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Stephen J Ball and Carol Vincent CeCEPS Institute of Education, University of London Precarity, Identity and Place: Researching contexts of working class.

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Presentation on theme: "Stephen J Ball and Carol Vincent CeCEPS Institute of Education, University of London Precarity, Identity and Place: Researching contexts of working class."— Presentation transcript:

1 Stephen J Ball and Carol Vincent CeCEPS Institute of Education, University of London Precarity, Identity and Place: Researching contexts of working class subjectivity

2 Back to Basics ‘The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals’ a ‘grasp of history and biography and the relation between the two in society’ ( C. Wright-Mills)

3 ‘What we experience in various and specific milieux, I have noted, is often caused by structural changes. Accordingly, to understand the changes of many personal milieux we are required to look beyond them. And the number and variety of such structural changes increase as the institutions within which we live become more embracing and more intricately connected to one another. To be aware of the idea of social structure and to use it with sensibility is to be capable of tracing such linkages among a great variety of milieux’. (C. Wright-Mills p. 17) ‘

4 Here we want to draw on an interview study of 70 working class families in 2 London locations - Battersea and Stoke Newington - locations we have researched in before with middle class families The research began with issues of childcare, work and parenting - and choice.

5 This is one of an inter-locking set of studies located in time and space. Stephen’s choice studies (1996, a, 2002b, 2003), Carol’s parent studies (1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002) and work done together (1998, 2004a,b,c. 2006), drawing on Tim Butler’s studies of gentrification in London (Butler with Robson 2003).

6 Flows of history, complexity, locality and meaning. Situated also within decision-making, life course and futurity - in the flow of lives. Social lives do not consist of statistical relations between variables but the intersection of histories, discourses, structures, oppressions, identities, values and desires - this is complexity - qualitative research can begin to explore and examine this complexity through the lives of specific and different subjects in specific and different settings. These settings are marked by precarity and struggle.

7 Substantively our work addresses: Changing forms and forms of change in: - Urban processes - Labour market participation/gender identities - Welfare/work policies - Parenting/mothering - Migration

8 Our interpretational work draws from and (hopefully) contributes to a set of analytic concepts: Identity, discourse, narratives, intersectionality, values, conditions of action, structures in the head, etc.

9 To a great extent the lives of these women and their families are constituted within a set of struggles –the struggle to be a good mother, the struggle to be a good citizen/a good worker and thus the struggle to be responsible and respectable – over and against the struggle to ‘make ends meet’ – to manage to cope, to carry on some kind of ‘normal life’. They struggle between the state and the ‘estate’. This is precarity. “I’ll get paid and then my wages will pay for my bills and then that’s it. And I’ll get my tax credits and then that will pay for the nursery … but its hard to separate because, like, I’m struggling financially… my out-goings are more than my earnings” (Jackie, black, lone mother, admin assistant, SN).

10 Struggle: The balance between work and childcare is not just a matter of money it is also a matter of time – these women are time poor, and often running close to exhaustion, they are constantly tired, and often failing to live up to their own hopes and best intentions, not being the mothers they want to be and think they should be. Every day I’m, like, up and running six o’clock in the morning getting ready. I have hardly any time. By the time you get out and you rush to work and then you finish work and then you rush to get the children, you come home and do dinner and put them to bed and…. It is, it’s hard (Hazel, black, live-out partner, nursery officer, SN) “…they do miss out on a lot of things, me being there and running the home and even things like making dinner, we all sit down to dinner. I’ve done part time work but, you know, financially it doesn’t pay to work part-time and raise three children. It’s an impossible task” (Jill, black, lone mother, shop manageress, SN)

11 Intersectionality is used here in two senses: - structure/consciousness - processes/identities Intersectionality signifies “the complex, irreducible, varied and variable effects which ensue when multiple axis of differentiation – economic, political, cultural, psychic, subjective and experiential – intersect in historically specific contexts”. (Brar & Phoenix, 2004) And the Flows of history, discourses, and policies in those specific contexts. We can only beginning to understand intersectionality of the level of specific and different individuals in specific and different social contexts.

