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Deflecting privilege: class identity and the intergenerational self

Friedman, Sam, O'Brien, Dave and Mcdonald, Ian (2021) Deflecting privilege: class identity and the intergenerational self. Sociology. ISSN 0038-0385

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0038038520982225

Abstract

Why do people from privileged class backgrounds often misidentify their origins as working class? We address this question by drawing on 175 interviews with those working in professional and managerial occupations, 36 of whom are from middle-class backgrounds but identify as working class or long-range upwardly mobile. Our findings indicate that this misidentification is rooted in a self-understanding built on particular ‘origin stories’ which act to downplay interviewees’ own, fairly privileged, upbringings and instead forge affinities to working-class extended family histories. Yet while this ‘intergenerational self’ partially reflects the lived experience of multigenerational upward mobility, it also acts – we argue – as a means of deflecting and obscuring class privilege. By positioning themselves as ascending from humble origins, we show how these interviewees are able to tell an upward story of career success ‘against the odds’ that simultaneously casts their progression as unusually meritocratically legitimate while erasing the structural privileges that have shaped key moments in their trajectory.

Item Type: Article
Official URL: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/soc
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors
Divisions: Sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2020 10:57
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2021 17:26
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/107542

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