Sunday, June 19, 2016

Check Your First World Privilege

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

There are two loaded terms here: First World, and privilege. They will be explored in that order.

First, Second, and Third World

The history of the idea of First World and the current use of First World are more than a little different.

The idea of the First, Second, and Third world came from the Cold War identifying each team, First World (USA and Allies) and Second World (USSR and Allies), and non-aligned Third World nations.  This idea of three worlds was a European/North American idea.  Over time and use the phrase Third World has come to mean poor nations.  Now the Third World phrase has been replaced by Developing Nations/Countries, or Less Developed Nations/Countries, or Undeveloped Nations/Countries. Notice the shift from political alliances to economic development. These new names really means that there are a lot of poor people in the country.

The metric of developing, less developed, and underdeveloped are very interesting notions based on the idea of upward economic mobility.  Again this is a European/North American idea.  The assumption that every nation should have a developed economy, and all that entails, needs some reflection.  I live and work in Thailand and we are striving to have a sufficiency economy.  

G20 nations, the First World in economic terms, the national economies that represent 85% of the Gross World Product and 80% of the world trade are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the EU which is represented by the European Commission.

Here in this blog, First World is about national economies, about the G20 nations. Even in wealthy nations there are poor people, so not all is quite so simple. Family income varies both within and between First World nations.  Also the idea that it is better to be poor in a wealthy country than poor in a poor nation may be both a myth and a reality. People migrate for many reasons, some of those reasons are economic.

In each of these G20 nations that there are marginalized, oppressed, minority people.  This is about those people who have more than enough.


Privilege is an advantage that you have that someone else doesn't.  There are several kinds of social class privilege as noted is a previous blog.  Economic privilege is about accumulating wealth - earning more, saving more, and reducing expenses.  Social and Positional privilege are transactional.  We each create privilege in our social interactions with others through how we relate to others.  

Economic privilege is when you have more money than others. I hope that you have seen and read all of the wonderful posts and graphics on "If the world were 100 people"

Maslow's hierarchy provides an interesting lens to look at First World problems.  Basic physiological and safety needs are met for many of the First World people - food, water, sanitation, housing, public policing, medical care, transportation, and many other basic needs get covered.  Note that Maslow provides a First World model as he was concerned with First World needs of love, self esteem, and self actualization.  When you are hungry, thirsty, and afraid it is hard to work on your needs for love, self esteem, and self actualization.

In wealthy nations, developed nations, K-12 education is low cost or free.  According to the US National Center for Educational Statistics the average expenditure per student in the USA in constant 2013-2014 dollars was USD $12,401 per year.  Since students are in US public education for 12 years to get a diploma (discussion of HS graduation rates by family income, gender, ethnicity, and parental work and residence history is another topic entirely), any US High School graduate has an education that cost between USD $120,000 to $140,000 (the range reflects annual changes to government support).   This is more than the lifetime earnings of many people on the planet. This is First World economic privilege. 

College costs, even in the US, are government subsidized at public 4-year and community colleges.

Access and cost for education in First World nations is First World privilege. If you have a graduate degree, like 10% of the US citizens over 25, then you have an education valued at between $200,000 and $500,000 depending on tuition, major, college, and degree. That is First World privilege. 

This blog is about social class on campus so I will leave issues of medical care, transportation, and all of the other parts of life to another writer.  I assume that the reader can work out the advantages of economic privilege and medical care, and transportation, and other parts of life.

Consumer Privilege is a special case of Economic privilege.  First world problems dominate the news, because First Worlders pay attention to news media and consume the goods and services advertised therein.  First World tragedies are somehow more newsworthy than Developing Nation tragedies; local news gets more attention than global news.  Ask yourself what news you pay attention to.

Ads on web pages are a First World problem.  Advertisers know a great deal about each of us because of the cookies on our computers, which is why we get targeted ads, so we can spend more money on their product.  Money is a wonderful thing. In doing background reading for this blog on the Bloomberg website, which has a nice rating of colleges by ROI, and I got a popup noting that I use AdBlock and suggesting that using AdBlock will somehow negatively affect me.  I noted that 22 companies tried to give me cookies on that page.  The point is that advertising revenues drive what gets covered and AdBlock stops web based advertising.

Consumer goods, a large percent of the economy in First World economies, are directly related to which world you live in.  Think of college as a consumer good.  Boutique high prestige colleges around the world, both public and private, dominate the market.  Big box campuses, typically public and state colleges in the US, serve the masses.  Having a degree from the US is First World privilege.  Having a boutique name brand degree is even better.

Social privilege is about cultural norms and group membership and how a person or nation is perceived by each of us. I ask the reader to pause for a moment and reflect on their personal reaction to the list of G20 nations.  Go back and look at it again.  I underlined it for your convenience when you scroll up.  Did you perceive some of the nations in a negative way?  Were you surprised that some of those nations were on the list?  Your reaction is part of your perception.  Do citizens from certain nations have more or less prestige in your eyes?  Of course they do.  One story that US citizens tell themselves is that USA is #1, which is demonstrably false.  The assumption of superiority in spite of fact is First World privilege.  Nations not on that G20 list have far less perceived prestige.

