Monday, May 21, 2018

Social Class Encounter and Thoughts in Manila

Priscilla Angela Cruz
Ateneo de Manila

(This was a Facebook post from a friend, reposted here with permission.)

After last night's rant, a story to restore my faith in my own people and to remind me that there are many pockets of hope:

While I was biking to work today, I saw a sorbetero, an ice cream vendor, with his cart of what we refer to here as 'dirty ice cream'. We were both waiting at the traffic light and I noticed he was pushing the cart. I decided to strike up a conversation. He told me that he sells his ice cream at Quezon City Circle and that he has walked there with his cart every single day for 30 years. He told me it takes 45 to 50 minutes to push his cart, which was very neat-looking, and that he is proud to say that he sent all his kids to school through ice cream. He was also proud to talk about his grandchildren, who also get a share of his ice cream profits. I would have stayed longer to talk and I did so want to buy some ice cream from him. But the light changed and all the cars behind started angrily honking their horns so all I could manage was a hasty good bye. As I rode away, I briefly looked back to see him pushing the cart as he was crossing the busy intersection we were at. His voice floated to me, "thank you, ma'am!"

One problem with the Philippines is for many reasons, cultural, political, economic, historical, religious, etc., is that we are a highly stratified society. Social class permeates everything we do and the way we live. I think this problem has made it very difficult for us Filipinos to see other Filipinos as people. I realize that had I been in my car behind this very gentle ice cream vendor, I would have swallowed a bit of annoyance: how could he be pushing a cart in a terribly busy street? He would have slowed down traffic in this already horribly congested street. But on this morning, the cars behind us, I am sure, were thinking the same way about both of us. In that one moment, there was small solidarity, where we were both Filipinos with our own stories. Never mind that I saw all to strongly the fact that he had to push the cart while I was on my big and strong two wheels.

Then I thought, this guy has worked harder than I ever have yet he manages a smile and a thank you. Perhaps what is important is that we see people and not the road, not the vehicles, not the annoyance. If we, as a people, learn to do that to each other, then maybe our streets will get slightly better despite the systemic issues that plague this country.

I don't know, really, the problem with the ability to endure is the all too familiar effect in this country. We endure so much that everything stays bad.  But if maybe, just maybe, if we learn to see each other as Filipinos, we will be an even greater people.

And to visitors to the Philippines, enjoy us! Get some dirty ice cream, which isn't really dirty. I love the cheese and avocado flavors (yes, we have cheese ice cream). Dirty ice cream is sold in scoops of three. You can combine all the flavors you want.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Building Academic Capital - Get Academically Rich Slowly

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Capital, in social class language, is accumulated wealth. Marx wrote about Economic Capital, Bourdieu's ideas of economic, cultural, and social capital, (capital is accumulated wealth), began a discussion about different and specialized types of capital.

Spiritual Capital
There is a tradition of Gods weighing the soul in the afterlife and judging the accumulated spiritual wealth of the recently deceased.  The idea of karma is part of this tradition.  St. Peter is often depicted at the Christian pearly gates with a book containing the list of accumulated spiritual capital. 

Leadership Capital
In the leadership literature leadership capital is a hot topic. A basic web search for "leadership capital" turns up a surprisingly large number of pages.

Academic Capital
Multiple views of the form and function of Academic Capital are revealed in a web search.  Fundamental to Bourdieu's Forms of Capital is the idea that one form of capital can be turned into another.  Social Capital, who you know and who knows you, can be turned into Economic Capital through access to resources and opportunities.  Academic capital can be seen as a form of Cultural capital, and turned into jobs, money, or friends. 

Wikipedia authors makes a fine distinction between Academic and Educational capital.  However both are seen as primarily transformative - that is, a form of capital that can be transferred into money.  A little imagination lets you turn academic capital (or educational capital) into social capital.

Academic Capital in Your Pocket
Money you can put into your pocket, or bank, or investment portfolio.  Other forms of capital are abstractions.  (Yes, I realize that money is an abstraction, but the physical manifestation of money is a better example than the physical manifestation of Cultural Capital in the form of diplomas.)  Cultural Capital is knowledge and skills of a prestige culture.  Seen similarly, Academic Capital is knowledge and skills in an educational environment.  It is probably the case that Academic Capital is a subset of Cultural Capital in some hierarchical model of Capital, but that is not the point here.

Knowledge and skills are portable wealth.  Knowing the name of the capitol of Kansas is knowledge (declarative knowledge or "what"), knowing how to ride a bicycle is a skill (procedural knowledge or "how").  There is an array of literature on declarative/verbal knowledge and performance or process skill that is worth reading, and will build your Academic Capital.

