinforce peer inequalities and create more angst and division across the board. Free appeals won’t cut it. Students should not be in this situation in the first place!

At the end of May, the LSE published a report entitled Covid-19 and Social Mobility which looked specifically at the how both the economic and educational shocks caused by the pandemic could wreak long term damage to young people’s prospects in life. It noted its concerns that the pandemic would ‘push young people into a dark age of declining social mobility because of rising economic and educational inequalities.’ However, it also pointed out that even before the crisis younger generations had already been facing declining mobility with falling wages, fewer opportunities and stagnant or declining living standards.

It is therefore not a new phenomenon and quite rightly we should be concerned about the likelihood of such rising inequality becoming even further entrenched as opportunities for young people are reduced by the combined consequences of 10 years of harmful government policies and the fallout from the pandemic.

This week the headlines have focused on the fact that the UK had plunged into recession for the first time in 11 years, with the economy shrinking by an unprecedented 20.4% between April and June. However, even before this, figures from the ONS showed that the economy was already displaying signs of decline with economic growth in the final quarter of 2019 at 0.0%.

Damaging economic fallout from this pandemic was predictable, but we cannot ignore that it has been the politically derived and cumulative effects of austerity which has made things much worse. The public and social infrastructure has been damaged beyond all recognition.

George Osborne said in 2012 of his austerity policies ‘You will hear those arguing that we should abandon our plan and spend and borrow our way out of debt… You hear that argument again today… A credible plan to deal with our debts is an anchor of stability and a pre-requisite of recovery.’

Whilst the deficit hawks cheered him on, the results of spending cuts have been predictable. Dealing with our debts has not provided an ‘anchor of stability,’ rather it has proved to be a ball and chain around society’s ankles. And it certainly hasn’t been the ‘pre-requisite of recovery’ promised.

As mentioned earlier, society was already paying a heavy price for the government’s reckless obsession with cutting spending and now the very real cost is being revealed in human terms, even more so during the pandemic.

  • Both national and local public services in a state of decay
  • Rising numbers of people on zero-hours or part-time or fixed-term contracts,
  • Low wages, insecure work, rising private debt, poverty and inequality
  • A social security system unfit for purpose and based on blame and punishment, not real support.
  • Improvement in life expectancy has slowed since 2010
  • Health inequalities have increased
  • A record rise in the use of food banks and increased homelessness.
  • The highest excess mortality in Europe during the pandemic
  • Social inequalities revealed in the higher rates of death in deprived areas and amongst ethnic communities

All have combined to leave a society fractured with an unprecedented crisis of confidence, both before and after the pandemic struck.

And yet whilst Rishi Sunak took the only course of action open to him to stem the tide of unemployment and economic decline – a programme of fiscal spending – we had him yet again intimating this week that there will be difficult choices ahead. It echoed George Osborne responding to the publication of public sector borrowing figures by the ONS (Office for National Statistics) which was £51.1bn higher than the same month last year who warned that there would be ‘hard choices’ ahead for Boris Johnson and his colleagues on tax and spending.

Household budget rhetoric lives on in the corridors of power, in public institutions and disappointingly in the minds of the public as GIMMS has noted many times before. If we are to address the fallout, which will be considerable if left to the deficit hawks, we need to break the cycle in the latter.

It was regrettable again this week that the household budget narrative was reinforced in an article in the Guardian which referred to the report mentioned earlier in this blog in which the authors Stephen Machin and Lee Elliot suggested quite rightly that it was time to redress the balance as the pandemic threatened to further exacerbate the longstanding divisions in society. But its preferred mechanism for doing so was imposing a one-off progressive wealth tax on the top 1% richest people in Britain ‘to help repair government finances battered by recession and… repay all the extra government debt incurred by the pandemic’. They suggested that ‘failure to take action would ensure that the coronavirus crisis ushers in a dark age for social mobility.’

It is shameful that economists from a prestigious Russell Group university are still promoting the ‘tax funds spending’ trope. To be frank, it is the greatest scam ever; the deliberately created and reinforced illusion that tax of any sort pays for government spending. Equally inexcusable is the suggestion that the lives of future generations will depend on such an approach.

The simple truth is that governments with sovereign currency-issuing powers don’t need tax before they can spend, and they certainly can’t ‘repair the finances.’ As Deborah Harrington, an advisor to GIMMS and director of the NGO Public Matters, put it so succinctly in a comment on social media:

‘The debate we have around taxation is to treat it as if we were wholly dependent on extracting tax from the wealth of the rich in order to fund public services and social security benefits. As if it were a charitable concern rather than publicly funded. We behave as if tax was actually the income of government and that its spending is tightly constrained by it and that we have to go and borrow from the private sector when we can’t tax the private sector enough to pay for everything. These formulations entirely ignore the reality that the only creator of net financial assets into the economy (i.e. additional money) is the government itself. The government is more powerful and has deeper pockets than the private sector will ever have. We end up with a story that makes deficits into the enemy of ‘responsibility for the economy’. From this perspective, high taxation is ‘left-wing’ and tightly controlled and reduced public spending is ‘right-wing’. Yet both put deficit reduction and/or running surpluses on a pedestal, both are neoliberal perspectives.’