We create social privilege when we interact with others.  This is one of the secret handshakes of social class.  Dress in a certain way and you will be perceived in a certain way.  Speak in a certain variety of English with a certain accent and you will be perceived in a certain way.  Come from a certain nation or region and you will be perceived in a certain way.  Perception leads to action.  Both perception and action are part of the social interaction.  The social interaction is the origin of social privilege.

Will you be perceived differently if you are from a G20 nation than if you are from a developing nation?  Of course.  At the time of writing this I live and work as a Professor at a University in Thailand and am asked quite often where I am from.  Like asking someone about their college major, part of the social process is the perception of the answer.

There is a special term in Thai for European foreigners.  And it is positive.  When I lived in China there was a term for foreigners, which was negative.  Social norms, like the language we use, are part of creating hierarchies, which lead to privilege and oppression.

Being from a high prestige nation is First World privilege. 

Positional privilege is seen most clearly in organizations and the military which have a clearly defined hierarchy.  Those on top who get privileges and perquisites that those on the bottom don't get much of anything.  The USA belongs to the G20, the group of wealthy nations.  This creates a certain position in the hierarchy of nations.  I would assume that representatives of the US government get invited to a lot of meetings and parties in Developing Nations, in part for the social privilege for the host, in part for the economic opportunities, and largely because of their positional privilege.

As a faculty member my positional privilege is related to my degree, where I got my degree, where I work, and my academic rank.  And yes these matter, at least among my faculty colleagues.

Check Your First World Privilege

First World problems are a meme, and worth a few minutes of your time to look at.  Making fun of ourselves for our over-consumption, privilege, and general economic wealth is a good thing.  The limited perspective that comes from living in a bubble is a First World privilege problem.

Please have a global perspective that is sensitive to the economic, social, and cultural wealth, or lack of it, in your life.  If you live in the First World, be aware of how economically, socially, and culturally wealthy you are. Please.

25+ examples of western privilege is a nice look at privilege

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The US Presidential Primary and Class Warfare

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

A lot of the 2016 US Presidential campaign rhetoric is about money and the inequitable distribution of wealth and income.  This is all good and needs to be part of the conversation.  However, the rhetoric seems to be designed to make the people in the electorate aggressively dislike wealthy people and find them morally reprehensible.  Anyone with money becomes suspect.

One candidate, Donald Trump, is very wealthy.  Interestingly enough, no one really knows how wealthy he is and most reputable sources seem to believe he is worth around $4,000,000,000.

One candidate, Senator Clinton, has a net worth of over $30,000,000, and her husband has an additional $80,000,000.  Certainly not in Trump's bracket, but she is certainly in the 1% for income and wealth.

One candidate, Senator Sanders, has a net worth of around $500,000 - $700,000 depending on the source. Senator Sanders is certainly wealthier than most US adults and is certainly poorer than Senator Clinton or Donald Trump.

Note please that wealth and riches are relative.  But over a certain threshold rich is rich.  Entry into the 1% income is about $400,000 annually (the dollar amount for income varies by source, but this is still a lot of annual income).  Having $11,000,000 in wealth will generate about $400,000 in annual income while preserving the wealth.  (3.5% is a fiscally conservative ROI)

Senator Sanders has made a virtue out of being not wealthy.  Senator Sanders low speaking fee, well below market value, is perceived as a good thing, while Senator Clinton's market value speaking fee is seen as morally reprehensible.  On the other hand the Clinton's have a Foundation that both raises and gives away money and Senator Sanders donates to charity.

Note the furor about the $3,000,000 wedding and $10,000,000 apartment costs for President and Senator Clinton's daughter.  On the one hand, that money is circulating in the economy.  On the other hand, perhaps they should have been restrained in their spending.  On the third hand average wedding expenses in the US, $26,444, amount to roughly half of annual family income of $52,000.  On the third hand Chelsea Clinton's comment that she doesn't care about money has emotional impact for some people because some people care a lot about money.  This is complicated.

Donald Trump is to immigrants as Senator Sanders is to wealthy people.  Manufacturing a common enemy is a time honored political tactic.  Blaming the enemy for the woes of the people is a time honored political tactic.  "But", you say, "the wealthy are really the problem".  Senator Sanders' position is that the wealthy should have their income taxed at a slightly higher level than the current level, that the wealthy should pay proportionately for Social Security, and that the inheritance tax should be changed.  Not bad ideas at all.  Working that solution backward does not blame the wealthy for problems.  This higher tax solution just makes the wealthy pay a higher share.  The data indicates that tax cuts to the wealthy have not met their intended goal of stimulating the economy.  These changes in personal tax will generate more income for the US Government and will hardly affect wealthy people at all.  All that blame, and only a little change.