What is the knowledge base and skill set that builds Academic Capital?  Here is my list of the needed skill set in Academic Capital, and yours may be different.  My list is largely skills because I believe more academic skills result in more knowledge.  On campus academic capital, knowledge and skills necessary for a academic success, is an interesting form of capital that many people don't seem to understand.  Knowing how to learn is a skill set with great value.
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Presenting
  • Studying
  • Critical Thinking
  • Surface learning and deep learning
  • Making associations between what you already know and the new material in a class
I am amazed that students fail to connect material, knowledge and skills, learned in one class to content and process in another class. Building academic capital, knowledge and skills, requires connecting and reconnecting knowledge and skills learned in multiple places.  Academic knowledge is interrelated in complex networks of knowledge and skill.  For example, population growth is connected to animal habitat, access to birth control is connected to crime rates, and so on.  A basic investment strategy is that money builds more money.  Knowledge and skill, through associations and interconnections, builds more knowledge and skill.

Every campus has professionals who will help you build all of these skills.  Serious students, those who seek to build more academic (cultural) capital, work on building these skills so that this can all be transformed into economic (money) capital. 

Data source - being a teacher for a lot of years.

tl;dr learn to study, read, rite well, and make connections, then do it a lot.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Social Class and the Experience Economy - Campus Edition

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Seeing social class is complicated.
Performing and displaying social class is complicated.

Some of class is visible, like positional goods, brand name objects, and obviously labeled fashion.
Some of social class is auditory, like having a prestige accent.
Some of social class is scent based, like having having the upscale perfume.
Some of social class is invisible, intangible, ephemeral, like experiences.

The material economy, the world of stuff, tangibles, things you can see or touch or smell, plays a big part in social class.  The experience economy, the world of experience, intangibles, ephemeral passing experiences, plays an equally big, and different, role in the performance and demonstration of social class.  The nature of experience is ephemeral, while the nature of material is, well, material.

I am going to assume here that people who wear obviously, or even subtly, labeled fashion wish to demonstrate their social status through the display of those fashion labels.  Fashion labels are part of the performance of social class.  Please keep in mind that there are many ways to perform social class, and I am only using labeled fashion here as a way to make sense of class performance in the experience economy. How do we translate the experience into the material so that others can see what we have done?  Merchandise.

Like material things, experiences are ranked by social class.  For example, theme parks are social class ranked. Vacation destinations are social class ranked.  Movies are social class ranked.  Live theater is social class ranked. Travel destinations are social class ranked.  Camping and glamping are social class ranked.

Fraternities and sororities, and student organizations in general, are social class ranked.  Transforming the experience of Greek Life membership into the visible world means wearing your letters and public displays of membership.  Experiences in student life are marked with shirts, or other things commemorating the event.  Like the concert goer who buys the concert shirt, the student on campus gets the participation trophy of a shirt, or a mug, or a whatever is being used to commemorate the event.  A material reminder of the experience, or a trophy for display.  Think for a moment about post-season college sports and the display of fanatic loyalty through branded wearables.

Any sensible college provides prospective students with branded gear.  A material link to the experience.  But this is not true for all colleges - taking the college tour for free stuff is discouraged at highly selective campuses, you need to buy your own Harvard hoodie.  On the third hand, the concept of "commitment and consistency" (Cialdini, The Psychology of Influence and Persuasion, 1984) plays into the college manipulating the student into wearing branded gear in order to foster commitment.   On the fourth hand, perhaps the purpose of any experience memento is to show off participation in the experience and to reinforce membership in the social class reflected in that experience.

Alternative forms of prestige experiences include suitable material evidence for public display.  Alternative Spring Break, volunteerism, Habitat for Humanity, the Student Investment Club, Campus Green groups, and a myriad other campus activities of all types provide wearable evidence of experiences.

Class rings anyone?  Campus branded bumper stickers for Mom and Dad?  Campus branded credit cards for alumni?

tl;dr  wear stuff to show off your prestige experiences

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Is your suitcase a status symbol? The preformance of social class.

Will Barratt
Professor, Roi Et Rajabhat University

I fly around every few months so I see a lot of airports and people in airports.  (Mostly I fly using other people's money - OPM - as an invited speaker.)  Twice a year I fly from Asia to the USA and other times I fly around South East Asia, where I live.  I always book plenty of time between flights for connections, based on experience, so I have a lot of time to watch the flow of people.

