Class divisions 1

August 24, 2007

Unlike Dr Chav ("Who are you calling a thicko prole?", August 17), I am female and have worked in only one "new" university so far due to entering academia after obtaining a first-class degree at the age of 40.

But like Dr Chav, I am also working class and have struggled since 2001 to "fit" into a culture that regularly assumes that I possess a body of knowledge (and concomitant lifestyle) that simply was not available to me at my bog standard comprehensive school.

In my "chav world", life is real: the scramble to survive with little money (especially on a research assistant rate), a house that is falling down, friends and family who sometimes express unenlightened views, few holidays and a lot of TV-watching.

In my "academic world", there is the expectation that everybody can afford a month off in August to go to Tuscany, red wine flows, there are lots of extracurricular activities - the theatre, opera, "serious literature" - and no TV-watching at all.

I am torn. On the one hand, I am proud of my background - it has given me the strength to become an academic despite huge obstacles, and there is an "honesty" that is totally lacking in my academic world.

In the chav world, everybody knows that we are being screwed by the state, and it is our job to survive this by subverting the system as much as possible without getting caught. In my academic world, for all its "right-on" sensibilities, it is the same. On the other hand, there are parts of the academic world that appeal - the dialogue, the language, the debates.

One narrative I regularly encounter illustrates this nicely: "How old is your son?" "Eighteen." 'Which university is he at?' "Actually, he has a trade apprenticeship."' [Cue pitying look.] "Oh, well, that's good, we need more tradesmen. It is so difficult to get them nowadays, don't you find?"

The simple assumption that the only trajectory for offspring is university instantly places me back in my class. Effortlessly.

Name and address withheld

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