Corporate tax policy is complicated, however this election cycle has highlighted the dislike and distrust of wealth and that dislike and distrust has spilled into popular support for changing corporate tax policy.  Corporations are not people (please read up on Citizens United) but they are composed of people.  Workers, investors, managers, board members, all are the people who make up corporations.  Corporations don't have social class, or do they?

This 2016 US Presidential election is about ethnicity, nationality, gender, and social class.  It is now acceptable to be racist, nationalist, sexist, and classist because those running for office exhibit these traits.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Ruling Class

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

The names of social class groups are not standardized and even the criteria for membership in groups is vague.  The simple three-tier model of lower, middle, and upper works, and the five-tier model of upper, upper middle, middle, lower middle, and lower helps us all to recognize the variance among people.  Schemes for identifying social class membership vary.  Social class is often measured by occupational prestige and educational attainment, and social class is also defined by culture, language, and social role.

The idea of the ruling class here is about using people's social role to define a social class group.

The Ruling Class

This is the group of people who make and/or enforce the rules.  The creation and maintenance of social order through rules ensures the reproduction of a cherished way of life.  At least that is what some people think.  Who's way of life gets reproduced and who's way of life gets marginalized is part of the ongoing discussion.

Ruling Class Privilege

Members of the ruling class believe in the rules.  They think that the rules are for everyone's benefit.  Unfortunately, the rules privilege some and oppress others.  Typically the people who get privileged by the rules are the people who make the rules.  By privilege here I mean having something or an advantage that others don't have; not having that something or advantage is oppression.  Sometimes the rules are formal and legal and sometimes the rules are social and interpersonal.  Rules are the personal preferences of people in the ruling class made into systems of laws, systems of social norms, systems of schools, systems of finance and taxes, and all the systems that make up a society.  For an expanded idea of privilege read Unpacking Social Class Privilege.

Who is in the ruling class and how do you join?  Simple.  Get an education and find a job in which you can make or enforce rules.  Teachers and professors are central to the reproduction of social class.  Teachers and professors make and enforce a lot of rules.  Rules of conduct (sit up straight), rules of language (prescriptive grammar), rules of learning performance (APA format) are the purview of teachers and professors.  Sometimes these rules are explicit, in a student handbook, college catalog, or campus discipline code.  Sometimes these rules are implicit, like in-class performance and social interactions.  The concepts of civility and politeness are most often implicit in a classroom, but as the teachers and professors feel upset with student behaviors the teachers and professors make explicit behavior rules.

The Ruling Class and the Upper-Middle Class

For the most part members of the Ruling Class are well educated.  In the US 32% of people over 25 have a Bachelor's degree and 12% have an advanced degree.  This is similar to many nations, see Chart 1.1.  I am proposing the idea that people with education tend to achieve higher status positions which put them in the rule making and rule enforcing class.  However, the upper-middle class idea doesn't work well when looking at the spectrum of who makes and enforces rules.  A good example are Police Officers.

Among Officers of the Court police are the front line of enforcing the rules of behavior for the general public.  Police are not, in general, as well educated as teachers and professors.  Using the two criteria of occupational prestige and educational attainment, then members of the police force are not upper-middle class.  Police officers are clearly in the rule enforcing business.  This Ruling Class model contradicts the occupation and education measure of class by including police.  Using multiple, and sometimes contradictory, models of social class is a good thing.

Members of the special public get policed by members of the Securities and Exchange CommissionFederal Deposit Insurance CorporationFood and Drug Administration, and people in other regulatory (read rule making and rule enforcing) groups.

In any formal organization or corporation there are hierarchies of authority.  Anyone with authority, anyone who supervises others, is a member of the ruling class.  From CEO to loading dock.  Just enforcing rules is enough to make you part of the ruling class.  Yes there is a hierarchy in the ruling class.  Making and enforcing loading dock rules is different than making and enforcing rules for Vice Presidents.

The obvious conclusion here is that there is a hierarchy of the ruling class.  Making rules is higher on the hierarchy than enforcing rules.  Legislators outrank Police in this system.  The obvious lesson is that this is complicated.

At what point in the rule making and enforcing hierarchy should we draw a line for membership in the ruling class?

The Fashion Police

The legitimate ruling class, those people have legal authority like teachers, professors, police, and legislators, is supplemented by the social ruling class, those people like the fashion police who have social authority.  A moment's thought will make the distinctions between legitimate and social authority blur because legitimate authority is the result of social action through government.  So, yes the ruling class does control a lot of things.

Yes, there are people who are the fashion police.  These people, bought and paid for by members of the fashion industry, make and enforce the rules of fashion.  The Mugatu character in Zoolander is a great example of the fashion police.

Beyond the fashion police there are the etiquette police, the food police (food magazines are their specialty), and even the movie police and the music police.  These are organized groups of people who have taken authority unto themselves.

