Identity Politics Needs Some Class I & II: Jun 2 @ CSA & Congress 2021

Canadian Sociological Association Annual Conference | May 31 – June 4, 2021

VIRTUAL 55th Annual Conference of the CSA

Title: Identity Politics Needs Some Class
Session Code: APS5
Organizers: Elaine J Laberge, University of Victoria (Education); Jes Annan, University of Victoria (Sociology); Chelsea Thomas, University of Victoria; Charity Slobod, University of Alberta (Faculty of Graduate Studies & Research)
Session Chairs: Elaine Laberge & Jes Annan
Research Cluster Affiliation(s): Applied Sociology
Keywords: Social class; Poverty; Equality and Inequality; Canadian Sociology; Feminist Studies; Politics and Social Movements
Format: Roundtable

Conference link:

Session Description

At some point, social class fell out of fashion. In Canada, class really never was in fashion save briefly for Porter’s (1965) landmark “The Vertical Mosaic.” Social stratification in Canada was consigned to fringes. The remnants are colonial class-based narratives: the myths of the classless society and American Dream, bootstrap dogmas, rags-to-riches fairytales and meritocracy-type tropes. The erasure of class led to the emergence of identity politics. Groups are homogenised irrespective of how social characteristics intersect to oppress, exclude and discriminate. This ‘social characteristic siloing’ is most evident in the uptake of status quo equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) mandates. That is, EDI designs based on the Canadian Federal Employment Equity Act’s four-pillar trend: Equity-seeking groups are categorised as Aboriginal peoples, women, members of visible minorities and people with disabilities. This is the case even though Canada is colonised based upon racism, sexism, ableism—and, classism. Colonial laws, legislation, policies and institutions are built on this intersecting —ism foundation. Yet, leaders continue to ignore classism when developing strategic plans to address systemic discrimination. However, masses lack the privilege to be able to ignore class (Sayer, 2002). The result? A swath is cut through the population: The underclass are disenfranchised, excluded and punished. This has always been the case; COVID-19 made this injustice more visible. This virtual roundtable session seeks to tackle class-based injustices. Presenters have lived experiences of class discrimination. They will share their academic, everyday and boots-on-the-ground work, use a range of methodologies and engage with diverse forms of knowledge mobilisation. This interactive session honours the mosaic of lived experiences, knowledges and ways of being. Participants will have the opportunity to learn why identity politics needs some class, so we can collectively address how class stratification tears at the fabric of families, communities and nations and EDI and decolonising efforts.
Tags: Canadian Sociology, Equality and Inequality, Feminist Studies, Politics and Social Movements

Identity Politics Needs Some Class II: June 2, 2021 – 1:00-2:30pm (MT)

Fad or fetish? The curious case of “distressed jeans”
Elaine J Laberge, PhD Candidate University of Victoria
Description: Unlike cultural appropriation, the appropriation of poverty markers such as “distressed” jeans exemplify one of the last politically incorrect hold-outs: intentionally emulating the poor—the underclass. This pecha kucha presentation will explore whether these manufactured garments are a fad or fetish.

Abstract: “Distressed” jeans are not a recent phenomenon; they are a global spectacle. Distressed jeans started as a subculture fashion trend in the 1970s, often worn as a political statement against the capitalist “establishment.” By the 1990s, distressed jeans, which can run in the thousands of dollars, became commonplace through mass manufacturing by the poverty-class in the so-called Global South. Unlike cultural appropriation, the appropriation of poverty markers such as “distressed” jeans exemplify one of the last politically incorrect hold-outs: intentionally emulating the poor—the underclass. Yet, little is offered in the literature to explain manufactured “distressed” jeans (not to mention runners, etc) from a class-based sociological perspective. But is this a problem? Does it really matter? This session will explore naturally and manufactured distressed jeans as a way to consider: How might the global distressed-jean phenomenon be understood as a fad? How might it be explained as signifying a fetishization (and stigmatization) of poverty? How might “distressed” jeans be understood and/or experienced as the (mis)appropriation of poverty-class clothing? What might the use of word “distressed,” for an everyday garment, tell us about social stratification in Canada and colonial, class-based beliefs?
LinkedIn: elaine-j-laberge-379a5251
Research Interests: Elaine’s doctoral research focuses on the gendered nature of poverty discrimination and barriers to access in Canadian universities. More broadly, she’s interested in the myriad of ways poverty discrimination happens in Canada