I like luggage and I like airports in different places.  There are different social norms for luggage in different world regions.  There are, as always, different sets of social class performance norms.  Luggage is always the performance of social class. 

Class and contra-class.

The obvious analysis is that designer brand luggage, obviously labeled fashion, is part of the performance of the upper classes, at least the upper half of the general population, but the traveling public is hardly a random group.  Even in mid-range luggage, name brands like American Tourister, and Samsonite have obvious class meaning.  Most air travelers have luggage from non-prestige brands or regional brands.  Some travelers use cardboard boxes and duffle/gym bags. 

Do people purchase luggage by price range and perceived brand prestige?  Yes, and no.  The obvious display of social class comes from expensive designer luggage, brand names imported from other fashion accessories, with brand logos as the pattern on the bag.  Secondary, and more prestige, is luggage from a high prestige luggage brand like Tumi or Briggs and Riley, with a small and discrete label.  Trusted brands, like American Tourister and Samsonite, come in second place in perceived prestige.

Class conscious and contra-class travelers will use luggage as part of their performance of social class within the framework of a hierarchy of prestige in order to manage attributed social class by using non-name or not well known brands.  The bag reflects their attitude about social class.  While this requires a minimal awareness of social class performance through public possessions like luggage, the media environment constantly makes this point obvious, especially in airports and in in-flight magazines and shopping.  Class conscious and contra-class travelers will use luggage at odds with their current felt social class.  This can be expressed as up or down prestige luggage, for example the traveler with a modest income traveling with an obviously expensive bag. 

Class conscious and contra-class travelers do not wish to be class identified, hiding among mainstream travelers.  The public display of wealth, social status, and prestige is not part of their personal identity.  Considering expensive travel fashion as a "rob me" poster these individuals seek to be class invisible using luggage purchased for usability and personal preference. 

tl;dr - You are judged by your luggage.  By everyone including yourself.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Rules of the Social Class Con Game

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University Graduate School

First, the simple, and consequently inadequate, provocative idea: Social class is a con game being run on us.

We have confidence in our beliefs about income, occupation, and prestige, and our beliefs make social class real for us.  We have social systems that reinforce this confidence. We blame others for this con, for creating social class inequities:  Advertisers, marketers, the media, educators, politicians, consumerists, men, women, corporations, white people, bad people.  We disparage negative social class attitudes as classism. 

Other people create this problem, not me.  Social class is not my fault.  "In every game and con there is always an opponent, and there is always a victim.  The trick is to know when you're the later, so you can become the former."  "The more control the victim thinks he or she has, the less control he or she actually has." (Guy Richie, spoken by Jake Green in the movie Revolver).

Most of us see social class as real and external.  Social class has a set of rules.  People in the higher social classes are seen as somehow better than people in the lower social classes. Secretly we believe people in other social classes are somehow not better.

Keeping up, being competitive, getting ahead, winning prizes, winning recognition, these are the markers for winning the game, for being social class successful.

Second, the not so simple complexity that adds more adequacy to this idea of a con game. Social class is a co-constructed idea in which we all participate differently.

Who is behind this confidence game? Who is to  blame for this inequality, for this hierarchy of prestige? I am and you are.

Complexity world views note that many systems are self constructed - this social class conspiracy is created and maintained by Just Grew - this conspiracy, this con just grew as people took advantage of our desires to manage our place in the hierarchy of prestige.
  • Educational institutions suggest that education is the key to moving up in social class.
  • Alcohol companies suggest that their brand of flavored ethanol is the key.  
  • Fashion companies suggest that their fashion brand is key.  
  • Car companies suggest that their car brand is key.
  • Travel companies suggest that a trip is the key.  
  • Coffee houses suggest that their brand is the key. 
Consumption can manage with other people think about you, your status in the co-created hierarchy of social class, at least according to coffee houses, travel, car, fashion, and alcohol companies, and educational institutions.  Magically this new degree, alcohol, fashion, car, travel experience, and coffee will change what others think about you and consequently what you think about your self.  Buy something and feel better about your self.  (And yes, I realized that I just suggested that retail therapy is a bad thing.) Getting people consumed with their own consumption is a rule of the con.

The social class con game is so effective that most people aren't aware that they are in the middle of  a game.   "The bigger the trick and the older the trick, the easier it is to pull, because they think it cant be that old, they think it can't be that big for so many people to have fallen for it"  (Revolver) .  To point out that social class is a con game is an act of civil disobedience, an act of cultural truth that is not welcomed. 

