Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Healing Echo: Methodological Reflections of a Working-Class Researcher on Class

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

A Healing Echo: Methodological Reflections of a Working-Class Researcher on Class

Article excerpt

College students from the working class have interesting stories to tell about the meaning and operation of mobility through education. The author, herself a "working-class academic," explores some of the issues and dilemmas of uncovering and presenting these stories. Specifically, the author addresses: (1) the effects of interviewing those similar to one's self; (2) the possibility of losing voice when interviewing too many participants; (3) the responsibility of the researcher to take seriously the importance of renaming interview participants to ensure both anonymity and integrity; (4) the question of audience; and (5) the issue of reliability. Key Words: Class Identity, Phenomenology, Insider/outsider Status, and Interviewing


By the numbers, I probably never should have made it to college. I was the oldest daughter of teen parents who struggled to survive economically. We moved around a lot, sometimes when we moved to a new school district I would be given the same textbook I had used the previous year in a different school district. I began working outside the home before I was a teenager, doing odd jobs here and there, and then I worked full-time when I was old enough. I had teachers who looked down on me for being from the wrong side of town. I only took the SAT once, and that was more by accident than purpose. I only applied to one school because I was not aware that fees could often be waived if you were poor. My high school counsellor tried to encourage me to find an appropriate career that wouldn't require a college degree. In fact, I had to start college twice. The first time, at a big state school, my scholarship was delayed and I was evicted from the dormitories. With no one to turn to and no place to go, I simply stopped going to class and never registered for the second semester.

Eventually, I did make it through college, law school, and graduate school. And it was while I was in graduate school, pondering choices for research, that I first saw my story sociologically. I remember exactly when this occurred. I was sitting in a seminar in which a book about female sweatshop workers in Los Angeles was being discussed. Some of the workers described their hopes for their daughters becoming educated so that they could come back and help them achieve economic justice. The idea was that education was to be a tool, a means by which their daughters could gain power to help in the fight against oppression. The daughters could help their mothers write petitions, understand the law, and speak eloquently in the master's own language. And I thought, did they? Did they really come back? Why did I doubt that a happy ending would follow? And what was I doing in a comfortable seminar room, talking about sweatshop workers, when my mother was getting carpal tunnel syndrome from her new "at-home assembly" job?

I also began to wonder about the continuing decline of a strong working-class politics. What happened to the idea that our democracy would be strengthened as more people from the working class became educated? Why did it seem that education did so little for the working class? Sure, I was getting educated, but what did that have to do with my brothers and sisters, cousins and neighbours? How was my education helping them? Another time, I watched a TV special about a struggling African-American family in New York City and how the single mother and the older sister worked double shifts to put the first son through college and business school. The TV special celebrated the American Dream, but I watched in frustration as the son became increasingly more arrogant, more distant, more condescending towards his family. They didn't seem to mind all that much, but I did. What was happening to him? What was the point of higher education for those of us from the working class if it just made us leave everyone behind?

I wondered, too, about myself, what I was doing, how I was acting and behaving. …

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