Less organized in any formal way are the personal identity police.  The gender police, the ethnic police, the religious police (though some religious groups have actual people in those roles), and others who seek to make rules about who is in and who is out of the club.  Membership is a big part of the rules.

The popular high school student can be seen as top of the student ruling class hierarchy in high school.  He or she sets the standards (rules) for lots of things from fashion to speech patterns.  Looking at multiple groups in schools, courtesy of Grace in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, lists "sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads" who all thought Ferris was a righteous dude.  Ferris Bueller was a star, a member of the ruling class.  Depending on the reader's age and location I am sure more high school movies will come to mind.

If you are reading this then you probably are, or will be, in the ruling class!

Most people, I find, don't like to admit their role in the reproduction of our social class systems.  Too bad.  If you are in a position to make or enforce rules, then you are a member of the ruling class and are an active participant in re-creating our system every day.  If you supervise others, on a factory floor, picking onions, or in an operating theater, then you are part of the ruling class.

How you rule matters.


I agree with C. Wright Mills that the ruling class is different than the power elite.

This blog is different than the wonderful Wikipedia entry on Ruling Class in a few important ways.  First, membership is seen here as personal and participatory, not as theoretical and abstract.  In my view social class is something we all carry with us and all participate in every day.  Social class is co-created and co-evolved.  People in the ruling class are a real group of people interacting daily.  Second, I wish to provide some specifics in who is a member of this group as a way to help the reader understand their place in reproducing social class so that readers can make more well informed behavioral choices.  Third, the idea of ruling class membership should be extended to include those traditionally seen in the underclasses.

tl;dr - people in the ruling class make and enforce the rules, and that probably is, or will be, you, the reader.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Social Class in Emerging Economies

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Emerging economies is the code word for 'used to be poor and is now doing better'.  This is a very classed idea that can apply to people, regions, or entire nations.  The very idea of ranking or creating categories for world economies is based on many consumer factors which makes first world and third world rankings a proxy for social class.  These emerging economies are the G20 developing nations, not the G-20 major economies.  However, to think that social class is about money is the same as thinking that ethnicity is about skin color.  On the third hand,  much of social class in emerging economies is about money.

Social class is a collection of subcultures arranged in a hierarchy of prestige.  Please note that this is a sociological definition of class and my personal preference is for a psychological definition of class since class is a psychological construct.  This sociological definition works well here however. 

What counts as prestige in emerging economies like Russia?  The nature of prestige deserves investigation.  Bourdieu wrote about economic, cultural, and social capital in Forms of Capital.  I have written about academic capital on campus.  Others have written about leadership capital, spiritual capital, and a myriad other forms of capital and that is great.  In parts of the world the intelligentsia is a real group, a collection of people with large amounts of cultural capital.  In some cultures it is expected that members of the intelligentsia have little economic capital, for example the starving artist/poet/novelist or whatnot.  Even in Soviet dominated economies the intelligentsia were real.  This is always a small group of people.  I make this point to illustrate cultural and economic capital as part of the world of social class.  Social capital is not who you know, but who knows you.  Social capital is the collections of people who can get together for mutual benefit.

In emerging economies economic capital and social capital change rapidly for some people as they accumulate economic wealth quickly and make new wealthy friends.  The emerging oligarchs, upper-middle class, and middle class members of emerging economies gain economic and social capital, as they emerge from poverty.  Money and friends become the markers of prestige, money and friends become sources of power, and social class becomes about money and friends, about economic and social capital.

Consumer goods are a demonstration of economic capital, and social gatherings are a demonstration of social capital.  Consumer goods and social gatherings become critical in emerging economies as people seek to establish their place in the prestige hierarchy. The visibility of money and friends is required, by many, to demonstrate high prestige.  While there are many varieties of every social class I am writing here about one type only, and in emerging economies this type is the majority.  The reader should think about the psychological and interpersonal mechanisms at play here in publicly seeking a place in the hierarchy of prestige.

High value and high prestige consumer goods, especially wearable goods and accessories, is the easiest way to show off your money, to demonstrate your accumulation of economic capital to others and establish your place in the hierarchy of prestige within your culture.  Houses, apartments, and living space is a second way to show off your money.  Transportation, from luxury cars, to limos, to private airplanes, is another way to show off your money.

Large and glittering parties attended by the right people is common among the wealthy.  Media coverage is the clue that the party is about the demonstration of economic and social capital.  The right people are those with economic and social capital, people who can band together to get more money and friends.  Having a member of the intelligentsia at a party adds a bonus, as long as the guest star is not critical of the current hierarchy.  The tame intelligentsia guest star shows, or appears to show, that the party host has cultural capital.  Tame, or tamed by funding, members of the intelligentsia, typically conservative and non-controversial people, are a staple on some invitation lists.  The idea of personified cultural capital as a commodity for parties, like catering, is troubling on many levels, but that is a different tale.