12 ‘whether it is used to situate oneself in social space or to place others, the sense of social space, like every practical sense, always refers to the particular situation in which it has to orient practices’ (Bourdieu 1986 p. 473).

13 Narratives of decline The accounts are shot through with a whole variety of ambivalences about the two localities, with a few exceptions, those who unequivocally love or hate their neighbourhood. There is a sense of both rootedness and alienation. The ‘locals’ are positive about the nearness of Family, the vibrancy and familiarity of the areas but these are contrasted with the dangers of violence and drugs. Many respondents want to move but don’t want to cut themselves off from their family and friends and the other things they value. Paradoxically there is a safety in familiarity, in knowing an area, how to walk, where to avoid, there is certainly not a total de-coupling of selves from the local social (cf. Hey 2005). They are attached to their localities but unhappy or fearful about changes and difficulties in them.

14 There’s too much violence, too much crime…as you can see I’ve got a metal gate on my door. ….But I don’t hang out around here, I just live here (Jackie, black single mother, admin assist. SN) I’m afraid to come out of my house at night time, I don’t come out of my house at night time […] You know once we’re in the house, my [security] gate is locked, and I don’t see or hear anything (Diana, black mother, separated, post office clerk, SN) there’s been, in the lift area, there’s been blood, big pools of blood [….] And I don’t go out at night, I won’t go out at night. (Andrea, white, single mother, at home, B).

15 Discourses In their struggles and in ‘managing to cope’ these families are immersed within dominant political discourses and norms, its hallmarks are conventionality and responsibility. At the end of the day, you can’t depend on benefits. And I think, if you call yourself a mother, you’re meant to look after your child and do the best for your child, not sitting down waiting every week for that money to come in, so you can provide for you and your child. Obviously I do want to see, I do want to have time with [daughter]. I want to have time like to spend proper time with [her] every day. I wouldn’t make work my priority, like a whole day thing, (Chanelle, black young mother, single, at college, SN)

16 Thus, the women’s conformity to discourses around being a ‘good’ citizen and a ‘good’ mother. The majority of our respondents talked in fairly conventional terms about the behaviour they wanted their children to adopt – or most particularly – to avoid, and their desire for their children to learn and develop. V: I just want a nice [school], like, mix of kids, bunch of kids, rather than just rough S: That’s gonna teach them good morals as well (Vicki and Sinead, young mothers, white, at home, B.) They differed from the middle class mothers in our earlier research in that they did not necessarily accept total responsibility for their children’s development (seeing this in part at least the role of professionals), nor necessarily develop clear strategies which focused on the intellectual, creative and physical development of their children. They saw their primary responsibility as loving and nurturing their children.

17 The research ‘asked’ these families to give a ‘moral’ account of themselves - which they were both very ready and able to do!

18 The values and aspirations of almost all of these women both for themselves and their children also sit very firmly within dominant discourses around ‘good’ citizenship and ‘good’ parenting. The mothers who are in paid work are generally positive about working despite the low pay some receive and the long hours some work. The mothers at home with their children were mostly planning to return to the labour market as their children get older. Work was seen as a way of providing a better life for themselves and their children, as well as adult company and stimulation and is about being responsible, acting responsibly and being a role model of proper behaviour to their children, it is also about self-worth, about being ‘proud’. I enjoy working, I really do. I couldn’t – I can’t imagine not working, getting up in the morning and doing nothing with my day (Daisy, mixed race, lone mother, office administrator, SN)

19 But we’ve got to do it because, like I was saying even this morning, you know. Even if I had to give up work and look- if it came to the crunch and I couldn’t afford to look after- to send [son] to the nursery then I would have to give up work and go back on the system. But the system is not something that I want to go back on… But it’s trying to get on the property ladder is very, very hard, you know. So it is hard. But I’d rather be at work earning something, work for my money, than ponce off the system, basically. I thought, ‘Ooh, I think I better get out there because I don’t want them to think that I’m. It gets boring doing the same thing all the time in the end. But you’re not showing nothing to your children, are you, really? You’re not showing them, you know, a way of life, or you’re not showing them how to be independent by themselves. You know, you don’t show them that it’s not all about free money, you have to work, and when you want something, you know, you have to work for it, you can’t just sit there and expect it to fall in your hands. Because the benefits thing is just a little stepping stone until you can get yourself on your feet. (Diana, black mother, separated, post office clerk, Stoke Newington (SN))

