Blog posts

No landscape for a good underclass woman

by Elaine Jean Laberge

Presented at the First International Working Class Academics Conference

July 2020

LINK to watch the session:

Formatted PDF of the poem  

i scrub
i scrub
my skin raw
but i can’t wash away the stain of poverty


i scrub my skin with my red-worn hands
Ruthlessly with
academic journals

i scrub my skin
with theorists
Sociological colonial patriarchal
theories tangle
into a mish-mash of
barbed wire

my confidence
my creativity
Is destroyed
like metal scratching pads on slick shiny teflon
looks like the teflon frying pans
dumped (off)
at the corporate faux-charitable Value Village
don’t pay my tuition — my rent
don’t contribute to my retirement
don’t give me hope — even for a break

i scald my soul
the analytical
the theoretical
the generalizable
the unchangeable
But i can’t wash away the stain of poverty

i came out of the social underclass closet
on the Canadian higher education landscape
my skin
my body
my entire being
as a one-dimensional woman (Power, 2009)

Stigma (Goffman, 1963, 1959; Tyler, 2018)
Other Othered Othering

Caste in a box
Outsider within (Bourdieu & Champagne, 1999)
Outsider without
we’re the “wretched of the earth” (Fanon, 2004)

we’re many subjects
revolting (Tyler, 2013)
disgusting (Lawler, 2005)
illegitimate (Haylett, 2001)
wasteful useless pointless

A disposable population
Moral outcasts
The underclass
Marx’s hated lumpenproletariat

The unwashed
The lower classes that smell (Orwell, 1963)
The hated, despised, ridiculed white trash
The deserving—undeserving
battled out in the centre
while we live in the shadows and margins

You degrade me
call me (and my ancestors) white trash (Wray, 2013, 2006)
and then y’all hold white trash-themed parties

welfare queens
where’re the Welfare Kings?

We’re stigma machines (Tyler, 2017)
“Branded with infamy” (Adair, 2008, 2001)

Leaves me with bruises
a bloodied bloody mess
of bruise-stained hurts

my knees are shot to shit
from trying to cross the wrong side of the social class tracks
“Stay in your lane!”
you say

Slivers that crowbars
can’t dislodge
from trying
to climb the broken class ladder
“Back down to the bottom rung from whence you came!”
you say

You offer up
your stick and barbed-wire encrusted carrot
bury me alive and dead
with sufforacating student loans
generously topped up with your interest compounded daily

“Squandering our riches,”
you say
“You squander our richness,”
we don’t say

How many students are homeless?
no one knows
not yet considered an epidemic
might be another academic-career-booster
Canadian taxpayer-funded academic research topic

How many students go hungry?
no one knows
just another epidemic maybe?
just another oh-this-has-potential
Canadian taxpayer-funded academic research topic

How many students are from poverty?
no one knows no one cares to know
we’re not supposed to be here are we here?
poverty’s not considered an epidemic
never gonna be another
Canadian taxpayer-funded academic research topic

Poverty intergenerational poverty
it’s deeply embedded in my self-identity
part of my embodied being (Laberge, 2017; Adair, 2001)

The shame was bearable until university
a place I believed was never
meant for people like me
i lived in fear
of being
on being outed and ousted

and then i was outed of the social underclass closet

and then i was ousted
pushed out
as a doctoral student
as a Vanier scholar
from my beloved discipline sociology
from my belief in Otherwise (Laberge, 2017; Elbow, 2008)
from within

of imagining Otherwise (Green, 1995)
because i imagined Otherwise

because i dared to critique
The abusers
The users
The faux-teachers
The faux-social justice advocates
The faux-equity, diversity, inclusion leaders
The ignorers deniers
of social class
inequality inequity

Jacked-up capitalism
Rabid neoliberalism
Servitude neofeudism
150+ years of colonialism
Relentless burgenoning —isms
—in Canadian university institutions
shhh there’s no classism no social stratification

Maya Angelou (1978)
yes, i still rise
but, i will move along

and you Canadian universities
you need to hear this
I’m no learned lemming
I’ve always been a moth to an injustice flame
I’ve never walked quietly
I’ll make a fuss
but I won’t go over the cliff without causing a ruckus
but I’m leaving


Canadian universities
Your education promised a way out of poverty
Your venerated piece of paper
lauded as the great equalizer


You broke your promise (Adair, 2001)
You continue to break your promise

“Your” taxpayer-funded Canadian university
It’s no “landscape for a good [underclass] woman” (Steedman, 1987)

Works Cited
Indigenous territorial map:
Adair, V. (2001a). Branded with Infamy: Inscriptions of Poverty and Class in the United States. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 27(2), 451–471.
Adair, V. (2001b). Poverty and the (Broken) Promise of Higher Education. Harvard Educational Review, 71(2), 217–239.
Angelou, M. (1978). Still I rise. Retrieved from Poetry Foundation website: https://www.poetryfoundation. Bourdieu, P., & Champagne, P. (1999). Outcasts on the Inside. In P. Parkhurst Ferguson, S. Emanuel, J. Johnson, & S. T. Waryn (Trans.), The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society (pp. 421–426). Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Elbow, P. (2008). The Believing Game—Methodological Believing. English Department Faculty Publication Series, 5, 1–11. Retrieved from
Fanon, F. (2004). The wretched of the earth (R. Philcox, Trans.). New York: Grove Press.
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life (First). New York: Anchor Books.
Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Haylett, C. (2001). Illegitimate subjects?: Abject whites, neoliberal modernism, and middle-class multiculturalism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 19(3), 351–370.
Laberge, E. (2017). The reverberations of childhood poverty: Composing lives in higher education (Unpublished thesis (MA)). University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Lawler, S. (2005). Disgusted subjects: The making of middle-class identities. The Sociological Review, 53(3), 429–446.
Orwell, G. (1963). The Lower Classes Smell. In L. A. Coser (Ed.), Sociology through Literature: An Introductory Reader (pp. 145–149). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Power, N. (2009). One dimensional woman. Washington: Zero Books.
Steedman, C. K. (1987). Landscape for a Good Woman. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Swanson, J. (2004). Poor-Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion. Toronto: Between the Lines.
Tyler, I. (2013). Revolting subjects: Social abjection and resistance in neoliberal Britain. New York: Zed Books.
Tyler, I. (2018). Resituating Goffman: From stigma power to black power. The Sociological Review, 66(4), 744–765.
Tyler, I. (2017). From Revolting Subjects to Stigma Machines [Academic]. Retrieved November 3, 2017, from The Stigma Doctrine website:
Wray, M. (2013, June 21). White Trash: The Social Origins of a Stigmatype. The Society Pages: Social Science That Matters.
Wray, M. (2006). Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness. Duke University Press.


Elaine J Laberge

July 23, 2020

I’m     silenced    banging my head    ouch!


Punishing me    myself            before you do

To hurry up and tell

My learning

My awakening

My inquiry through writing

The expectation of the academic violence is forgotten

The academic violence is forgotten

My soul is just a whiteboard

Not even a just get over it

No time for wonder    exploration in the stacks

solo learning

Seems like         “get out”

I’ve never had a voice like this

Now thistles being thrust down my throat

Rasping—hear the methodology story

takes            time                    sorry

You can fail me

No one looks like me

I’m an academic orphan