Two bad words: Poor and Black
Jessica Annan, MA student University of Victoria
Description: The experiences of underserved students are not often recognized by our educational institutions. Through poetry, in this presentation, Jess navigates her experiences as a Black poverty-class female within the Canadian educational system and how this taught her to ‘read between the lines.’

Abstract: Social class is a taboo subject within our educational institutions. While institutions recognize economic measures such as the Market Basket Measure or the Low-Income Cut-Off, portrayals of the experience of poverty-class students are less prevalent. Consequently, educational institutions have failed to acknowledge the ways this affects student’s lives, to the detriment of poverty-class students. This is significant because class position can augment pre-existing inequities in education along racial and gendered lines. Through poetry, in this presentation, I navigate my experiences as a Black poverty-class female within the Canadian educational system and how this taught me to ‘read between the lines.’
Research Interests: Jessica’s current research focuses on inner-city hostile/violent architecture.

Hugging the elephants in the room
Chelsea Thomas, PhD Candidate University of Victoria

Description: Working with the concept of “radical tenderness” (D’Emelia & Andreotti, 2021), I will share how de/unschooling has moved beyond an educational concept to become a worldview and catalyst for healing my relationship with my poverty-class roots by moving from denying, avoiding, shaming and judging of the social class elephants in the room, to hugging them.

Abstract: In this story I share how de/unschooling my children became the catalyst for healing my relationship with the social class “elephants in the room”. In disentangling life, learning and from school through de/unschooling praxis, it has become easier for me to see the harmful ways that colonial class-based narratives have shaped the relationship I have with myself and others and how I negotiate my place in the world. As a healing and liberation praxis, de/unschooling has helped shift from denial, avoidance, shame and judgement of the elephants in the room to hugging them.

Author: Chelsea Bohnert, UVIc PhD candidate/ABD, Vancouver Island University Instructor

Research Interests: I am a decolonial womanist scholar that works to highlight the ways in which healing, and re-centring the land are key to building more equitable and sustainable futures.

Where are the voices of working-class communities in contemporary culture?
Scott Marsden, PhD MFA Aurora College
In these times of growing inequity, we need to explore how contemporary culture can engage with working class communities. This article will demonstrate how dialogue-based practices explore creative acts of resistance, offer new ways of seeing and reveal the voices of those who are outside of dominant contemporary visual culture.

Research Interests: Scott’s research focuses on developing innovative dialogue-based exhibition and public programming for art galleries and museums across Canada.

Identity Politics Needs Some Class I: June 2, 2021 – 3:00-4:00pm (MT)

Social justice education has no class (analysis) but it should
Emil Marmol, PhD Candidate University of Toronto/OISE
Description: In an era marked by massive increases in class inequality, there has been a gradual retreat from class analysis in academe. Ironically, this absence is quite notable in the relatively new field of social justice education. Emil argues that if we truly wish to create a more equitable world, we must renew our focus on class.