20 Conditions of action The realisation of these imperatives is set within a set of ‘real’ constraints and frustrations – poor housing on ‘difficult’ estates; low wages, for some, lone parenthood; time-poverty; the avoidance of ‘dangerous’ others; finding ‘good’ childcare or schooling; limited access to transport; variable access to child-friendly employment policies. Family life becomes a ‘struggle’ to ‘pay your bills’, manage your household, to spend time with children, and work. The constraints of time and money especially loom large in these women’s accounts. Parenting is constrained by and constructed within the limitations of small flats in high-rise buildings, limited ‘activities’, and prohibitive costs. ‘even just to go out on a general trip to the park, you even need to have money in your pocket. Because you’ll pass the ice-cream van and like, you know, they’re thirsty and they want a drink; they’ve come off the swing they want a packet of crisps. Like all the way it’s spending, spending, so…. ‘ (Natasha, black lone mother, at home, B.)

21 Structures in the head Maintaining a distinction between oneself and low status ‘others’ who share the same space can be difficult, and as Watts notes, does not necessarily lessen feelings of insecurity, ‘urban anxiety’ about the locality. Thus tenants also harboured desires to ‘move out’. Of course ‘moving out’ of the inner city is also commonly identified as a desired project by middle class parents, also in an attempt to escape low status ‘others’ and the disorder they apparently cause. However, there is a clear classed dimension to such projects as middle class families, through home ownership and occupational remuneration, have the economic capital to be to affect such moves. The respondents in our study were not in that position. They were keenly aware of the high prices commanded by housing stock in both Battersea and Stoke Newington – two areas subject to considerable gentrification. However, other areas of London and the south-east also command high prices, rendering moving out unrealisable as a strategy for many respondents.

22 V: There’s all these kids out on the estate running riot ‘til God knows what time of night. And yeah obviously there is some good parents on the estate, I’m not denying that, and there is nice children on the estate but there’s a hell of a lot of them who do what the hell they want and when they want. S: And whose parents let them do it […] V: That ain’t happening as far as I’m concerned. These women draw clear moral boundaries between themselves and ‘others’, which as Andrew Sayer points out ‘can produce strange results’ (p. 183) and can, as he goes on to say ‘create a reassuring world of moral simplicities’ (p. 185). Moral judgments are used by these women to mark them off from disreputable and dangerous class relations – and play a key role in ‘struggles over identity, validity, self-worth and integrity’ (Reay, 2005 p. 924).

23 Identity These women do not want to be excluded from the world. They almost all see work as a ‘meaningful context’- not that mothering is without meaning but full- time mothering lacks social status and recognition, and to be ‘just’ a mum is experienced as a limited and limiting social role for many. It involves being exempted for other bits of the social world in which they want to be involved. ‘Being is being in’ (Bourdieu 1983 p.1). For many being a full-time mother means ‘being something other ‘(Bhaskar 2002 p. 114). Many see work as a crucial part of their sense of self worth. Irwin (2006) suggests that these are ‘new kinds of social identity amongst women’ (p. 7). Within the domain of work they make selfhood and entitlement claims, albeit somewhat ambiguous ones. As one (Joycelyn) put it, when you stay at home: “your brain goes dead”…

24 Qualitative research, which is located and situated, can convey a sense of the contradictions and ambivalences and moral and material struggles within which families and mothers live their lives. It can capture something of the complexity of experiences and practices within the nexus of discourse, policy and history

25 Their lives and trajectories, struggles and strivings are set within a field of material contingencies, difficulties, barriers and discouragements, and ethical ambivalences, policies and policy discourses which can combine to ‘wear you down’ and tire you out. It is not always clear what to do for the best, prevailing discourses are contradictory, and the best, the necessary, the ‘hoped for’ is simply not always possible. Financial difficulties, child illness, family upheavals, living conditions can each or together confound efforts, exhaust energies and commitments, and use up short supplies of ‘emotional capital’. Individual qualities are shaped and tested in a world of physical needs and demands – a world of class inequalities.

