Asking about values and class mobility

It’s probably pretty obvious from what makes it to my blog, but I have a strong interest in how people think the world can be understood and what it should be like, along with how criteria may function for what is good/bad, right/wrong or expected/unusual. I suppose the shorthand way of saying this is that I am interested in people, but sometimes I find ‘values’ as a useful (although problematic) term.
This year I have not commented on the BSL’s lunchtime seminar series, although I have been able to go to most of them so far and a number of them I thoroughly enjoyed. Today’s seminar gets a mention partly because it’s too wet outside for me to carry through with my plans for the afternoon but mostly because I am quite stumped.

There were two interesting, engaging and knowledgeable speakers – one talking about the intellectual context of sociology more generally and the other presenting some data from his Masters research. The data that was presented was excerpts of interview transcripts from interviews of people who grew up in working class families and now hold jobs in a different class location (i.e. academics at universities and lawyers). Much of what was presented portrayed moments of discomfort from feeling (or being considered) out of place at university and from difficulties with maintaining strong relationships with family members.

Unsurprisingly, seeing as these were interviews with individuals, I felt like the interviewees took an attitude of ownership of the challenges that came from their academic commitment and success. This ownership, rather than distancing, from what has unfolded may not have been something they did, it could be me reading this into their words, so I will not try to make any larger points out of it. However, what really intrigued me, but I was not able to ask in a clear enough way, was whether any of the interviewees spoke about other peoples ‘failings’. In other words, I want to be able to understand if these unresolvable conflicts that they seemed to experience as part and parcel of their upward class mobility were noticed in other people and, if so, how they worked out if somebody had done a good or a bad job of making choices in life. I thought at the time that it was a way I could ask about what values these particular people mobilised for thinking about class mobility.

It is rather selfish to ask questions at seminars that are more about your work than what was presented in the first place, so my discomfort with asking the question probably did not help my cause. Hopefully I will learn the craft of asking questions in seminars, otherwise it is going to be a rather embarrassing few years.

Perhaps it was good that I took the risk of asking the question even though it was embarrassing and I wasted everybody’s time. On the other hand, I am annoyed I made such a fool of myself because turns out there is a Bauman reading group at La Trobe which would be super useful for me.

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