So what is the role of cultural capital in emerging economies?  Great question.  I would assume that different types of knowledge emerge as prestige as economies grow and as people get more money.  Art, music, food, and experiences are often seen as luxury goods, therefore the domain of those who can afford luxury.  Experiences, like the Disney (r) vacation, are evidence of economic capital, and within a certain group evidence of cultural capital. Cultural capital, in a more global view, is about knowledge of luxury goods, proper (read high prestige) etiquette, fashion (read expensive designer fashion) and the ability to appreciate goods, services, and experiences appropriately.  More arcane cultural capital or knowledge, like history, psychology, sociology, economics, and the content of a good liberal arts undergraduate education will, I hope, emerge in time as prestige cultural capital.  On the other hand the history of anti-intellectualism that is in evidence among people in developed nations tells me that I am a dreamer.  I can only wonder at how many newly economically and socially wealthy people have a disdain for formal education.  After all, they got rich without a lot of education and cultural capital.

It should not pass the reader's notice that this same analysis applies to individuals and families who have moved upward in social class by accumulating economic wealth even in wealthy economies like Japan, Korea, UK, US, Australia, and most of the Eurozone.  The metaphor for social class prestige among many poor people is money, and the trappings of that prestige are obviously labeled fashions and consumer goods.

What does this have to do with social class on campus?  What would a college education be all about in a newly emerging economy that valued money and connections?  What would be valued in an education; immediate reward and skill or long term reward and learning to learn?  For some parents in developing economies a US education for their children is a statement of prestige.  Educational attainment becomes a prestige commodity that can be purchased.  Is a college education a commodity to be purchased or is a degree something that must be earned?

tl;dr - people in emerging economies use money and connections as markers for social class prestige.

As I track readership on this blog I note an increasing number of readers from 'emerging economies' like Russia, China, India, Philippines, and Singapore, in addition to readers from developed economies in Korea, Japan, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Germany.  The data is from weekly and monthly summaries of page views provided by Blogger.  Most page views on this blog come from Google searches, so in some ways finding and reading this blog is an indicator of interest in social class, or social class on campus at least, around the world.  During one week in January 2016 30% of page views were from Russia.  That made me quite curious.  I know that page views track school calendars, so perhaps social class was the topic that week in Russian schools. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The students' guide to becoming upper-middle class

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

If you view social class as a collection of subcultures with shared behaviors, values, knowledge, and attitudes then you can learn those behaviors, values and whatnot.  Based on the number of people who view my blog entry “What are upper-middle class people like?”  I thought I would create a list of things to do to appear to be upper-middle class.  The upper-middle class is the group of college educated and graduate educated professionals, managers, business professionals,  teachers, and faculty.  This is a large and diverse group with many sub-groups.  Once you get the basics of class performance mastered you can move on to specializing in a social class sub-group.

Think of this as lessons in how to assimilate.  You may also think of this is how to class pass.  You may also think of this as how to create adaptive camouflage.  

Lose weight
Being healthy and looking healthy is basic to people in the upper-middle class.  Your physical appearance and health are things that people notice.  Tan skin in the case of Europeans, clear skin, and a healthy BMI are signs of social status.  Learn about exercise and then go to the gym.  On most campuses there are people who are paid to help you get into shape.   Listen to professionals about how to exercise.  Learn about nutrition and eat a lower calorie diet.  Eating more healthy food, even on a student budget, is affordable.  The Freshman Fifteen is the result of poor dining choices, so learn to eat well.  Campuses have wellness centers, nutrition people, and loads of resources for you.  

Dress well
Dress, like health, is one of the first social class cues that people notice.  Even on campus you should dress well.  It should be no surprise that students who are dressed well tend to be perceived more positively by faculty than those who are not dressed well.  Better perception means better grades.  There are many types of dressing well based on gender, ethnicity, and location.  There is not a standard upper-middle class dress code other than being semi-formal or at least business casual.  Wear a polo rather than a t-shirt.  Wear a dress shirt rather than a polo.  Wear a tie with a dress shirt.  A good rule is to avoid brand logos on anything you wear  then you will never have the wrong brand.  It is easy to judge others by brand names, so avoid this fashion cue.

It doesn’t need to cost a lot to dress well.  Thrift shopping is a great source of quality clothing but to be successful as a thrift shopper you need to know about clothing quality and construction.  Dressing well means learning something about clothing, construction, and fit.  Career centers on campus often have people who will help you learn.  YouTube is a great resource on dress and clothing.  In a few hours you can be quite well informed about dressing well.  Shopping wisely for quality doesn’t cost a lot.  Quality clothing last longer, so make sure you like it and make sure it fits before you buy.  

Learn the difference between fad and fashion.  Always go with classic fashion.

Members of the upper-middle class are language snobs and that is not going to change.  Language is one of the first social class messages, along with dress, that people notice.  Like dress bias, language bias is unjust,  unfair, and unlikely to change.  Think of the upper-middle class dialect as a new language for you.  Campus writing centers will help you with the written variety of prestige English.  Online resources are freely available.  