Abstract: I am a US-born Latino, and self- identify as a racialized person. My scholarship is interdisciplinary and includes publications on race and critical race theory, this includes my recently submitted PhD thesis. Nevertheless, in all of my work, I place class as one of the central categories of analyses. I feel strongly that any analyses of oppression, exclusion, disenfranchisement, and marginalization are incomplete if class is not included in the discussion. This has been one of my major frustrations with my department, “Social Justice Education” at the University of Toronto. There is healthy, and more than ample, discussion around the topics of race, gender, disability and all of the other categories of intersectionality. However, there is no discussion of class. It is almost as if the word is taboo. I have to repeat this for emphasis, no one talks about class, not the faculty and not the students. This is highly problematic and a colossal oversight. Class closely tracks race, and as such, the crushing effects of belonging to an immiserated underclass is most severely felt by racialized people. Two particularly powerful examples of this are the devastating consequences for racialized people resulting from the 2007/8 financial and housing crisis, and at present, COVID-19. My own class background is very mixed. My family has been everywhere on the spectrum from bankrupt and using food stamps to survive, to owning profitable companies and living in relative opulence. This has given me a unique perspective from which I have witnessed, first-hand, the access to material benefits and social mobility conferred by being a member of the privileged economic class. For instance, my higher education degrees, and the access I have been granted to jobs and other opportunities because of the institutions where I have studied, would not have been possible if not for the relative wealth that provided the initial access to these degrees. I would like the opportunity to discuss my experiences with class in general, as well as my frustration with the lack of attention paid to class at my educational institution. Moreover, I would like to propose ways that we can disrupt the current status quo by either subtly injecting class into the curriculum and conversation, or doing so by less subtle means if necessary.
Research interests: Emil is a multidisciplinary scholar with a strength in critical media literacy and critical race theory.

Identity politics in the acting profession
Kara Flannagan, PhD Student University of Victoria
Description: Identity politics comes into play when you’re playing an imaginary role. For example, it matters in film acting when the network is hiring you to play an American, but you speak with a Canadian dialect. In this presentation, Kara will discuss identity politics and class in the acting profession through the presentation of a play.

Abstract: Identity politics come into play when you’re playing an imaginary role. For example, it matters in film acting when the network is hiring you to play an American, but you speak with a certain Canadian dialect. Despite the acting industry hiring for diversity, actors with certain accents face discrimination and exclusion from the acting profession. Canadians from different classes must manage this issue to get hired. What I have found in my work is, “they want me to look diverse, but not in the way I talk.” In an industry that relies on imaginary characters, actors are limited by language and national identities. In this presentation, I will be discussing, challenging, and investigating ways to address identity politics in acting through the performance of a play.
Research Interests: Kara’s doctoral research focus explores innovations in drama curriculum.

Are we all in this together? COVID-19, community and class in Canadian news media
Ivanka Knezevic, PhD, Sessional Lecturer University of Toronto Scarborough
Description: The presentation addresses relative prominence and framing of categoric inequalities and class, respectively, in Canadian news media reporting on COVID-19. The news coverage is consistent with the “fading away” of class in North American public debate and with influence of multiculturalism, which emphasizes collective identities based on race and ethnicity.

Abstract: While there are numerous studies on framing of social inequality in North American mass media, none addresses the presence of categoric inequalities or class, respectively, in mass media content. We examine the relative importance of these axes of inequality in the mass media content as a possible indicator of the “fading away” of class-based research in North American sociology. In Canada, the decreasing interest in class may also be related to the policy of multiculturalism, which emphasizes collective identities based on race and ethnicity. Mass media content on the COVIUD-19 also includes large volume of governmental persuasion: statements accompanying introduction and changes in public health measures. All are characterized by the rhetoric of “community,” free of inequality and conflict. We conduct a combined quantitative and qualitative content analysis of COVID-19 news reports in two large-circulation, national-scope Canadian newspapers. The quantitative aspect of the study addresses the relative importance of categoric and class inequalities in the reporting on COVID-19. The qualitative aspect looks into the framing of these two intersecting types of inequality in the news: their causes, effects on health of Canadians during a pandemic, and the intended and actual effects of governmental pandemic measures on various indicators of inequality. We find that the news coverage of the pandemic in Canada is dominated by invocations of an undifferentiated “Canadian” community, as well as racially and ethnically-based communities. Class inequality appears seldom, and then largely limited to reporting on the homeless. Reporting on effects of COVID-19 in racially and ethnically based communities is mostly descriptive and not analytical. Categoric inequalities are acknowledged as a significant social problem, but little is said about their causes and policies that might ameliorate them.
Research Interests: Ivanka is interested in diverse forms of class-based inequality (economic, political, cultural) and in ideologies that maintain and challenge it, particularly the ideological significance of mass media.

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