26 The interplay and complexity of Socio-cultural changes can be uniquely accessed and researched through the medium of individual experience. Within and through these lives are the play of social change, policy and discursive shifts, these ‘make up, mediate and contextualise struggles and coping and the ‘responses’ which are the lived experiences and are the subjectivities of these families. They are socio/cultural change and tradition, its agents and its subjects! The challenge is to understand and theorise change and continuity together - eg. mothering

27 Much of this is simply erased in the moral and practical simplicities of policy and public discourses around mothering, policies trade upon unexamined assumptions which normalise the moral possibilities of middle class living and the realities of mothering for the working class are displaced by easy stereotypes and careless, patronising and damaging generalisations. Working class mothers are left to cope with the tensions between the discursive imperatives of ‘good’ mother and ‘good’ citizen, and those also which balance respectability with precarity. The contradictions are such that they sometimes seem to render as an impossibility the women’s search for respectability and a ‘better’ life. But may lead ‘good’ and ‘rounded’ and fulfilling if difficult lives.

28 References Ball, S. J. (1997) 'On the Cusp': Parents Choosing between state and private schools., International Journal of Inclusive Education, 1, Ball, S. J. (2003) Class Strategies and the Education Market: the middle class and social advantage, RoutledgeFalmer, London. Ball, S. J., Bowe, R. and Gewirtz, S. (1996) School Choice, Social Class and Distinction: the realisation of social advantage in education, Journal of Education Policy, 11, Ball, S. J., Davies, J., Reay, D. and David, M. (2002a) 'Classification' and 'Judgement': social class and the 'cognitive structures' of choice of Higher Education., British Journal of Sociology of Education, 23, Ball, S. J., Macrae, S. and Maguire, M. M. (1998) Race, Space and the Further Education Marketplace, Race, Ethnicity and Education, 1, Ball, S. J., Reay, D. and David, M. (2002b) 'Ethnic Choosing': Minority Ethnic students and Higher Education Choice., Race Ethnicity and Education, 5, Ball, S. J. and Vincent, C. (1998) "I heard it on the grapevine": 'Hot' Knowledge and school choice, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 19, Ball, S. J., Vincent, C., Kemp, S. and Pietikainen, S. (2004) Middle class fractions, childcare and the 'relational' and 'normative' aspects of class practices, the Sociological Review, 52. Butler, T. (1995) Gentrification and the Urban Middle Classes, In Social change and the middle classes(Eds, Butler, T. and Savage, M.) UCL Press, London. Butler, T., with and Robson, G. (2003) London Calling: The Middle Classes and the Re-making of Inner London, Berg, Oxford. Vincent, C. (1996) Parents and Teachers: Power and Participation, Falmer, London. Vincent, C. (2000) Including Parents? education, citizenship and parental agency, Open University Press, Buckingham. Vincent, C. (2001) Social class and parental agency, Journal of Education Policy, 16, Vincent, C. and Ball, S. J. (2006) Childcare, Choice and Class Practices: Middle-class Parents and their children, Routledge, London. Vincent, C., Ball, S. J. and Kemp, S. (2004a) The Social Geography of Childcare: making up a middle class child, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 25, Vincent, C., Ball, S. J. and Pietikainen, S. (2004b) Metropolitan Mothers: Mothers, mothering and paid work, Women's Studies International Forum, 27, Vincent, C. and Martin, J. (1999) 'The Committee People': school-based parents' groups - a politics of voice and representation?, In Parental Choice and Market Forces SeminarKing's College London. Vincent, C. and Martin, J. (2002) Class, Culture and Agency, Discourse, 23,


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