Knowing a second variety of English is a good thing.  Do not lose your language or origin.  It is yours, cherish it.  Know that you are judged unfairly on people’s perception of your use of language.  Make up your own mind.  Social class is inherently unfair and unlikely to disappear.  

If you really want extra social class points then be able to speak and read a second language at a B2 level (see CEFR, and knowing about CEFR gets you points also).  Knowledge is valued by members of the upper-middle class.  Have some poetry or sayings readily available in your second or third language to make sure people know that you know something.  If poetry or sayings are not your thing, then read a major newspaper in that language (at least the headlines) and reference reading something in it.  “I was reading in Le Monde/Der Spiegel/El Pais  last week that . . . “

Learn school stuff
Data indicates that most students study or do school work around 10 hours per week.  If you double that you will dramatically improve your grades and learn a lot more.  Think of college as a 40 hour a week job.  Put in your 40 hours, and even overtime.  Members of the upper-middle class value knowledge and academics.  Young people are often judged by their GPA.  This judgement is unjust, unfair, and unlikely to change.  Remember that social class is about hierarchy, and any opportunity to rank you in a hierarchy comes in handy for people who don’t know any better.

Learn non-school stuff
There is a secret handshake, secret narrative, and secret knowledge to the upper-middle class.  The secret knowledge is cultural capital.  Bourdieu (read Forms of Capital) wrote about cultural capital.  The short version is that cultural capital is the knowledge and skills of the ruling class, the class that makes and enforces the rules.  In the US the ruling class is the upper-middle class.  General education exists because those courses are cultural capital.  Art, music, theater, literature, science, news, economics, politics, are all cultural capital knowledge.  On campus it is amazing that students who have free access (pre-paid at least) to cultural events stay away in large numbers.  

Eating and drinking are social classed.  Knowledge about food, alcohol, beer, and wine is basic for people in the upper-middle class.  Taking the time to read food magazines like Saveur, Bon Appetit, and the like on the web will provide a great food and drink education.  They also have great low cost recipes sometimes.

Geography, at least tourist geography, is a knowledge base.  Members of the upper-middle class have a collection of places to visit that are upscale and safe.  These tourist traps, like Cancun or Pattaya, are often in the midst of a great local area more deserving of your time.  Disneyesque sanitized experiences are part of the upper-middle class travel and vacation knowledge.  Learn where these places are; Hilton Head is different than Diamond Head.

Learn interpersonal skills
Along with Bourdieu’s idea of cultural capital there is his idea of social capital.  Learn how to make and maintain friendships, loose ties, strong ties (read Strength of Weak Ties by Granovetter) and relationships with a wide range of people.  Social capital is not who you know, it is who knows you.  Networking skills are critical.  Making friends with people who have resources means that you have access to those resources.  Leadership skills training spends a lot of time on the interpersonal part of leading.  Sign up for that training.

Learn how to tell a great story and learn how to tell a story great.  Be memorable, be personable, and be yourself.  Learning how to be comfortable in group and social settings is a skill for extroverts, introverts, and people in the middle.  There are groups like Toastmasters on most campuses to help you learn more about speaking in public.  

Being a member of student organizations is a great way to meet people and practice your social skills.  Being a volunteer for an organization is a great skill builder.  

Study abroad
In the blog “Stuff White People Like” #72 the author writes about study abroad.  While funny, it is also true.  Your experience of study abroad can place you in another culture, or you can stay in the golden ghetto of US students.  You choose.  There is often financial aid for study abroad, so it can be affordable.  Most campuses have a study abroad office, or belong to a consortium of campuses that have a study abroad program.  

Get rich slowly
Saving and investing wisely is a life skill.  Take the time to attend campus seminars on financial
literacy, visit a local bank and ask for someone to explain wealth management.  Say that you need to know for a life skills class.  Accumulating economic wealth takes time, as does accumulating cultural capital/wealth and social capital/wealth.  These are investments and investments take time to grow.  Make sure to learn what all of this costs.  

Pay attention
The best way to learn about people in the upper-middle class is to watch and listen.  And then take the time to learn.

Don’t lose your self
You are who you are.  Don’t lose that as you learn about a new subculture.  Learning a new collection of behaviors and values should be a “Yes, and . . . “ occasion.  

This blog may be offensive to some people.  Some people may infer that I am suggesting that you should assimilate to an unjust and non-inclusive system.  Far from it, I am providing you with informed choice.  Make up your own mind.  Please note that there are alternative UMC cultures beyond being a hipster so you have a wide range of choices.  

Chances are pretty good that social class  is not going to disappear in your lifetime.  Your choice is what you are going to do about social class.  If you want to fight against the system, good for you.  If you want to corrupt it from the inside, good for you.   If you want to ignore social class, do so at your peril.  

