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The class ceiling Hardcover – 28 Jan 2019
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A well-conceived and important study which makes a significant contribution to knowledge about social mobility, and an important intervention into broader political debates --Selina Todd, University of Oxford
Without question this is the outstanding study of social mobility in the UK to have appeared in the past 20 years. Using a brilliant mixed method design, Friedman & Laurison trace the long shadow of class privilege in driving career prospects even in the supposedly dynamic sectors of today's knowledge economy. Anyone who thinks Britain is a meritocracy needs to ponder the lessons of this wonderful book --Mike Savage, LSE
Friedman and Laurison show how it can possibly be that upwardly mobile executives and professionals earn less than those raised in the upper classes. Everybody in The Class Ceiling has a desirable job, but even in the upper reaches of British society, class roots matter --Mike Hout, New York University
About the Author
Sam Friedman is Associate Professor in Sociology, London School of Economics. He has published widely on social class, social mobility and elites. He is the author of Comedy and Distinction: The Cultural Currency of a Good Sense of Humour (Routledge 2014) and the co-author of Social Class in the 21st Century (Penguin, 2015). He tweets as @SamFriedmanSoc
Daniel Laurison is Assistant Professor at Swarthmore College, USA. Previously he was at the London School of Economics & Political Science. He tweets as @Daniel_Laurison
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Much of this book is anecdotal, rather than seeming to be from rigorous research. As such, I suppose my own experience is relevant. As the child of immigrants, growing up in a poor, housing estate in East London, I went to university and have, I consider, a fulfilling and happy career. My husband, a first generation immigrant, went to university and neither of us have ever found either our background or the ‘lesser’ university we went to (a polytechnic at the time) held us back. Did class matter? Well, undoubtedly, class does have an impact, but, like much in life, it is only an impediment if you allow it to be. Aspiration, education and attitude can do much to limit the effects of birth and I do not really think it is as relevant as it was years ago.
There is a lot made in this book about the importance of fitting in and the suggestion that those who fit the mould of the company will succeed better. Obviously, it depends on the company you work for, but much of it just seemed pointless arguing. Wherever you work, you do need to get on with people and not be too confrontational. In other words, much of this did come across as whining to my ears. However, this is a reminder that you need to look beyond the obvious to the potential of possible applicants for jobs and to do your best to make the workplace a comfortable, inclusive and supportive place and, especially in education, remove as many barriers to success as you can.
The issue of class mobility has been a talking point for some years. In my own profession, accountancy, there is still a preponderance of males/higher social classes. Some of this is due to employers preferring 'red brick' graduates. However, most accountancy bodies do not demand a red brick degree or even a degree, so change needs to come from the employers, who provide the study support vocational contracts. It is, of course, a vicious cycle, because of course, they will invest their HR capital in the candidates least likely to fail the incredibly tough exams, which do require mathematical, logical and analytical skills, as well as a good command of English language.
I was surprised to see the authors rank advertising as 'an elite profession' as - creative advertiser designers aside - in my circles, professions such as marketing and media are seen as 'soft' subjects, as opposed to the 'hard sciences and humanities' such as engineering, medicine, law and accountancy/actuary professions.
There is surely more substance to these latter categories than aiming to be a celebrity or a social media persuader? Each to their own.
Although the authors list the persons interviewed, albeit anonymised, it did have a 'Cosmospolitan article' feel to it; i.e., anecdotal, comprising of 'Sue discovered', 'Michael felt', 'Howard said' kind. It was depressing to read how a working class young woman related how she felt anxious to fit in wit her clients, juxtaposed against a [angry?] black young woman 'brought up on a Birmingham council estate' who refused to integrate , decrying th lack of diversity and expecting the tv organisation to fit in with her.
It is a shame the traditional stereotypes continue of 'black people are all poor, underachievers, angry and come from council estates', white public school males are all privileged and live easy lives and white working class women struggle to emulate their middle class peers.
Yes, social mobility remains as hidebound as it always was (i.e., relatively difficult) but on the other hand, pigeon-holing people on grounds of class, race and gender is dismaying as there are plenty of people who defy the boundaries sociologists would like to slot us into.