The women's studies folks on campus put together a summer reading group to read and chat about bell hooks' Where We Stand: Class Matters. We're reading a couple chapters at a time, and then getting together mostly once a week to chat.
The argument in the first bit is that we (US dominant culture) don't talk enough about social class and its effects on people's experience. I think we talk more about social class than hooks thinks we do, but I see that we don't talk enough about it. hooks talks about her family background and her estrangement, and asks how much one can hold onto and how much one gives up in moving from growing up poor to getting to the middle class. That seems like a really good question. (She makes the point, since maybe you're wondering, that she's already written books with start their analysis from feminist and race-centered positions. She doesn't ignore either, here, but starts with social class.)
She talks a fair bit about not fitting in at college where she first went, and eventually at Stanford, where she went also.
I found the book a bit repetitive in its argument, but hooks is readable, and interesting, so it was okay. But I didn't find it especially compelling as far as we'd read.
When folks started talking, though, it made me really think about how bourgeois my reaction was. Several of the people talked about growing up very poor on this or that farm in the upper midwest, mostly.
I grew up pretty solidly middle class, and very bourgeois, since my family (grandfather, father, uncle) owned a business, and thus owned the means of production.
So mostly I kept my mouth shut.
The best question of the evening was when someone asked how we define "class." Me, I tend to think in terms of a fairly Marxist definition. Others not so much. A few thought more metaphorically, where "class" became about acting in certain ways, or having self-respect.
We're meeting again tonight, and I've been thinking about the new chapters and about last week's discussion.
I wonder if the folks that talked about growing up on farms grew up on farms that their families owned (or that their families owned with the bank or credit union)?
How would that play into the Marxist definition? Does it mean the same thing if you own the means of production and work with that capital to produce whatever it is? Is there a difference between owning a farm that way and owning another sort of business?
One of the things that struck another person and came up in conversation later was how many of the people in the conversation had grown up and stayed very much in the same area. In this conversation, at least, geographical movement was tied fairly strongly to having a phd and being on the tenure line (though not completely). (The sample size is pretty small, too.)
It feels like there's something untold in hooks' narrative about college. I think she grew up in Ohio, and I have no idea about how public universities in Ohio were in the 70s about African American students. I know African American students in my home state went to college at lower rates, and had far fewer opportunities. But I wondered why she'd chosen to go to a private school rather than a state school?
I guess my wondering comes from growing up in a state with (then, at least) excellent public secondary education, to the extent that very few of the kids I graduated high school with went to private schools. (I can name two that I know of. Everyone else I can think of who went on went to public schools.)
I think private schools are more prevalent in some parts of the country rather than others, and maybe offered scholarships more than public schools?