We all have an attributed social class, what others think of us.  This attribution can be managed.  We all have a social class of origin, and we need to keep that in our hearts and minds.  We all have a current felt social class, and that is entirely up to you.  

Edit Dec 4. Someone noted on Twitter that I did not include anything on college major. People in the upper-middle class don't see college as vocational preparation. College is preparation for graduate and professional school. Getting yourself ready for graduate or professional school is central to the college experience. Plan it out carefully. Prepare carefully. Find out what the graduate or professional school of your choice wants and build toward that.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

How do I change my social class?

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Let's assume that you, like many, wish to become more like people in the upper middle class. Whether or not this is a good idea is a matter of a lot of discussion. However the existence of an industry to help people change their social class upward must be recognized. For a price someone will be happy to teach you the secret handshake. And, yes, there is a secret handshake.

Changing social class is a "Yes, and" process at best. You may add to your life and you may experience internal conflict. You may do both. Changing your social class may alienate you from people you know and may alienate you from the person you are now. Classism is very real around the world. In the US the idea of “thinking you’re better than others” is used as an expression of class hate. That classist expression is also a statement about the importance of social class.

To change something we need to understand it; this is basic Sun Tzu and change management. Understanding social class is not easy. Social status, which is not social class, is typically defined as educational attainment and occupational prestige. To change your social status you would need more education and a higher prestige job. Income, which is not social class, is also used as a way to understand class in the US. To change your economic status upward you would need to get more money, or appear to get more money. Education, job prestige, and money are not really social class. And social and economic status make a good start to understanding social class. Socioeconomic status, which is not social class, is about social and economic status. On the other hand, social status and economic status are easier to change than your social class identity.

My assumption here is that social class is a personal identity. Personal identity is related to education, job prestige, and money. However as Tyler Durden noted: “You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis.” On the other hand that movie character was trying to free people from inappropriate identity issues. Many people self identify with their car, their khakis, their job, their house, and the contents of their wallet. Marketing to have us identify with our purchases.

Pierre Bourdieu wrote in Forms of Capital that we need to think beyond economic capital, money, to include cultural capital and social capital. Cultural capital, simplified, is knowledge and skills of the prestige social class. Social capital is the personal network of individuals who can be recruited for action, from helping you move to helping you form a new corporation.

Changing your social status

Changing what others think about you. Your social status comes from what you think about yourself, your current felt social class, and what others think about you, your attributed social class. To change our social class we would need to change both what we think of our self and what others think of us. I have written that social class is a collection of subcultures arranged in a hierarchy of prestige. So managing what others think about you, your attributed social class, is about managing others perceptions of your prestige within a hierarchy.

Economic Capital. The simple answer to manage how others perceive you is to purchase prestige. Buy more up-scale branded stuff. Marketers and consumer goods manufacturers have you targeted for this. With obviously labeled fashions it is easy to purchase prestige. The same purchase decisions apply to everything from sunglasses to purses to alcohol and to recreational drugs. The purchase of prestige is the display of economic capital. You don’t have to have money, you only need to be perceived to have money. It should be noted that there is probably a relationship between personal debt and the performance of social class. Bigger houses, bigger cars, finer clothing, and dining our all take money. Economists call these purchases positional goods.

Budweiser Beer that has a variety of brands that can be arranged in a hierarchy of prestige. Anheuser-Busch InBev expands this range of beer products. Beer manufacturers are keenly aware of hierarchies of prestige and even offer microbrands for those who wish an alternative social class. Yes, your choice of beer is a performance of social class.

tl;dr - appear to have more money by having more prestige stuff.

Cultural Capital. Cultural capital is another way to understand social class. Think about the social class that you wish to be in and then think about what they care about, what they eat, what they drink, where they vacation, what they read, etc. This is where the idea of social class as subcultures comes in; people in each social class have a different set of shared values and behaviors that is different, although slightly, from people similar social class subcultures. As with purchasing prestige goods you can purchase cultural capital with lessons. Dance lessons, wine lessons, dining lessons, speech lessons, art and music lessons and lessons in other forms of high prestige cultural capital. The role of Art and Music in school and college curriculum is curious.

tl;dr - become more well informed about food, drink, music, values, etc.

Social Capital. Social capital is about creating and maintaining social relationships with networks of people who you can rally for combined effort. “It’s not who you know, but who knows you.” according to Dr. Michael Cuyjet. Social capital is as much about getting people to help you move apartments as getting people to work together for a business deal. Making and keeping relationships takes time and skill, as does accumulating economic and cultural capital. These skills can be learned.

tl;dr - get interpersonal skills to get into the networks of people with resources.

Changing what you think about your self. Managing your self perception is another issue altogether. There are a variety of ways to be middle class or upper middle class. You need to understand where you are and where you want to be. You also need to understand if you want to keep your current social class identity and add another, or if you want to leave your current self behind. I personally think we should not leave our identities behind.