Yes, we can tax the wealthy in one way or another for the purposes of equity by removing their purchasing power and to reduce the enormous political influence that their excessive wealth affords them. That is the conversation that we should be having, not how we can collect more tax to ‘repair the finances’ or fund public services. Taxation does neither in the normal course of events.

A political world where the wealthy are seen as the wealth creators who should, by dint of being so, pay less tax thus causing wealth to trickle down (or so the narrative goes) has been shown to be political propaganda to justify government’s market-driven policies which have distorted the economy and impoverished many. With such a false household budget narrative, one can only imagine who will be made to pay in the future for this round of vital government spending to protect the economy.

On this basis, Johnson’s promise for increased spending not just to ‘level up’ and deal with the huge inequalities which have arisen (not just on his government’s watch) but also to invest in public infrastructure would appear arguable, indeed downright misleading, when the conversation is turning to how it is to be paid for. They seem to contradict his own Chancellor’s message that hard times are coming and there will be a price to pay.

It is vital that we knock this narrative on the head before many more people get hurt by the acceptance that there is no alternative.

There is one.

This week GIMMS shared a just-published video called ‘The Power of the Pound‘ which explains, in a very easy to understand format, how the UK can afford the things it needs for its citizens, like the NHS, social care, social security, education and pensions. We recommend our readers to check it out and pass it on.

We don’t have to accept the narratives pushed by politicians and institutions which frame government spending in household budget terms and make the claim that spending is constrained by a finite pot of money.

Our nation’s values should not be determined by the question of whether we can or cannot afford to pay for the things that improve society. Our values should be determined by how we share a finite pot of real resources more fairly and equitably to improve people’s lives and create an economy that works for everyone – including our young people who need all the support they can get to be a light for the future.




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The post We ignore the fate of our young people at our peril. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Proof From 2006 of How Out Touch Graun Hacks Were Even Then

I found this fine quote from the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee in the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ section of Private Eye, 20th January – 2 February 2006. It’s an rosily optimistic paragraph in which she raves about how much better everything is now. She said

Let’s get one thing clear. This is the golden age – so far. There has never been a better time to be alive in Britain than today, no generation more blessed, never such opportunity for so many. And things are getting better all the time, horizons widening, education spreading, everyone living longer, healthier, safer lives. Unimaginable luxuries are now standard – mobile phones sending pictures everywhere, accessing the universe on the internet and iPods with all the world’s music in your ear.

This obviously has aged terribly. Toybee was writing during the glow of the Blair administration, and was obviously fatally impressed with how his ‘centrism’ – by which he meant Thatcherism – was going to improve the country. She couldn’t be expected to have predicted the banker’s crash two years later, nor the austerity which has created mass poverty after the return of the Tories. But there were signs that all was not fine and dandy, even then.

At roughly the same time she was spouting this, Blair and Mandelson were introducing tuition fees, which has burdened Britain’s students with mountains of debt they can’t shake off. They were much lower than they are now, £3,000 per year as opposed to the £9,000 or over. But this was harming students and it was harming universities, as courses which relied on expensive technical equipment, like archaeology with its geophysics technology, suddenly found they had to make savings.

Blair also introduced the wretched ‘fitness for work’ tests, taken over at the advice of American health insurance fraudsters Unum, who had also been advising Peter Lilley. It was also under Blair that food banks were introduced. This was limited to illegal immigrants, who were denied welfare benefits due to their status. But under the Tories it has been massively expanded.

Blair was also a busy bee continuing the Tories piecemeal privatisation of the NHS. Again, his administration, like that of the Tories, was stuffed with advisors and senior staff from private healthcare companies. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted to reduce the NHS to a kitemark on services provided by the private sector. And in industry generally, privatisation and deregulation was in order, with private sector advisors, including company CEOs given important positions on the regulatory bodies. George Monbiot describes this highly pernicious influence in his book Captive State.

It was also under Blair that the Tories harsh ideology towards benefit claimants generally continued. The process of claiming benefit was to be made so humiliating in order to deliberately deter people from signing on. And it worked. I personally know people, who didn’t sign on despite the fact that they were jobless, because of the degradation they experience in the Jobcentre.

As for the endless opportunities she saw, Adam Curtis provided ample evidence in one of his documentaries – I think it was All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace – that thanks to Blair’s embrace of tick box questionnaires and general social policies, social mobility had actually stopped.