Who wants to know that their branded purse is unworthy.  "Eventually when the opponent is challenged or questioned, it means the victim's investment and thus his intelligence is questioned, no one can accept that. Not even themselves" (Revolver).  Who wants to admit that they have helped co-dreate an unjust system? See also Carl Rogers Proposition 16 - "Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself."  Who wants to realize that their expensive designer purse is just another bag.

It is easy to ego-invest in objects.  Advertisers make sure that you know their brand reflects the real you.  I call bullshit. The difference between most branded products is minimal.  "But I like my new Dell/Asus/Sony/HP."  One of William Gibson's characters, Cayce in Pattern Recognition, has a deep negative psychological reaction to branding - imagine for a moment what that life would be like.  Imagine how out of step she would be in the social class con game.

Game theory applies to "intelligent rational decision makers" and this is most definitely not the case with social class.

People play games differently; people play the social class con game differently.  Take a board game, any board game, and look at the rules.  When we all play by the rules the game goes smoothly.  When we look more complexly then we see that the rules are not so clear.  Monopoly(r),  that beloved board game makes a great example.  1) My grandmother-in-law would play monopoly and buy anything she landed on.  She grew up with no property in the real world and the opportunity to buy property was a treat.  2) Playing Monopoly with a 10 year old Romanian first time player during the Communist era was interesting - he went around the board and got his money for passing Go.  The idea of buying property as a money making scam never occurred to him, for his first game.  He played the game based on his world view developed in a Communist nation.  He got beaten early, learned his lesson, and changed his strategy.

Social class is a co-constructed con game.  Can you stop playing?

Social class is a social construction based on what we each believe about prestige. There is no organized cabal running this con, there is only us participating in it, making money from it, and agreeing that this is all OK.  The social class con game is so effective that most people are conned into helping enforce rules that are not to their advantage.

tl;dr There is no reality behind the idea of social class.  Social class is a con game.

Special thanks to those who created the messages in the movie Revolver.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Social Class as Cultural Imperialism

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Wikipedia (on 27-11-2016) "Cultural imperialism comprises the cultural aspects of imperialism. Imperialism here refers to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations, favoring the more powerful civilization. Thus, cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting and imposing a culture, usually that of a politically powerful nation, over a less powerful society; in other words, the cultural hegemony of industrialized or economically influential countries which determine general cultural values and standardize civilizations throughout the world." (bolding added)
Now, use social class to replace the words civilization, nation, society, countries, and civilizations.

One of the underlying principles of the upper classes is that everyone should want to get ahead.  "Keeping up with the Joneses" is an old phrase, and a new movie, about trying to keep ahead, or at least keep even, with others.  If you don't keep up, then you are culturally and social class inferior, and the cultural assumption is that no one wants to be a loser.  Never mind how this idea ignores those with few resources and normalizes those with few resources as losers. 

Culture trickle down is a real thing.  Many fads and fashions begin with the upper classes and trickle down to the lower classes.  The use of visible fashion labels, observable wealth, positional goods, is part of this trend.  Why do we have visible fashion labels?  So that others can read them.  It should also be noted that some fashion trends trickle up, or even trickle across social class subcultures, notably athletic shoes and attire.  In the main, things trickle down.  

Even names trickle down.  In the book Freakonomics the analysis of names showed that baby naming fashion trickles down among European-American social classes.  The baby naming idea has spawned a long discussion in the Freakonomics discussion site.  I note that I have a remarkably 'British' (read white upper middle class) name that was typical of my generation. And I realize that this name has given me unearned privilege because of perceived prestige, or put another way, because of social class cultural imperialism.  People attribute privilege and prestige to me because of my name. When I accept and expect that privilege is when I help co-create and co-evolve the cultural imperialism of the upper social classes.

The mechanism of exporting culture from the upper classes to the rest of the people are advertisements.  Advertisers and the media they own are key players in this propaganda machine.  In a recent listing of the 30 largest media companies in the world Facebook is number 5!  Is it any wonder that a Google search for "Keeping up with the . . . . " fills in "Kardashians" automatically?  Is it any wonder that many web sites don't like AdBlock?  Is it any wonder that Mozilla has a tutorial to manage advertising on Facebook? The idea that if you are not paying for it then you are the product comes to mind.  I love the irony of people paying to advertise a brand name on their shirts, shoes, purses, and laptops.  

In some ways taking control of on-line advertising is an anti-imperialist action.  