Social Class Mobility
Recent research in social mobility is actually about income mobility. Not surprisingly the children of people in the upper half of the income distribution in the USA have lower income mobility, and higher incomes, than those in the lower half. There are many take-away messages. First, that the incomes of parents in the upper half have greater affect on their children than those in the lower half. Second, most social mobility, measured as income, comes from those whose parents were in the lower half of the income distribution.

What this means is that your social class, like your expression of gender and ethnicity, is learned. What can be learned can be taught. However, should you unlearn your current social class, gender, and ethnicity? As a value statement I believe that we should honor our social class of origin, and if we wish to learn to be a member of a new social class culture we should do that too.

Learning to be bicultural is double tough. First, you will always have an accent in a second culture. Get over it. The good news is that almost no one will notice since a lot of people have these social class accents. The other good news is that a lot of people move in social class.

Valuing and Devaluing any Social Class

The nature of social class is a hierarchy made up by people like you and me. There is no reality to social class, it is all socially co-constructed. To value any social class group is to devalue others. Value here is a zero sum game, the more one player gets the less other players get.

tl;dr - get more stuff, know more stuff, meet more people with more stuff. You are going to have identity issues as you change class.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

An egalitarian in a hierarchical world.

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

I have spent most of my life as a majority member of the US majority culture.  I learned equality as a young person and I positively reinforced equality as an adult.  I embrace the US axiom that no one gets to be special.  Even academic titles and ranks bothered me when I was a Professor.  I came up during the 60s freedom marches that emphasized that equality was a matter of law and of culture.  At least my assumptions about equality in law and culture is what I believed about myself.  Being outside of my own culture I have a chance to highlight some of my own culture and my participation in the rituals of prestige and privilege.

I now live in Thailand and work as a Professor at Roi Et Rajabhat University, a provincial campus in the north east.  Being a Professor is both a social roll and an academic position here and in the US.  My current social role and academic position are much different than my life as a Professor in the US.  

Thai cultural behaviors, reflecting Thai cultural values, act to reify a system of social stratification.  I am old, so younger people must pay me respect.  I am a Professor on my campus so people must pay me respect.  This is all attribution, it is what others think of me and this is central to most of my relationships.  This is what I have referred to as attributed social class, what others think of us.  As a result of valuing my age, academic rank, as well as my national origin Thais have a set of behaviors to go along with these attributes.

The Wai is a greeting with raised hands, and always given from youngest to oldest. It must be returned. This is a cultural imperative.  I have seen mothers and fathers raise a toddlers hands to Wai me.  The formalization of a hierarchy based on age through this gesture is one of the central facets of Thai interpersonal interactions.  It is a conditioned response here.  I occasionally get it wrong and I am the first to Wai others and I often Wai younger people because I have US ideas of politeness that come from a different culture.  The Thai people I work with are forgiving of my cultural mistakes, at least for now.  Tolerance for others is also a Thai cultural value.

There is a doctoral student in my department who is a serious player in the current Thai government.  In my US frame of mind I need to respect him for his accomplishments and earned prestige.  Here, he is obligated to Wai me because of my age.

The meeting with him was a delightful moment for me because it highlighted cultures in conflict.  There was a momentary contrast between what I felt obligated to do based on US ideas of privilege and hierarchy, and what he felt obligated to do based on Thai ideas of privilege and hierarchy.

A second set of behaviors related to hierarchies of privilege occurs here in professional settings. When we, my wife is also a Professor here, go to conferences or when we give workshops, at lunchtime we are segregated from attendees in order to dine with presenters and honored guests, like Deans and campus Presidents. This segregation makes the two tiered class system visible.  Vonnegut referred to people being given status as stars and the rest of us as bit part players. While the division of stars and bit part players can be experienced in US culture these two groups are formalized and ritualized in obvious ways here.  Perhaps I notice this two tier system here because I was never invited to the head table at meetings in the US.

Coming from a democratic culture that celebrated equality this Thai age and prestige hierarchy is a personal challenge. While hierarchies of prestige and privilege dominate US culture, and I have all manner of earned and unearned prestige and privilege, the open recognition, the ritual in basic behaviors, bothers me here. While I, and nearly everyone I know in the US, participate in the rituals of privilege and hierarchy in the US seeing these rituals in another culture is seeing them anew.  Twain was right that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness”.  This experience with hierarchies here helps me highlight the rituals and assumptions of hierarchies of prestige and privilege in my cultures of origin.  

I participate in these rituals here because this is not my culture and I try to honor the cultural practices here.  To seek to change the culture here is cultural imperialism.  So, to what extent should I cease to participate in these cultural rituals of prestige and privilege in my own culture?  Affecting my own culture is not cultural imperialism.  What can I do as an ex-pat?  I can help point out how we all participate in co-evolving inequality.

In the spirit of equality and respect for autonomy, you go ahead and do what you want. And please be mindful of how your life affects others’ lives.