Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America

Overview

Discussions of class make many Americans uncomfortable. This accessible book makes class visible in everyday life. Solely identifying political and economic inequalities between classes offers an incomplete picture of class dynamics in America, and may not connect with people's lived experiences. In Reading Classes, Barbara Jensen explores the anguish caused by class in our society, identifying classism—or anti–working class prejudice—as a central factor in the reproduction of inequality in America. Giving voice ...

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Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America

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Overview

Discussions of class make many Americans uncomfortable. This accessible book makes class visible in everyday life. Solely identifying political and economic inequalities between classes offers an incomplete picture of class dynamics in America, and may not connect with people's lived experiences. In Reading Classes, Barbara Jensen explores the anguish caused by class in our society, identifying classism—or anti–working class prejudice—as a central factor in the reproduction of inequality in America. Giving voice to the experiences and inner lives of working-class people, Jensen—a community and counseling psychologist—provides an in-depth, psychologically informed examination of how class in America is created and re-created through culture, with an emphasis on how working- and middle-class cultures differ and conflict. This book is unique in its claim that working-class cultures have positive qualities that serve to keep members within them, and that can haunt those who leave them behind.

Through both autobiographical reflections on her dual citizenship in the working class and middle class and the life stories of students, clients, and relatives, Jensen brings into focus the clash between the realities of working-class life and middle-class expectations for working-class people. Focusing on education, she finds that at every point in their personal development and educational history, working-class children are misunderstood, ignored, or disrespected by middle-class teachers and administrators. Education, while often hailed as a way to "cross classes," brings with it its own set of conflicts and internal struggles. These problems can lead to a divided self, resulting in alienation and suffering for the upwardly mobile student. Jensen suggests how to increase awareness of the value of working-class cultures to a truly inclusive American society at personal, professional, and societal levels.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"With keen insights into the values, attitudes, and struggles of both the working and middle classes, she has written a work that seamlessly melds the personal with the theoretical. . . . An enlightening read on the consequences of classism in America, for the middle class this book effectively shatters the myopic cultural lens through which they often view, judge, and justify the subjugation of the working class. For the working class, it is an affirmation of their cultures, lifestyles, and labors. A companion for the class 'cross-overs,' it's a must-read for teachers, psychologists, and social workers."—Elissa Mugianis, ForeWord Reviews (Fall 2012)

"Working-class culture is an important topic, but it is most often treated as something to overcome. Barbara Jensen's approach is different: she speaks of working-class life from its strengths, without eliding its pain and oppression. Moreover, she writes beautifully."—Jean Anyon, Graduate Center, City University of New York, author of Marx and Education

"Like Barbara Jensen, I was born in the working class but moved into the middle class. That journey is rife with perils, as a person must move away from the very people who launched him or her to go on to become something completely different. Coming from a tough Brooklyn neighborhood, I was eager to move on with my life. But Jensen, with her stories about the love and decency of her working-class forebears, showed me another way to be working class. It made me rethink some of my core assumptions and reevaluate my initial judgments about where I came from and who I am. Working-class people moving into the middle class rarely see their lives represented. Here, then, is a great example of that kind of life, that kind of experience. Jensen's personal story, combined with her training as a psychologist, make her the perfect person to write this book."—Al Lubrano, author of Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams

"Whether you're middle class or working class, you need to read this book. And if you’re an upwardly mobile 'crossover,' this book could save your sanity. Barbara Jensen has pulled off something extraordinary: she exemplifies her ideas about the strengths of working-class and middle-class cultures by writing in both voices. A crossover herself, she analyzes previous theories and creates a memorable framework, and she tells us heartfelt stories and uses colorful analogies. This powerful book walks its talk."—Betsy Leondar-Wright, author of Class Matters, director of Class Action (classism.org)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801477799
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 950,807
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Jensen is a Licensed Counseling and Community Psychologist who counsels mixed-class couples and professionals from working-class backgrounds in Minneapolis. She also works in a variety of community settings including schools, psychiatric facilities, and homeless shelters.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Prologue: What Part of Fridley Are You From? 1

1 Getting Class 9

2 The Invisible Ism 28

3 Belonging versus Becoming 51

4 Behaving versus Blooming 79

5 Identity and Resistance 117

6 Across the Great Divide 146

7 Pain in the Promised Land 178

8 Gathering in Glenville 207

Notes 227

References 231

Index 239

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