Things weren’t getting better for ordinary people. And ordinary people knew it, that’s why they started leaving the Labour party in droves. The Labour vote actually went down under Blair’s leadership. He still won over the Tories, because people despised them even more. But in terms of popularity, he was much less popular than Corbyn, although the latter’s was destroyed at the last election by the massive press smear campaign. Of which the Guardian was an enthusiastic participant.

But I dare say everything was looking grand for highly paid media types like Toynbee, living in the metropolitan bubble. And her views expressed above show how it is that the Guardian is full of right-wing Thatchers backing Starmer’s purges, all in the name of continuing the Thatcherite project introduced by Blair.

She raves about Blair’s reign as a golden age. But as the writers of the Roman empire knew, the golden age gave way to that iron and rust. Just as it has done in England, due partly to Blair.

Toynbee and the rest of the Guardian were out of touch even then, and their views have become even more divergent from reality. The rag’s in crisis. And as I wrote the other day, I have no sympathy.

The COVID19 pandemic is a threat to social mobility, as children in disadvantaged families will face more challenges in adulthood

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/06/2020 - 11:41pm in

The COVID19 pandemic will threaten social mobility. I examine four ways in which this is likely to happen in my presentation to the ZEW Seminar on COVID19 and inequality held on June 19th, 2020. This post summarizes the major messages.

Drawing on past research I see four aspects of inequality in the lower part of the income distribution that will be exacerbated and threaten the upward mobility of children raised in challenging circumstances.

But I begin by stressing that the United States has lower social mobility than many other rich countries in part because of a more vicious intergenerational cycle of low income, and this in turn has something important to do with race and a legacy of disadvantage among African-Americans.

The obvious challenge for public policy directed to enhancing equality of opportunity is to address the barriers that divide many from the mainstream, and to promote social inclusion of all.

1. Family is central to social mobility

But more specifically, COVID19 is likely to have exacerbated the challenges of parenting, family stress has likely gone up among some families, and in the extreme abusive relationships are more threatening and harder to leave. Separation and divorce may rise. From the perspective of the adult prospects of children, this will lead to delayed partnership formation, and more unstable relationships, even if it does not impact directly on their earning prospects.

2. Progressive public investment matters and should be supported

Social mobility is promoted by progressive public investment, particularly in health care and schooling. Many have already pointed out that the pandemic has exacerbated differences in schooling outcomes in the short term, as children in lower socio-economic families have gained much less from online learning than their counterparts. This is equivalent to the well documented loss in learning that occurs during summer months as well-to-do families enrich the child’s experiences in ways not available to others.

But in the longer run it will be very important to not cut back, indeed to increase, investment in high quality public schooling. An era of austerity in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession led to cuts in public investments that should be avoided this time around.

3. Job loss and income falls echo into the next generation

Finally, if temporary layoffs morph into permanent job loss, and if public income support is inadequate this will imply a long-lasting decline in family income that will have long run consequences for children. The adult earnings of children raised in families where the main breadwinner permanently lost a high seniority job in mid career suffered. The parental income loss echoed into the child’s adulthood, the children experiencing lower income and greater reliance on public income support as adults.


For more detail, download my presentation and use the links to useful resources to learn more: “Inequality from the Child’s Perspective: Social mobility in Pandemic Times”


Diversity troubles – comprehensive solutions to HE’s racial segregation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/08/2017 - 9:01am in

Sol Gamsu and Michael Donnelly examine the geography of ethnicity and higher education in the UK and argue that a comprehensive university system may hold some of the answers.

The post Diversity troubles – comprehensive solutions to HE’s racial segregation appeared first on Wonkhe.

A real step change for fair access

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/08/2017 - 9:01am in

As the work of the Office for Fair Access begins to transfer to the new Office for Students, Les Ebdon offers his perspective on the way the new body will need to approach this vitally important issue.

The post A real step change for fair access appeared first on Wonkhe.

The case for intersectionality in TEF

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/07/2017 - 9:01am in

The split metrics in TEF allow us to see potential issues with diverse groups, but do they go far enough? Catherine Boyd and David Kernohan consider how intersectional groups could be represented.

The post The case for intersectionality in TEF appeared first on Wonkhe.

Social mobility can be much more than just widening HE access

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/07/2017 - 9:01am in

Mary Stuart reflects on the diverse ways in which universities can and do work with local schools and businesses to kickstart social mobility and address economic disadvantage and inequality.

The post Social mobility can be much more than just widening HE access appeared first on Wonkhe.

POLAR opposites – LEO and the class effect on graduate earnings

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/06/2017 - 12:45am in

We already know that a graduates' social class origins have a big impact on their graduate earnings potential. This week's LEO release gives us the opportunity to test this for different subject areas.

The post POLAR opposites – LEO and the class effect on graduate earnings appeared first on Wonkhe.