The social class cultural imperialism message is that the stuff that rich people have and do is the stuff that you should have and do.  "Don't wear white after Labor Day" is a rule because in the late 19th and early 20th century the wealthy people came back to The City (New York City of course) from their vacation homes on Long Island, or Newport, Rhode Island, or Martha's Vineyard after Labor Day, and the rich people wore white for summertime sailing and summertime sport.  Keeping up with the Vanderbilts became a fashion rule still in force. 

tl;dr - you are being lied to and sold a culture that is not yours. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Monocultural Bias and Multicultural Bias

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Monocultural bias is the idea that familiarity with only one culture is the norm.

Multicultural bias is the idea that familiarity with multiple cultures is the norm. I like this idea better because it honors the complexities of our lives.

Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills are the holy trinity of multicultural education on most US campuses.  Pope and Reynolds, as near as I can tell, were the first to introduce this trinity in 1997, and the idea was expanded by Pope, Reynolds, and Mueller in their book Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs (2004) and the trinity is in wide use by other authors.  While Pope, Reynolds, and Mueller did not specifically address the idea of monocultural bias, the Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills trinity is a good way to unpack this idea of monocultural bias.

Learning is the acquisition of knowledge and skill as the result of experience. 

Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills are a function of experience.  Humans have quite a variety of experiences depending on their environment.  Some of us, like me, appear to have grown up in a monocultural bubble. This meant that I appeared to grow up with limited experiences outside my upper-middle class, predominantly European-American, English speaking world.  Others, like my relatives on my Mother's side grew up in a different bubble in economically disadvantaged rural Massachusetts and on my fathers side in moderately affluent exurban New Jersey.

It appears on the surface that we all grew up in a bubble.  I would argue that on closer look most of us grew up in a multicultural world.  I would argue that most of us already have an awareness of multicultural differences based on our experiences.  

Awareness comes from contrast.  I had awareness of the contrast experiences in my world as I grew up.  In my Unitarian Universalist Liberal Religious Youth program The Church Across the Street we visited local churches, synagogues, and temples and got a behind-the-scenes look after services.   Other experiences, from earnest discussions about gender to dating across national boundaries, provided a rich world of multicultural awareness experiences.  The reality was that I grew up in a world that was social class diverse, ability diverse, gender diverse, internationally diverse, religiously diverse, ethnically diverse, and not particularly LGBTQ diverse.

Reflecting on my past I realize that I never really lived in a bubble.

Awareness in language comes from being around different languages and learning them.  Awareness in culture comes from being around different cultures, however defined, and learning them.  Ask any migrant (someone not native to your nation or culture) about their awareness of language and culture.  I have a friend and former student, Kofi Barko, who grew up in Ghana with 4 languages and at least that many cultures.  The difference between Kofi and Will is a matter of degree. Kofi has easier access to the cultural diversities in his experience because of the level of contrast.  Awareness of the diversity of Will's early experiences will need some encouragement.

What does this mean for multicultural education?

One of the consequences of monocultural bias is seen in the predominant idea that people need workshop experiences to create awareness of differences.  Emotionally charged experiences like the Tunnel of Oppression, Bafa Bafra, and others are staples of increased awareness experiences.  The assumption in these experiences is that people don't have any awareness of the Other, which is a monocultural bias, and that emotionally charged experiences are the point of departure to create awareness.  This assumption of lack of experiences, and consequently awareness, disrespects the complex lives and experiences that everyone brings to multicultural education.  

Multicultural bias means that the diversities in each of our lives should be highlighted as a way to move quickly through awareness toward more knowledge and more skills.  Discussion experiences, like the Social Class of Origin Narrative Experience, are one way to enhance awareness of our diversities.   This is multicultural bias - assuming that we all have complex lives and experiences that we can draw upon to move toward multicultural Knowledge and Skill.

Our experiences are a rich source of diversity and for some an awareness of their own lives is a beginning.  When I assume that others come from a culturally complex world I honor their lifetime of experiences.  When I assume otherwise I minimize their world view and experiences.

tl;dr We all need to build upon the complex diversities in our lives.


Pope, R. L., & Reynolds, A. L. (1997). Student Affairs Core Competencies: Integrating Multicultural Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills. Journal of College Student Development, 38(3), 266-77.

N.B. This idea of monocultural bias has been adapted from recent discussions in language education about how language should be taught and the assumptions, often incorrect, found that language learners only have a single language to draw on as they learn a new language.  Learning a new language or new culture is difficult, and having multiple languages or cultures to draw on and make connections provides an individual with points of reference and connection for learning.  I am, as usual, in debt to Dr. Leslie Barratt for her insightful contributions about this idea of monolingual bias which I 'borrowed' and changed to monocultural bias.