'Getting Out and Getting Away': Women's narratives of class mobility

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This article is concerned with the ways in which women narrate a move from a 'working-class' position to a position marked (in however fragmentary and complex a way) as 'middle class'. While such a move might be seen in terms of a straightforward escape from a disadvantaged social position, I argue here that what has to be analysed is the pain and the sense of estrangement associated with this class movement. Drawing on the class narratives of a group of seven white British women, the article uses Bourdieu's concepts of symbolic capital and habitus to explore the cultural and symbolic configurations of class. These configurations may be inscribed into the self, so that the self, itself, is class marked. Since working-class selves are frequently marked in pathological terms, this raises particular difficulties for the idea of an 'escape' from such a position. Class in this sense is embedded in people's history and so cannot be so easily 'escaped'. The usual conventions of life-narratives - in which the self remains the same entity from birth to death and later events are a culmination of earlier ones - are also disrupted in this case. But if a working-class position is marked as pathological, so too is taking on the markers of middle-class existence. To do so is not only to risk 'getting it wrong', but it is also to risk the scorn attached to 'pretentiousness'. There is a particular jeopardy here for women, since it is women who have been especially associated with desires for artefacts associated with bourgeois existence. The article argues for a focus for classed desires and class envy, not in pathological terms, but in terms of a coherent response to political and social exclusions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-24
Number of pages22
JournalFeminist Review
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 1999


  • Class mobility
  • Cultural capital
  • Habitus
  • Narrative
  • Subjectivity
  • Women

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